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The MFA Post - Episode 1

hooded me

It has been exactly one month since I drove away from Vermont College of Fine Arts at the end of my first residency.

Gulp.

In that month, I've read with purpose, written my first critical essay, drafted two new picture books, revised one, and started something YA (I'm not sure if it's going to be a story, a novella, or a novel) that is a retelling of a Grimm Fairy Tale.

I've received my first packet letter. I read it with equal parts trepidation and hope, both of which turned out to be appropriate. I'm starting to think of picture books as icebergs. What you see on the page, whether it's text or illustration, is only a fraction of what is really there, but the whole thing must exist clearly in the mind of the creator in order for that tip to float.

For my second packet, there will be some serious iceberg building.

Even before I received that packet letter, I was thinking about my second critical essay, which sent me back to my lecture notes. Rereading them evoked a mix of "Wow!", "Yeah!", and occasional "What did I mean by that?"

My notes also brought me back to the Chapel, to Noble Lounge, to the Q&As that followed the lectures, to late-night conversations and meal-time conversations. Talking with people who are as passionate about Story in all its manifestations, books and reading and writing and process, is as important as the actual reading and writing and process. Being in that community brings out the best in us, I suspect, as well as providing us with new ideas and support. I was reminded of what a community of like-minded people can do when I watched the end of the Grammys last week. Something happened when Paul McCartney was shredding with Springsteen, Dave Grohl, and Joe Walsh--they stopped being celebrities on a stage and became musicians, pure and simple, and it was all in their expressions. Eyes lit, smiles wide at the sheer amazingness of what whoever was playing was laying down, concentration intense, they could have been in a high school band, feeling the sheer delight of being in the moment for the first time. (The photo at Spinner.com almost catches it.) Those moments happen most when we creative types are around our kind. That's the sort of thing an MFA allows.
 
I'm not going to go into any specifics of what happened at residency, though, because when someone says "What happens at VCFA stays at VCFA," it needs to be taken seriously.

Because here's the thing: We are at our most powerful when we reveal our deepest selves, and our deepest selves are most often secret. Sharing the deepest secret about ourselves isn't easy, and we absolutely must be able to trust that the people we share them with keep them in confidence, because those secrets are ours, not theirs, to share. It's the difference between coming out and being outed.

We need to have those places where it is safe to share our deep secrets, too, because the results can be breathtaking. I was reminded of this last night, when I re-watched "Blow Dry" (2001) because I needed an Alan Rickman fix. Plot summary: Phil (Alan Rickman), his wife Shelley (Natasha Richardson), and Sandra (Rachel Griffiths) had been a championship hair-styling team until 10 years earlier, when Shelley left Phil (and their son) for Sandra, right before the championship competition. The challenge: they all live and work in the same small Yorkshire town. The complication: Shelley has terminal cancer; Sandra feels herself to be an ugly cow, second fiddle, not good enough.... The championship is coming to town, bringing with it the team's in-it-to-win-it arch-rival, Ray, played with panache--what else--by Bill Nighy. Suffice it to say that the Phil-Shelley-Sandra team comes back together. The culminating moment is when Phil creates a "Total-Look" for Sandra that reveals (figuratively and literally) her hidden beauty. Sandra can come out on stage in her nearly-naked, gilded and tattooed self only because she has first revealed herself to Shelley, Phil, and the son. (You can catch a glimpse of her in the trailer, but it's worth watching the whole R-rated movie.)

Those deep secrets are crucial, too, because, I suspect, they are the better, if not the best, part of the all-important underwater portion of our story icebergs.

And that means I have even more work than I thought when I first started this post. Because something is keeping me from making one particular iceberg as fully-shaped as it needs to be, and that something is somewhere in me.

It's time to submerge.


Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
robinellen
Feb. 19th, 2012 06:17 pm (UTC)
I've never really attempted a pb, but I think this is an accurate assessment :) (I'll have to look for that movie!)
wordsrmylife
Feb. 20th, 2012 03:21 pm (UTC)
It's a really good movie for a novelist to watch, because of the way it weaves the sub-plots and the main plot together, and because everything rises from the characters. The writer was Simon Beaufoy, who also wrote The Full Monty, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and Slumdog Millionaires.
jbknowles
Feb. 20th, 2012 12:54 pm (UTC)
What a beautiful, beautiful post.

<3
wordsrmylife
Feb. 20th, 2012 03:12 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jo. It means a lot that you, who write so many beautiful posts, should say that.

<3

Edited at 2012-02-20 03:13 pm (UTC)
jeannineatkins
Feb. 20th, 2012 04:04 pm (UTC)
Beautiful post, Kathy. I'm glad your time at VCFA was so rich. Good luck with submerging! I know you'll come out with something strong and sparkling.
talea_st_amour
Feb. 21st, 2012 07:09 am (UTC)
Love "Blow Dry" and we just watched it last week, too. It is a great movie your assessment is spot on re: sub-plots and character driven.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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Reading Raves

Nation (Terry Pratchett), Men of Salt (Michael Benanav), Paper Towns (John Green), Lavinia (Ursula K. LeGuin), Weight (Jeanette Winterson), The Wizard, the Witch & Two Girls from Jersey (Lisa Papademetriou), Beastly (Alex Flinn), Hogfather (Terry Pratchett), London Calling (Edward Bloor), Before I Die (Jenny Downham), My Mother the Cheerleader (Robert Sharenow), Antsy Does Time (Neal Shuesterman), Against Medical Advice (James Patterson & Hal Friedman), Wait for Me (An Na), Doppelganger (David Stahler), The Year We Disappeared (Cylin Busby, John Busby); Little Brother (Cory Doctorow); King of Screwups (K.L. Going), Tyrell (Coe Booth), Goth Girl Rising (Barry Lyga), Bad Apple (Laura Ruby), The Sky is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson), Hold Still (Nina LaCour), Will Grayson, Will Grayson (John Green & David Levitahn), Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto (Eric Luper), Ostrich Boys (Keith Gray), Front & Center (Catherine Gilbert Murdock), Twenty Boy Summer (Sarah Ockler), I Shall Wear Midnight (Terry Pratchett), Tales of the Madman Underground (John Barnes), Please Ignore Vera Dietz (A.S. King), Sex: A Book for Teens (Nikol Hasler), The Girl Who Became a Beatle (Greg Taylor), Crazy (Han Nolan), Pull (B.A. Binns), Pearl (Jo Knowles)
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