Last night, I had my first workshop of the semester. Manuel Gonzales is teaching this time around. Because our class didn’t meet until so late in January (most classes started on the 14th), we spent half an hour introducing ourselves and our work, then jumped straight into two focused hours of workshop. An upbeat atmosphere, but no nonsense either. And let me tell you, I am really excited about this semester.
Manuel has been communicating with us since November about his workshop philosophy and how the class would be organized. Since we started two weeks late, essentially, he also gave us some reading to do over winter break.
We read five books: Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee, I Am Not Jackson Pollock by John Haskell, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, and Open City by Teju Cole. All of these were to be read by the first day of class. We also have a packet of essays and short stories to read by the end of February. It’s an interesting bunch of texts. My favorites were Waiting for the Barbarians and A Visit from the Goon Squad, but to be fair, I was biased towards Barbarians from the beginning because I love the Cavafy poem it’s taken from. I want to post the last two lines because I love them so much, but that would sort of ruin the experience of the poem if you haven’t read it. So I won’t be selfish, but go read it 🙂
Manuel talked last night about his expectations of the workshop, and I really liked what he had to say. He encouraged us not to turn in polished pieces that have been workshopped three times already, but to tap into whatever we are interested in as writers and push it to the breaking point. He told us, “Break things. Then we’ll fix them.” He doesn’t especially care whether we write quiet dramas, experimental fiction, or genre fiction, as long as we are pushing ourselves with it. I feel like it’s an environment where my cohort can be comfortable and informal, but also learn a lot. Pretty exciting stuff. Oh, and we each get to turn in three pieces (~75 pages total), which is helpful. I won’t turn in my first submission for a couple of weeks, so my priority until then will be to push the submission as far as I can on my own and not be afraid to break things.
Last semester the poetry and fiction students were together in the same workshop; this semester we’re separated, but our workshops are at the same time, so a bunch of us still went out and had a drink afterwards. It’s nice to focus more on genre and craft, which was hard to do in a multigenre workshop, but I’m thankful that we had a chance last semester to read each other’s work and form a sense of community.
One of the strange things about being in a two-year program is that I already have to begin seriously thinking about my thesis. Not that it has ever been far from my mind, but last semester felt sparkly and new and full of possibility. Like there was all the time in the world to play with ideas. Now, I’ve settled on my thesis (a novel I’ve been working on) and I’m brainstorming potential committee members–even though I’ve only really completed two classes so far. It can feel a little overwhelming. And to be fair, the pressure isn’t coming from the program but from myself. We technically have until the end of the third semester, I think, to finalize committees. But I didn’t realize how tough it would be to form mentor relationships in such a short time frame, and it’s something that I will focus a little more energy on this semester. I don’t usually mind being in a two-year program–there are advantages–but this is one case where it would be lovely to have a third year, and have more time to experiment with my work and get to know faculty.
All in all, however, it has been a great start to the semester after a restful break. I think my cat is more upset that break is over than I am! (Yesterday, while I was leaning against the kitchen counter, he jumped onto the counter and then climbed onto my shoulder and wrapped himself around my neck. He doesn’t quite understand why I ever have to work.) I’m sure there will be moments during the semester when I’d like a break, but for now, I’m glad to be back and ready to dive into workshop.
Oh yeah, and basketball season is heating up, so if you need me before April I’ll be standing outside my apartment watching couches burn from a safe distance. (Just kidding. Kind of…) Here’s a little taste of local flavor.