How can it be just like yesterday and yet completely different?
I attended the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Goddard College in Vermont from summer 1999 to summer 2001. It was one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of my life.
Just before graduation from Goddard, each student takes a literal and symbolic trip along a path to the college’s library, to leave a copy of their thesis for the stacks. Mine was a collection of short stories. That thick, black-bound book contained hours of pain, joy, tears and a broken engagement.
The walk down the path, for me at least, from the main buildings of campus to the library tucked into the woods, was a physical and spiritual release of those two years of hard work.
During my last two semesters, I became good friends with Tim Kenyon, a 1999 graduate, who returned to Goddard to watch friends graduate each semester. He convinced me to come to the Clockhouse Writers Conference, held each summer just for MFAW alum.
I showed up at CWC in 2002 and experienced writing life as an alum, with writers from different years and genres.
During that first summer as an alum, I walked the path to the library again, over the dirt and pine needles, and realized that the graduation walk was not the end, it was the beginning. Being away from the safety of a structured program, out from under the tutelage of an advisor, without deadlines or expectations – this is where I would experience pain and joy tenfold.
I attended CWC from 2002 to 2005. Each summer, through the support of these extraordinary friends/writers, my writing and my soul became swollen with vitality that carried me through the year.
Then I had a baby. Not a novel that I created and birthed and sent out into the world, but a real human baby. One that could not be set aside until I was ready to work on it.
And so I did not return to Goddard after my daughter was born. Nor did I write very much. There wasn’t much time to write with a newborn around, but also I didn’t have the energy. More pressing, I didn’t have any new stories.
Dozens of people told me how wonderful it was that I’d have so many new stories to write now that I had a baby. I would nod but grit my teeth, unable to tell them the last thing I wanted to write about was the joys of being a new mother: a baby who puked on me every time she nursed; a baby who refused to sleep anywhere but in my arms or pressed up against me in my bed; of returning to work two weeks after birth because my husband had been laid off.
I wanted to write about ANYTHING but that.
Time, logistics, finances – everything kept me from attending CWC until now, five years later. The stars have aligned in many ways in my blessed life and here I am again. While my daughter, and my husband, and now my dog, miss me, I am selfishly thinking very little about them.
I am writing. I am reading. I am communing with other writers who make me laugh until I cry. And who make me cry until I laugh.
Yesterday, I walked the path to the library, slow and deliberate. Looking with amusement at the rock towers that students had built, large to small rocks, one at a time, on top of each other until the tiniest pebble perched on top. I considered adding a rock to a tower, but stopped myself. These were creations of the current students.
The path was the same, but again, different. Different than as a student, a graduate, my first walk as an alum. It was a path to return to for as long as I wanted. It would remain, no matter how I changed.