About now, I imagine that the newly admitted members of King's MFA class of 2018 are receiving stuffed envelopes and excited emails notifying them of their acceptance. This post is for them.
Dear Class of 2018,
In about a month, you're going to suffer a collective freak out when you see the project summaries and short bios my class submitted a year ago, along with those of your own classmates. It's the same borderline hyperventilation many of us survived last spring.
I remember retreating to a conference room at my former workplace, documents in hand, and wondering what on earth I'd gotten myself into. When I read a few excerpts out loud to a coworker, her eyes bugged out, she turned the air blue for a hot second, and then she told me that as far as she was concerned, I fit right in with the impressive folks whose qualifications I was waving in the air. She was right. I do. You will, too.
You're probably going to spend the summer questioning that fact, while you try to get up to speed on pre-residency reading and writing assignments. You're going to wonder whether you're too old to stay in the dorms or whether you should pony up for a hotel or an Airbnb, because you are a capital-G Grownup. Stay in the dorms. You'll make friends fast and always find someone willing to chat or explore the beautiful city with you. Besides, it's only two weeks.
As you get to thinking about your book, you're going to have doubts. If you can, try to start your research (or at least give some thought to your research) this summer. It'll make your mentor sessions in Halifax super productive, which will make the fall semester so much smoother, when you're back on your own, playing chicken with your calendar. If you have multiple story ideas, start thinking through them now. You can always shift gears, but at least you'll have relative merits and challenges sorted for yourself.
In my opinion, this program is as demanding as you make it. You're a good (maybe excellent) writer with a meritorious (maybe publishable) book idea. That's what got you in the door. Your mentor will offer plenty of guidance and suggestions, but he or she will also follow your lead. Setting and meeting deadlines? That's on you! Submitting work you're proud of? That too! Figuring out how much you can responsibly tackle in a semester? Good luck! (Hint: 60 pages? Totally doable. 80 pages? Um, just remember the spring is nearly two months shorter than the fall. Ahem. Unlike some of us ... me.)
The program may feel a little "loose" to you. That's the magic of it, as I've learned. Last summer, I made a two-day drive into Halifax as my usual super-alert, totally intense self. I. Was. Ready. Then, after settling into my dorm room and stocking the fridge, I wandered over to register. My class's fearless leader, Stephen Kimber, offered a jovial greeting that set me at ease right away. The Hawaiian shirt and sandals helped. One of our mentors, David Hayes, was chatting with him, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up, equally curious to meet the new gang of writers.
As someone in the class of 2016 said to me with a chuckle later that night: "This is Halifax. Whatever intensity you're expecting, ratchet down 20 percent." She was right. Halifax is something of a surf town, and somehow, that vibe has infused this program. Throw a shaka, hang loose, and you'll be fine. The intensity comes later, when you're having a staring contest with a blank screen or figuring out how to interview someone who is un-interview-able.
In fact, you'll find that as the clock moves toward 5 p.m. that first night at King's, a motley collection of people will start emerging from dorm rooms and cars and making their way across the parking lot to the barbecue. You won't necessarily be able to tell the mentors from the students. Last year, those of us who looked tentative and reserved gravitated toward one another and introduced ourselves, perching on the stone steps in the warmth of the summer sun. The folks from the class of 2017 stood out in our cleanest hot-weather wear, with notepads and pens, eager students returning to school after decades, years, or mere months living other lives.
Then the shrieking started. The members of the class of 2016, without any reserve whatsoever, were flinging themselves into one another's arms, chattering and jabbering over and around one another about their projects, successes, families, travels. Giddy at being together again, it was evident they were one another's grandest cheerleaders. We watched, all wondering, I think, whether that would be us in a year.
It will be. It was us in Toronto in January, after all. The mutual admiration society formed last August in classrooms and coffeeshops, on trips to bookstores and over lobster rolls and ice cream on the boardwalk. And the force is strong. There is nothing quite as excellent as walking down a hallway, catching the eye of a friend up ahead and being pulled into a hug as soon as your feet cross the threshold. Unless it's being spun around tables and chairs from person to person, everyone greeting everyone with bright eyes and broad grins after months of separation.
By New York, that will be you, too. For this summer, though, just breathe. You are in for what may be one of the most challenging, fun, enlightening, and rewarding intellectual and creative adventures of your life. Take a deep breath and roll with it. No doubt you'll have brilliant new work in progress in no time.
And remember: We can't wait to meet you!
P.S. It seems like this is the week for writing about lessons learned. My classmate, Nellwyn, has a great, practical post on the subject. Check it out!