Sunday, December 11, 2011

On Congratulating Myself for Taking the Writer-in-Residence Workshop by Mary Long

Before, I didn't know who Michael Martone was. Now, I keep a look out for fabulous postcards to send him. The week-long workshop in collage that I feared would put me over the near-the-end-of-semester edge did, instead, the opposite. It was, in one word, refreshing. Revitalizing. Energizing. Insert your own best synonym and it was probably that, too.

During the semester, I sometimes wish. the end. would. just. come.  As much as I love teaching and workshop and all the other fun stuff we do, burnout can settle in and make it seem like the things that I love are work. Mind-numbing, soul-sucking work. And while they are work, most of the time I dig my work. That’s why I do it.  Michael Martone’s class reminded me that I love what I do because I got to learn about and write in a specific style FOR ONE WEEK ONLY. One week: that’s nothing! There was no time to get bored, no time to wish it were over, no time to, really, even begin to get a grasp on everything he was teaching. But it was exactly enough time to give me a break from everything else.

When I saw that the reading list for our week long course was 3 books long, I about fell over. Three books in one week? On top of my other work? I didn’t know how to make that happen. But then the course started, Michael Martone began working his magic, and the desire to read and discuss Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein, Dime-Store Alchemy by Charles Simic, and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje grew with each work. It sounds corny. I get it.  But enthusiasm ran high in that class because it didn’t have a chance to dissipate. We were looking at work with fresh eyes, and the material that we were able to generate wasn’t for a grade (though we all, I think, wanted to impress Michael Martone), it was for us, for fun.  The worth of this toward the end of Spring semester was invaluable: to remember that writing is fun, that it’s why I’m an MFA, that if I hope to do it forever I have to be able, at any point, to find new ways of looking at it.

Collage is not my specialty, but thinking about work as a collection of intersecting and connecting pieces, and Martone’s encouragement to just play with the form, to get a taste for it, to enjoy it for the sake of enjoying it, opened up some space in my head that had been previously filled with grading or deadlines or stress or the fuzziness of drinking done in an effort to relieve all the previously mentioned things. I want that space again. I don’t rightly know yet who Eula Biss is (don’t kill me, those who are already avid fans; I’ll be one soon enough, I’m sure). But I know that if the department is bringing her in, it’s to ignite something in us, to give us some juice. So I’ll take it. I’ll make it work because I know that it’s worth it. And this time around, it’s not for a unit, I hear, which makes a big difference because I had to pay for that unit last time.  Adjustments might be necessary, but we should be used to that.

I had to cancel one of my classes the week of Martone’s class.  Actually, it was a peer review week, and I told my students about the class I’d be taking and how much I wanted them to be able to still get feedback from each other. I offered them to join my other class, but instead they met on their own, exchanged on their own, met again and returned drafts w/comments to each other, and finished their final drafts. We started a new reading the next week. I had my doubts about them actually coming through, but like I’ve said, it was only a week. Maybe I had an especially good class; I asked them what they wanted to do, they told me, and they followed through. For anyone who thinks that they can’t trust their class to work through a week off, get a substitute. There are plenty of MAs who probably won’t be interested in a week-long creative seminar and we all operate on the favors system. Do I worry this time might be different?  Yes. But I won’t let that dissuade me. I owe it to myself, my writing, and my teaching to indulge in a spark when it’s available. 

Mary Long is getting her MFA in fiction, plays for the Gold Coast Derby Grrls, and enjoys many kinds of beverages.

*Eula Biss will be the 2012 Sanders Writer in Residence at FAU from March 12-16.  In addition to teaching a one week class for FAU's MFA students, she will give a public lecture on Writing Creative Nonfiction (T Mar 13, 7 pm, Live Oak Pavilion, Room D) and read from her work (R Mar 15, 7 pm, Live Oak Pavilion, Room D).


  1. Martone's class last Spring was great. Nice reflective piece here, Mary.

    1. I agree with the word 'fresh.' Michael Martone's workshop brought fresh air into my beginning-to-stale writing, as did Forrest Gander's workshop the year before. Those are two of the best weeks I've ever spent.