Thank you to everyone who’s asked what it was like going to my first residency at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I think it’s taken so long for me to write this post because, in addition to catching up with life and not getting behind on my work, I was a little too close to it all until today. It was a lot to get my head around, as the saying goes. The words of advice we most often heard were, “Pace yourselves. You can’t do it all.”
Monday, 12/28/09: First semester students arrive. I would be staying in a dorm, Dewey Hall. In my packet is the final schedule for the residency, something I would never want to be without for the next 10 days. The first meeting takes place after supper. First semester students of all ages (lots right out of college) appear to be choosing the low-residency format because it more closely resembles the life of a writer, and it allows for a life outside of school. Students are here to study fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction.
Tuesday, 12/29/09: Orientation continues with, among other things, visits to the library and getting our picture made for our student ID. Finally, the first substantive event, a faculty reading at 8:00 pm.
Wednesday, 12/30/09: No water in the entire town of Montpelier. A water main burst. Thank goodness I took a shower last night. First lecture at 10:00 by Ellen Lesser on the State of the Story. Students interview faculty at 11:15 to figure out who to request for an adviser. Takes place in a large room where each writer/teacher has a little spot and the students move about asking questions or listening. Think speed dating. First semester students choose eight, any of whom I’d be happy with. Workshops start after lunch, always two hours plus. Two writers/teachers with 12 students, a nice mix of all five classes (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and Graduates). Faculty readings. Student readings (I’m first!).
Thursday, New Year’s Eve: Yes, it’s true. I did ask why: lots of faculty and students have other jobs so VCFA tries to make use of all holidays. More lectures, readings, and workshops. A lecture by Natasha Saje on ways to evaluate literary texts. An auction to celebrate the new year.
Friday, New Year’s Day: I do attend the 9:00 am lecture by Robert Vivian on the wonder of the sentence. (I’m responsible for recording it!) In fact, this is a day full of lectures. No speaking required by students. A lecture by Laurie Alberts on 4 choices re time: real time, slow it down, speed it up, compress it. Adviser forms due today. More readings. The list of advisers and their assigned students is posted on the Noble bulletin board.
Saturday, 1/2/10: More lectures. Our first meeting with our advisers. This is a group meeting with the adviser and all his or her advisees. We receive the dates our packets will be due, what the packets will contain, and how to send them. Mine are due every four weeks by mail and should contain a letter/summary of my work over the four-week period, approximately 30 pages of fiction, and a 2-3 page critical analysis of some aspect of craft (just one of these, I think.) Workshops. A lecture by Larry Sutin on how we end up reading what we do in a lifetime. More readings.
Sunday, 1/3/10: Lectures and readings. David Jauss gives a lecture on abstractions (they are a short cut that asks the reader to do the hard part). My meeting with my adviser. We work on a reading list for the semester.
Monday, 1/4/10: Workshops, lectures, talks, and readings. A talent show.
Wednesday, 1/6/10: Workshops and readings. Last lecture of the residency by Phyllis Barber (and last at VCFA for her-she’s retiring) on the craft of writing. Most lectures are not just good but outstanding, and I learn something from each one. This program is so the right thing for me to be doing.
Friday, 1/8/10: Travel day. My shuttle picks me up at 3:30 am(!) for a 6:00 am flight out of Burlington.
[you might also be interested in the second residency]