The First Residency

College Hall, where many of our lectures take place.

College Hall, where many of our lectures take place.

This morning, at the final VCFA MFA in WCYA faculty lecture, Tom Birdseye named the two factors that push a person to write: a plan and a deadline. And it’s true. These last almost-two weeks have filled me with information, inspiration, and determination. I have finally experienced my first MFA residency and never cried once, not even on linen day. I’m proud of that, because if I were going to cry at any point in the residency it would have happened after my piece, the first twenty-five pages of AND THE BLACKBIRDS MOCK, was workshopped several days ago.

It’s not that anyone was unkind. My workshop leaders, Martine Leavitt and Shelley Tanaka, are kind, wonderful women who lead thorough and lively workshops. Martine told us on the first of six two-hour workshop sessions that seeing what DOES work in a peer’s piece is just as important as seeing what doesn’t. My lovely workshop group and leaders found issues and strengths in BLACKBIRD that I never saw, and I am so grateful for that. I’m also grateful that, in the end, I the writer choose what to keep and what to let fall to the grass.

So I didn’t cry, but today I came close when I realized that I’m saying goodbye to this exhilarating place for six months. The VCFA class of July 2014 receive their diplomas in an hour. Our last workshop happened this morning, and in it Martine gave us a washer tied to a string and told us to focus on it, to will it to move back and forth, side to side, in a circle. I’m not sure how—an optical illusion? The pulse moving through the thumb? Willpower?—but mine did what I willed it to do.


When we were finished staring at our little washers-on-a-string, Martine told us that early in her writing life, someone told her to always remember that she is a writer. She told us the same thing: we are writers. I, Laura, am a writer, and if I focus on that truth when I feel my most inadequate, I will write.

Shelley told us that she, like Martine, does the washer-on-a-string exercise sometimes to remind herself that she is a writer, and therein lies the beautiful essence of the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults: the faculty, all published and successful authors, struggle like we do with writing though their writer’s toolboxes are heavier than ours. They fight distractions and emotions and push through criticism and emerge alive on the other side. They are people—thoughtful, caring, and brilliant people who never stop encouraging their students.

As I embark on my first six months of graduate school with a semester plan and five deadlines, a bunch of half-formed tools in my toolbox, and thirty-odd new writer friends to laugh and cry with, I will dangle the string from my thumb and first finger and tell myself the everlasting truth: I am writer, no matter what.

The first two books for my first packet bibliography. The one on the left is by a VCFA alum!

The first two of ten books: I’m reading these tonight and all the way home tomorrow for my first packet bibliography. The one on the left is by a VCFA alum!


P.S. Because of that plan and those deadlines, I won’t be able to write on this blog as much as I would like to. You may have noticed that already. I plan to post once a month, if not more often, so please stay with me, and thank you for reading!

And here are some photos from my time here in Vermont:

Found these while on a run yesterday morning.

Found these while on a run yesterday morning.

Another scene from that same trail run.

Another scene from that same trail run.

Green beauty.

Green beauty.



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