I came to the Vermont Studio Center thinking I perhaps had a few poems that I liked. I am leaving tomorrow morning with 9 poem-draft-drafts, 4 poem-drafts, and 14 poems that I like enough to send out to journals. It’s not that I wrote them all here — I wrote two from scratch material here, and one poem-draft-draft here. It’s that I came here not sure if I was a writer, or if what I’d been writing all year was really material that the world needed. Now I see that everything in my life really is material, and these scraps of things I was writing all year I have been given the chance to turn whole. I didn’t know how to move anything past the draft stage for the past year and a half. I think I was too much in crisis mode to polish. I needed to write, but I couldn’t push it to the professional point — or I needed to write, but I didn’t know how to push it past the draft writing that only I needed into a piece that the world could also access.
I came here not sure what sort of artist I am. I’m leaving with a much better understanding of why I make what I make, why it matters to me, and how it can be pushed — and also with a lot more questions. I know that there’s something I love about poetry, and also something I love about creative nonfiction, and about drawing. I came here feeling like somewhat of a fraud, hovering between all these worlds without dipping my feet fully into any. But now I see that I can do all of it. It just takes doing it. And while I’ve been feeling like a fraud, I had about 20 poems hiding in my journals all year long. And while I’ve been feeling like a fraud, I have a creative nonfiction manuscript that is complete (or at least for now), has an agent, and will someday hopefully soon be published. Making work can feel like time is moving backwards sometimes, but stepping back like this, printing out all these papers and seeing the sum of it, it’s proof that work is getting done even when it doesn’t feel like it is. I can leave here tomorrow knowing that I write, that I should write, and that there are a lot of projects inside of me, and that I don’t need to limit myself to one genre. I’m also leaving with a series of poems that I have to accept as a gift and keep pushing into a larger manuscript. That means that I actually am working on my second manuscript–I’m leaving being able to say that.
I came here not knowing how to be a professional writer. Now I know more which journals might accept my work and that I should submit to journals much more often. I know more that I really do have connections to all these artists, and they value what I have to say. And that the writing world really isn’t that big, and there’s room for me in it. And I know now much more securely that what I do is valid. Seeing all these artists sitting at their desks each day, staring out the window until a word comes, or spending the day reading, waiting, or spending the day researching, all these things are valid and necessary. It’s been hard in my life to say I’m a writer and an artist when people ask me what I do. Because I don’t go to my studio everyday, sometimes I write from home, because I’m not ever sure exactly what I’m writing, because the whole process is so mysterious, and because my publications are few. And because life has been difficult. It’s easier to talk about what I do in verbs than nouns — to say that I just graduated and I’m working on a book while raising dogs and kids and waiting for a baby — never mind I graduated two years ago and I don’t work on that particular book each day anymore. Coming here, surrounded by all these fascinating people doing what I do, it helps me to feel legit.
I came here in a crisis mode, hunkered down, afraid of flying bricks. I am leaving here no longer in crisis mode. I went through a lot in the past year and a half, but I feel that that chapter is over. After I wrote recently that I wasn’t sure what I was getting out of this blog format, I went back through the blog and read every single entry. And I realized that, one, there’s a lot of material there, and, two, that I went through a lot. I went through a lot, and meanwhile I was punishing myself for not pushing my work to a new level, but I don’t know if I could have then. I went through a lot and it’s over now.
As a sidenote, I have to say that for some reason I love to write and put images in this space. Sometimes poetry for me, at least right now, isn’t capacious enough. In this space I have all these questions that I’m grappling with in real time, plus I can publish photographs, and drawings, and notes, thoughts, poem-drafts, quotes from the outside world, all these things. It’s all material, I’m seeing here that it’s all material for future projects, even if I don’t know how. And most likely it’s unprofessional to have an online journal, but I like having it. It’s energy-giving. So at least for now it’s working for me.
I came here feeling a bit skittish of people, and feeling isolated. I’m leaving tomorrow feeling very connected to this group. For all my bad feelings about artists coming in, here are a bunch of genuinely kind people. The writers were especially close, and I’ve never been so confident that I was safe. There’s no sense of underlying judgment or threat here. I walk back to my room alone in the dark and all I have to think about is the beauty of the sky. Once when we were crossing the street and a car came, two people grabbed me to make sure I made it fast enough, though I was fine. Then one grabbed my arm to make sure I didn’t trip over something. I couldn’t go on a hike, it was just going to be too long and too uphill, and one of them brought me back a piece of a pine tree. I rarely had to bus my own plate. I’ve already had several offers to help me carry my suitcase to the shuttle bus tomorrow. I’m not asking for this sort of attention, I swear I’m not, but people here are attentive to one another. For all the reasons that I can’t wait to go home tomorrow, I’m still sad to see this group separate. We’ll never all be together again, and there was a dynamic that helped us truly coalesce the way that only some groups do.
It’s hard to see how something has changed you sometimes until time has passed. Probably there will be other ways, but these are the ways I can see right now. Going into the next phase in my life, I have a much more solid sense of myself as an individual and as a writer.
Walking out of my bedroom in the morning, the ground frosted, this is what I’ll miss.