Nearly twenty years have passed since I stepped on campus as a new student. But there I was, a new student again, nervous, excited, with many questions – How many students are in the program? What are the mentors like? What is a “writer workshop”? How do we communicate after winter residency? Will people like me? Will they like my writing?
The first day was new student orientation and I was calmed to discover others in our little group of eight shared the same questions.
Together, we walked around campus, trying to find a building called an Athenaeum, only to end up in a labyrinth. We felt silly, like novices again. In our off-campus lives, we are leaders – leading people through the buildings where we work, leading people in meetings and trainings, leading students in instruction. Now the roles were reversed. We were lost, we were unsure, we looked silly. It was scary, exhilarating.
By evening, it was time for the welcoming dinner in the Alumni House. Returning students and faculty arrived. There were hugs, happy tears and shrieks of excitement. My introverted-ness kicked in and I looked around the room for an unoccupied corner. Before I could escape, a woman came up to me, extended her hand and introduced herself. Where are you from? What are you writing about? How did you find out about the program? Who’s your mentor? A conversation started. Other people came over and joined our conversation. I looked at name tags and recognized names, names I had seen on emails, names of people in my small group. A sense of community was developing.
During dinner, the director welcomed us and recognized the faculty sitting among us. Wow, she says, I get to work with these people. She looked at us like she was going to say something, then paused, looked around the room and smiled. She must like us, I thought.
Throughout the week, through lectures, workshops, lunches, dinners, student readings, and “study hall”, I got to know the other students. We came from all over the US, Canada and parts of Europe. Students represented various ages and backgrounds. There were reporters, attorneys, mothers, professors, freelance writers; people writing about families, poverty, music, social injustice, environment, war. We were all so different, yet we were the same.
We were curious, self-motivated, and believed in ourselves enough to devote two years learning how to craft stories we were compelled to write. There was so much positivity, encouragement.
Several graduates joined us the final day of the residency. I recognized the nostalgia they must have felt for this community again. I was feeling nostalgic sitting there, knowing I wouldn’t see everyone again until the summer. It made me relish my time in this program even more, because it is good, and two years will pass quickly.
After eleven days of winter residency, I left campus with forty new writer friends. We go back to our lives to complete the semester with structured support, books to read, group conferences, writing assignments, feedback. We’ll learn to make time during our real lives with families and jobs, to write, read, revise, think, maybe feel uneasy with a piece, put it aside for a couple days, and go back to it with a new perspective.
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