A Writer Travels

Boeing_window_wing_248675_lOne of the missions of this blog is to write about the writer's life, all of it, and for this writer (moi), travel for work is an integral part of it.

My writing-related traveling began when I was accepted into the brief residency MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, and fell into the flow of flying back there twice a year, in May and October.

It continued when I was hired as a mentor, lo those many years ago, at the Loft Certificate in Writing program in Nashville (well, really, Murfreesboro, but close enough).  For that gig, I traveled in September and January, and for awhile also went to Nashville in December and April when I was on the staff of the now-defunct Room to Write retreat.

Back in the day, I had clients in Los Angeles, and I'd fly (my favorite commute ever–just two hours on the plane, long enough for a good session of reading and voila, you have arrived) down there several times a year.  (Now I just go visit my friend Mary-Suzanne.)

And now that I do writing retreats, I get to head off the exotic locations such as Diamond, Oregon (population, 9, and we meet in a hotel that was once a stagecoach stop), and Ceret, France, where I'm headed the first week of September.

But at the end of this week, I'm heading back to Louisville again, to be a graduate assistant at Spalding after a ten-year absence.  This all started because at the beginning of the year, I started jonesing to be in the MFA environment again.  I wanted to see how different or similar it might be from the kind of teaching I've been doing, both privately and at the Loft.  I longed to be seriously immersed in the world of writing and literature again.

And, well, seriously immersed doesn't really begin to describe it.  The schedule for the 10 days is 30 pages long!  I'll be assisting one of my former mentors, Mary Clyde, whom I adore, in workshops devoted to critiquing student work, recording lectures, running errands, setting up events, attending readings by faculty and students, and soaking in as many words about writing as I can cram into my brain.  (Oh yeah, and there will be lunches, glasses of wine and dinners with old friends and new along the way.)

(I will also be reading from Emma Jean on Friday the 24th, I believe at 6 PM, and selling my book.  So come see me if you're in Louisville.)

I am going to attempt–attempt–to blog from the residency while I'm there. (If Patrick Ross can do it, surely I can!)  But, like I said, the schedule is 30 pages long, with every day packed and lots of duties outlined for me.   I am not complaining, however.  On the contrary, I cannot wait.

Oh, and the best part?  I don't have to take that cursed 6 AM flight to Dallas that I always get booked on.  My plane leaves at a leisurely 8:20 AM.

Do you travel for work, writing-related or other?  What do you like best or least about it?  Please leave a comment!

Photo by Dolphin22.

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.