I’ve been a long time away from this blog – almost a year. I let y’all know I was starting a low-residency MFA at Warren Wilson College in January 2016. What I didn’t know was that the MFA work would displace my energy for blog essays. This August, as I start my second semester, familiar with the rhythm of the weeks to come and the stories, revisions, essays and letters I’ll write for my supervisor (the amazing Lauren Groff!!), I’ve been itchy to blog.
This itch arrived as I’ve experienced the power of outside accountability to transform my priority from “family then writing-unless-everything-else-is-aflame” to “writing then family then everything else.” And that shift in turn revealed the momentum-creating power of daily dedication to a practice.
I feel embarrassed to admit that it took the outlay of thousands of dollars for me to take writing as seriously as it’s taken by the professors and leaders of the MFA. My first semester supervisor, the also-amazing Karen Brennan, gave me positive feedback I didn’t quite believe, in addition to pointing out my shortcomings. And although I didn’t quite believe the good stuff, I did believe she took me seriously. And because I was paying money, I took her feedback seriously, and worked at writing in a way I’d not before. For me, this meant reading and writing instead of shopping and cooking and cleaning. The dust bunnies grew to late-summer-zucchini size. I quit volunteering for the schools, for the church. We ate a lot of takeout. The sons, when they were home, cooked. Engineer hubby got really good at grilling salmon.
Today, the 18 y.o. is at summer academy at Virginia Tech, and the 15 y.o. is away at Friends Music Camp. I am writing and reading like a madwoman. And of course it’s no coincidence that I’m freed to discover the waxing power of dedication as parenting duties wane.
But here’s the thing: we survived with the dust bunnies and the take-out pizza. I regret the years I walked away from dedication to my writing in order to make the house look “good,” to cook a “good” meal, the years I abandoned my writing without even examining the very real cost that extracted from me, from my family, from my community.
In these heart-breaking times, the importance of writing fiction may seem slight, laughable, abstract, irrelevant; in short, unimportant.
However: as Alan Shapiro noted in his last lecture of this July’s residency (available for download for $5 here and worth every penny), our capacity to kill each other is fueled by our lack of imagination. An inability to imagine another’s perspective, imagine their experience, imagine their life. If we are to emerge from our moment in history transformed into more than our cruelties, we must dedicate ourselves to expanding, deepening, broadening our capacity to see beauty in others.
The way I connect with beauty is through writing; I aim to dedicate myself to bringing it forth.
Whatsoever it is that connects you to beauty and to the beauty of others, dedicate yourself to it. We need all of us doing all we can.
Last night EH cooked salmon. I rinsed the dishes and tucked them into the dishwasher.
And then I wrote.
May it be so for you as well.