Thursday, August 02, 2007

my interviewer

My husband Scott has the gift of asking good questions, and he wrote me a little interview. Though it's not sharp writing at all, still I'm interested in painting out "what it's like," and I thought I'd let you peek into our conversation about The Writing Residency, on my hill here in Santa Fe.

1) I'm wondering in what ways do you find yourself learning best these days
(e.g., reading others' work, having conversations, getting input on your
writing, wondering around...)?

First, (and this is why I'm here) I learn best when I can concentrate, when there is quiet interspersed with rich reading material. Thus far, I've learned most by giving a "close read," in a small group, of great pieces of writing, analysing what works and how the writer organizes her thoughts into a specific pattern. Having said that, I learn much also while wandering, letting the landscape work on me-- tears feel close to the surface, watching light on the distant hills.

I'm also inspired by the possibility of friendships, the goodwill and affection shown to me, though I chatter too much and feel more than ever that my narcissism (writerly stumbling block) is so visible. My hair seems to be it's own show, with my new classmates walking up to sproing a curl here and there, and yesterday two happily-married fellas were joking that they wanted to sit near me just to be near my curls. An older woman also asked if she could tug on a curl, just to see it spring back. (It's all good payback for the years in which my hair seemed an uncontrollable mass. And it's an antidote to feeling lame and out of shape.) For all the hair-talk, the curl-sproingers are parents and bread-winners, and I continue to dig deep with them, to interview how they manage responsibilities while pursuing the writing craft.

2) Is your learning as a student/professional any different from other
times in your life - as an RD? as a campus minister? as an Intercultural
Relations student?

In the past, being a student has been its own end, and the assignment was its own end. It's a different beast to learn "in order to" do something, in order to write better. My focus in the past was on the material I was learning. Not so, here.

I'm stunned by what an emotional experience it is to share writing with others, what a half-panic. Education has not "laid me bare" before. It's no longer about the books alone: it's about steering the gift of writing.

Like being a college student, I'm impressed by how many assignments I can outright forget, and by how infrequently I write things down. Oddly, I am unmotivated to read, which is new. When I open the page, though, I find myself happy in the act of reading and delighted to look for "how" the author did that, and why.

It's good to note, also, that I've needed to protect my time and my talkative self, here, to focus on investing myself in a few people, on leaving dinner early in order to get things done or to find enough quiet to keep going.

3) What have been some of your most serendipitous moments?

I found myself waiting in the hot sun for a bus that never came, in Santa Fe, and turned to walk back uphill to campus though my injured foot was throbbing. I literally stepped in dog poop just to reiterate the low of my day, and while scraping my shoes I looked up to find T.J. Pendergast and his wife Brianna asking how my day had been, telling me they were driving back to campus. T.J. stroked his long white mustache and said he'd been asked to write prose about a course on servant leadership. "But I'm a poet. I don't know anything about creative non-fiction. How do you suggest I start?"

Now how funny is that? Throughout the week, I run into T.J. and Brianna when we have moments to talk.

4) Is your experience helping you clarify your personal
desires/expectations for yourself in this program?

Hmmmm. I'm revising an earlier post: the thing "caught" in all this is the vision of what it means to put stories on paper, how powerful the written word can be, how big a project this is. And that's terrifying at times, to take writing seriously.

This program's emphasis is not on publication, at all, so I shift to examine my own desire to see my name in print, to have people hunger for my writing. Shockingly, I don't believe any of my classmates have been published in Image, the journal which this MFA program grew out of. Brian, my physician classmate, was published in Image before he began the MFA. So I think I've needed to remind myself, the degree is not a magic bullet. I've needed to remind myself, it's about improving my writing.

What I learn about myself? I'm surprisingly ambitious-- it's a new thing to me, having always been content with things somewhat within reach of me.

I'm also learning about the work of writing, versus merely the play of writing-- I don't think the work of it will kill off the play, but it's good to hold a sense of caution about that.

5) Will you want to/be able to connect w/ classmates between sessions to
support one another?

I feel sure of that! Every three weeks, we'll be sending stuff to our faculty mentor and I assume to one another. (I'll check on that.) Email! Hooray for email!

Four days left-- which is a lot, and I'm sinking myself into the experience. Two papers to write, books to study, sun to enjoy.


Amy said...

Thanks for the interview, Scott and Denise. :)

Byron K. Borger said...

Wow. This is just awesome. So glad for you (well, except the dog poop.) What happened to your foot? (I missed that. Sorry.)

Readin' and writin'. Glad you don't have to do any 'rithmatic.

Thanks for speaking well of us out there in this remarkable gathering!

Denise said...

Byron, I spent some time talking with Warren of Eighth Day books. "Are you eating? Are you sleeping? Are you caring for yourself?" He assures me he is, though it's hard to believe. I remind him of my friend who sells books.

Greg was very happy for a hello from you. Some PBS crew is here to film tomorrow, and he's a bit of a nervous wreck. But a great teacher, really, just a joy.

The foot is likely to be a stress fracture, but I'll get to a doc about it when I'm home. Injured it on June 28, and it takes six weeks to heal if I manage not to re-injure it. Walking is so necessary for my mental health and for my writing, so I find the lameness to be really frustrating. A few people have agreed to take me on tiny hikes, just so I don't get stuck someplace, and Chad and Cindy took me out to hear the coyotes howl last night.

The reading is going to be a challenge-- I haven't been a "quantity" reader in a while.

Darin said...

Never heard a coyote, but around here we go out at night & hear the hoot owls and the screach owls. The call of a screach owl, after a few mild warm-ups, sounds like the scream of a woman in distress. Quite alarming to the uninitiated.