"I need to show you my new blog header!" My friend took a last bite of her mac and cheese, snagged her laptop out of her backpack, and scooted a chair around the corner of the table.
We were sitting in the pub at the Dalhousie University Club with a few classmates and one faculty member, talking New York City, dogs, and inappropriate, self-serving reasons to marry a man. My friend cited money. I cited the need for a quadrilingual interpreter. Our program director called foul, since he perceived that my self-serving reason was actually strategic.
While the evening might sound like a bust, educationally speaking, it was, in fact, an integral part of the residency experience. Let's break it down.
- My friend is a 20-something from Toronto whose professional writing experience has centered around theater scripts and lifestyle blogging. I'm a 30-something from the States (too many of them to list) and a professional writer of the article, marketing, business variety. We never would have met, let alone become pals, nor exchanged ideas of any kind, had we not met during our first residency last summer.
- The basement pub in the Dal Club is the go-to venue for evening hangouts among the two years of MFA students in session for these short residency weeks, as well as our faculty, mentors, and publisher-sponsored writer and editor in residence. Book titles are hashed out over beers (or in my case, the ginger soda I dream about the rest of the year). Research plans sort themselves out across the tables. And author platforms begin to gel, blog headers and all.
- For the most part, students from both classes, faculty, and mentors mingle freely throughout the residency, so fresh perspectives and new friendships develop here in Halifax and carry on through the year on Facebook, through emails, at writing groups formed by students living in close proximity, and at the remaining residencies in the program.
- Each class only intersects with the one ahead twice and the one behind twice. There are only so many opportunities to make connections, share knowledge, get the scoop on past events, learn about one another's projects, and discover ways to help one another later.
- Everyone wants to know the details of the winter NYC publishing residency. Before the wrap-up session on Saturday. Because travel. And money. (Also because NYC, except for me because it is my least-favorite city and it only takes me 3 hours to get there from home, anyway.)
In a few short days, we'll leave here, scattering to the far corners of the upper half of North America with nothing but ourselves, blank screens, and the memory of these two weeks to power us through the fall.
If we're sharp, we're soaking in everything we can from the people around us and the ambience of this place, so some day in late November, when we're really feeling the strain, we can close our eyes and put ourselves right back in the pub, on a warm summer night, with the laughter and chatter of friends around us. And we can remember that we're not really alone.