Wednesday, August 11, 2021

workshop dreams and nightmares


It's been a bit humid the last few nights in my apartment, cool enough to sleep with the window fan on, but not as comfy as it could be.  Mostly I toss and turn a lot, shed clothing, seek out the covers only to throw them off an hour later. . Becuase I wake often, perhaps I dream more--or at least remember my dreams more. Sunday night, one about collecting packages in a building I no longer live in. Another about going back to grad school--some sort of small writing MFA program with everyone significantly younger than me and me hating it immediately. 

The dread which I woke to for a situation I am not, nor do I plan to be again, telling only in its intensity.  Maybe I've been thinking about grad school for other things too much. Or thinking about my Sealey challenge selections and how they were often suggested by my MFA peers (maybe one of the best things about grad school.). I don't, despite brief flickers of interest in cinema studies, plan to enroll in any sort of grad program, least of all writing.  Especially since the latter, while I can point out certain things in the value it provided, mostly was something, even a little way in, I began thinking was a mistake almost immediately.  I stuck it out, because I don't like to quite things I start. Because it wasn't costing me much money (staff discount at CC).  Because I wanted the success of having done it, even if I didn't completely enjoy doing it. 

Had I been 40 instead of the cusp of 30, I probably wouldn't have endured things that didn't bring me joy, but I was still very young then. (I also would not have felt I had to make changes in my thesis to graduate  that I changed back when the book was published.) While I made the decision  to do the MFA, it was a toss up between getting that or my MLS (which I only regret in a purely financial way, but which also would have been a mistake.) Later, mid way, I would wish I'd done the Book Arts program, which was far more in line with my creative practice and interests. While I appreciated the years I was doing it for a bit more efforts directed toward poems, I think most of my education might have happened similarly just by my own directions--by experiments and reading, by focusing a bit more on things I was already doing on the side. Even that focus was still split...I still had a 40 hour a week day job, was editing an online journal,  and a couple years in, started dancing girl press.   While my MA years get credit for renewing my love of TS Eliot and unlocking something that led to better poems, I don't remember my MFA years doing much beyond offering a chance to work on some good project prompts, but at the same time, making me angry and resistant to other people's hands and eyes on my work. 

A couple years out, it made me frustrated with writing at all. I still felt the eyes and hands on my work. Every line I wrote, I could hear the snide, occasionally aggressive and dismissive comments of others. I still sometimes do, but I just laugh it off now and don't let it get to me.  Not to say all was bad..many people were excellent readers of my poems and offered great feedback/criticism--useful things and suggestions. And I am not one to refuse to take criticism--but how critical is "Please write another poem." as advice?  It was more the assholes--and the format of the workshop itself that was mostly useless and sometimes detrimental even coming occasionally from the leaders, who were often writing completely different genres of poems. My summation of the experience was that we never really could come to consensus what a good poem was, much less lead a writer to writing one. As such, many writers grew frustrated, convinced themselves they didn't want to write at all anymore if this was how it was done. I often think folks are just being overdramatic when they bemoan the workshop's impact on literary culture (in conversation, in articles) but they are kind of right. Add in contest culture and bottlenecking and I would have been hesitant to travel down that twisty path at all were I not already on it.  

I've been following along and living vicariously as many poets I know talk about workshops and classes and conferences and getting feedback on their work and maybe I am the asshole but this would be the last thing I would go looking for at this stage in my writing life.  Not because I am so very good I don't meed help, but more that all my problems are something I need to figure out on my own. I write the crappiest crap sometimes, but I need to fix it and I'm not sure someone else's hands in the batter would make a better cake. While I love talking submission strategies, creative prompts,  and writer-biz talk, I mostly keep my drafts for myself over the years and really only show them to editors.  In a couple cases I've had to dodge people who insisted on getting me into a writing group since I think I'd rather slam my thumb in a door repeatedly than sit through another workshop. For reals. Also, while I enjoy teaching other types of workshops--bookmaking, zines, collages, you won't find me heading a writing one unless it;s more of a generative or prompt-driven thing (I've done some fun ekphrastic sessions in the past but mostly in the spirit of making--not vivisection.)

And ultimately, it may come down to what I was talking about last week regarding learning styles--my desire to seek things out, to figure things out on my own. But I've always found that the best things I've written were in the dark with the lights out and no one in my head but me..

No comments: