Taking Responsibility: A Story

I've got a guest post over at The Artist's Road today.  The title of it is, A Responsibility to Creativity, and its a bit livelier than it sounds, so you should go read it.  Subscribe to Patrick's site (because it is awesome) so you can return and read more later, and then come back.

This whole thing started with that damned Paula Deen, which you can read about in my post on taking complete and total, 100% responsibility.  

I realize I'm asking you to read a lot, sorry.  This responsibility thing is a bit taxing, isn't it?  I've been thinking about it a lot and while it is tiring, it is also refreshing and helpful in day-to-day life.  In all this pondering, I actually remembered how I first came to take responsibility, like real responsibility, for my writing.

Ten years ago I went to graduate school, enrolling as one of the first group of writers to earn their MFA at Spalding's brief-residency program.  The Spalding curriculum is fervidly inter-disciplinary, which means that at each residency we dipped our toes in a different genre of writing.  Every writer in the program participated in an activity and related writing assignment.  My first semester, the chosen genre was poetry. 

Here's the set-up: I arrived in Louisville exactly one month to the day after the 9/11 attacks.  A backdrop to our intense first residency was the constant strum of CNN reading dire stories.  And then the anthrax attacks began.  Fear ratcheted to an extreme level.  Our motel (another story, featuring prostitutes and drug deals, entirely) was right beneath the flight path for the Louisville airport, and some of our number noticed strange-looking men speaking to each other on walkie-talkies.  Were they planning an attack on one of the planes?  Meanwhile my daughter was calling me from Oregon every day, terrified I was going to be poisoned by anthrax and begging me to come home.

And I was supposed to go to the art museum and choose a work of art and then write a poem about it.

Yeah, right.

Poetry has never been my strong suit.

At the museum, I discovered a tapestry woven for King Louis, the Sun King, which got me to thinking about my own son Lewis, who was at that moment in his last year of high school.  So I sat in front of the tapestry and wrote a poem about it and him.  Louis and Lewis, you know? It was a really crappy, sentimental poem, but one that had maybe a glimmer of hope to it.  I worked with it some more, couldn't get it to where I liked it.  Still it was crappy and sentimental. And I was ready to give up, because what did this one poem matter in my overall writing career, when I showed up at the daily workshop, the cornerstone of the residency.

My workshop leaders that residency were Sena Jeter Naslund, the head of the program, and Melissa Pritchard, an amazing writer and mentor whose teaching and speaking style influences mine to this day.  We will now pause for you to be jealous of me getting to work with these two incredible women. Back to the story.  Workshop was ending and all my friends were heading off the cafeteria to eat dinner, something I was eager to join them in, because I was tired and hungry. 

For some unknown reason, perhaps because she asked me, Sena and I began discussing the poetry assignment.  Maybe she asked us how we were all doing on it, I don't know.  But I do know that I sighed heavily and allowed as how mine was just not working out well.   I'm pretty sure certain that I expected Sena to sympathize with me, pat me on the back, tell me not to worry about it and run along and eat dinner with my friends.

But she didn't.

Instead, her words shaped my future attitude toward writing.

"Well, Charlotte," she said in her smooth Alabama drawl, "why don't you go work on it some more, then?"

Oh. Why not, indeed. 

Why not write another draft?  Why not skip dinner and go work on the poem?  Why not claim my work?  Why not step up and be a real writer?

Why not take responsibility?

And so I did.  Instead of going to dinner, I went to the computer lab and penned yet another draft of the poem, or maybe two.  Finally I got it to a point where I was satisfied with it.  I had no idea if it was any good, and I really didn't care.  Because I'd done my best.  I'd taken responsibility. And that felt good.

But the story doesn't end there.  Toward the end of the residency, the poet mentor held a special session in which he discussed the poems that had been turned in, and singled out ones that he liked as examples.  Yes, you guessed.  Mine was one of three that he praised.  I felt like I'd won the biggest writing award ever, because I knew I had earned that praise.  I'd worked for it.  I'd taken responsibility.



If you've found your way over here from Patrick's blog and its your first time, please know that I'm not always this long winded.  Also, usually there are pictures, just not this time cuz I couldn't find any.  Thanks for visiting!  Please feel free to leave a comment.