My Personal Hogwarts

 I just returned from my second residency at Goddard College, in pursuit of my MFA in Creative Writing; it was mostly perfect, and definitely a magical experience.

It was a frozen and snowglobe-y world up in Plainfield, between buildings and classes on Goddard's pretty campus, exhausting also; once I crunched down my driveway at home, I spent the majority of the MLK weekend couching with my wife and dogs (possibly with my dogs and wife, opinions vary).

 I've been thinking about the residency, thinking about school and work and teachers and classmates and the high-tension creative energies that saturate Goddard, the residency, and my life since I began formal studies in writing.

I wrote "formal studies" because once I began writing in earnest, I took it upon myself to read good books (both fiction and writers writing on craft), and also writing/sharing/critiquing creative work with other writers ... it worked, it helped, but I found myself wanting the next thing, the next step.

Goddard was that next step for a number of reasons:

  1. to push myself into learning beyond what my own program of studies was capable of
  2. to be forced to look at the things about my writing I didn't want to look at
  3. to facilitate networking with other writers of multiple flavors and skill-levels
  4. to externalize some of the expectations and deadlines, upping the stakes

Goddard has done all of that, and more, in the two residencies I've been through so far, along with the semester they sandwiched. 

By definition, my previous self-directed program of study and growth was limited by the outer bounds of my own skull ... the addition of Goddard, and all of the other smart and wacky and "think different-y" skulls in residence there pushed and pulled me into new territory. 

Sometimes, this terra incognita was terrifying; maybe it has to be, is supposed to be. 

With the help of a brilliant adviser, insightful classmates, and the slightly unwelcome, or at least daunting (but necessary, and ultimately beneficial) gravity pulling us all to share and critique our work, I've seen things in my work that I couldn't, or didn't want to, see before.

I've met and come to love the different, often startling, minds, all hosing each other down with creative juices at Goddard ... a weeklong orgy of words and ideas and craft and art and schlock, all of it served up mostly free of pretense or shame.

The WORK is a binding principle and the crucible in which we forge the new and better versions of ourselves ... we read, we write critically of that which we read, and we create (then edit) new work. 

If all of that above was all that Goddard was, is, will be, then that would be fine, that would be enough - more than enough ... but it's not.

When Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts, what goes on in class accounts for only a tiny piece of his work and growth, and the challenges he faces ... so it is with me and Goddard.

There's a magic in the air from the moment I've arrived for both residencies ... we're all there to celebrate, to birth, to worship, the creative. Each student and teacher, practitioners all, combines their love and fear and dreams into a web of magic like a great dark pool we all swim through for the week.

The magic is born in workshops and advising sessions, but also during meals and late nights in the dorms or exploring the buildings and grounds.

We all get a chance to look behind the curtains of creative minds, our own as well as those of other spell-casters foolhardy enough to weave words into the spells that move and change us.

It's often scary, sometimes painful, occasionally horrible ... if it wasn't, it'd be too safe.

All the best learning comes with scars.

My plan for this semester is to read and annotate 20 books (a mix of fiction and books on the craft of fiction), write a long critical paper of an aspect of Adam Hall's writing I've always loved (not that he's always high-craft, but this aspect of his stories definitely is), and take a deep (uncomfortable) dive into editing & revision beyond what I've done in the past.

The spell we collectively cast last week will protect and empower me until the next residency, this summer ... I can feel it buoying and emboldening me as I reach for that part of my brain where the storyteller lives.

JS, 1/16/18