Well readers, tonight is my last post and I’m writing about writing communities.
I never realized how important having a writing community was until I didn’t have one anymore. I started my MFA in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College right after I graduated from my BA at SUNY Binghamton in 2002. I was 22 and eager to study with one of my favorite poets, Marie Howe.
That fall, I expected to be among many other fresh-faced college grads ready to start their MFA’s, but I wasn’t. To my surprise, most of my classmates were at least 5-10 years older than me, (some even older than that) and I felt like the odd one out. It didn’t make things any better that I had a job three days a week in Manhattan and couldn’t stay late on campus even if I had wanted to. Living at home on Long Island, helped me out financially, but being on campus only two days a week created a disconnect. I didn’t quite realize it until I stood at graduation with my graduating class and realized I barely had anyone to talk to.
I graduated in 2004, and moved out of my parents’ house and into Manhattan. Over the next 4-5 years, I worked full time and did a second Masters in English Education at Hunter College. I was barely writing. When I did I write, It was awful and I just wasn’t motivated. I chose to be out with friends, rather than being alone at my desk. I didn’t even know why I called myself a “poet.” I barely sent poems out to magazines and I barely went to literary readings.
Then, my personal life got complicated. (I will spare you the details.) One thing led to another, and then I had a revelation: I needed a workshop and a community of writers. I never realized how alone I felt artistically.
Enrolling in a continuing education poetry workshop at The New School saved me. (Ironically, I almost went to the New School for my MFA, but then I got off the waiting list at SLC). In my workshops, I felt alive. I made new friends, and with those friendships came a writing community. I couldn’t have been happier. I realized that what I loved about being a creative writing major as an undergrad was that I had a network of friends who read my work and cared about it. I hadn’t had that in years.
Being in a workshop brought me back to the things that I loved: literary readings and conferences. Discovering literary gems like, Poets House made me feel good about being a poet.
I thought that just because I had my MFA and because I identified myself as a “poet,” that the other writers would find their ways into my life. Things don’t work that way. As a writer (or any kind of artist) you need to know that it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and that you are going to have to roll up your sleeves if you want to carve a piece for yourself.
Over time, I learned to make my writing space one that I felt good about. I started to surround myself with the things I loved. Virginia Woolf was right, you need a room of your own, but if you can’t get a room, get a desk and surround it with what makes you happy. For me, it’s mementoes.
This is a photo of what hangs above my desk, above my laptop:
One of my best friends, Rebecca, is a poet that I met in workshop. She’s someone I email drafts to all the time; someone who inspires me, supports me and motivates me as a poet. When we became friends, it felt like we had been friends our whole lives, and then before I knew it she had graduated and moved back home to Toronto. I know one of the things she misses the most is not having her friends and her writing community close to her anymore. She was smarter than I was. She immediately joined not one, but two workshops shortly after her move: one with Mike Boughn and Victor Coleman, and one with Hoa Nguyen.
It’s important to have a writing community of your own. I’m not saying you need to be in a workshop. You don’t. You need to do what works for you. I couldn’t do it on my own. I didn’t realize what I was missing until I threw myself back into workshop-mode again and saw how much I thrived. I’m like a little kid; I still get so excited each week before class. It completes me.
I want to end this post by talking about online writing communities. I really think the internet is a key factor in fostering community, especially in a big city like New York. There are so many wonderful literary events that are happening all of the time, and we’re lucky to have our pick. I know people badmouth our addictions to things like Facebook and Twitter, but they’ve introduced me to so many great literary organizations, journals, blogs like this one, and websites, not to mention to so many wonderful new friends. One of the things I love about Facebook is the instant access to new writing posts and writing news by my friends.
Before I say so long and farewell, like a member of the von Trapp family, I want to thank Stacey and David for having me as a guest blogger this week. It was so much fun and I truly enjoyed writing the posts and hope everyone enjoyed reading them.
Readers, until we meet again...