Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Comfort Zone


I returned home on Monday from two weeks away from family (although, not friends) during my MFA residency in Ireland.  Residencies are always intense:
  • homesickness 
  • long talks with dear friends 
  • new friendships 
  • a busy and tight schedule 
  • awe of foreign lands 
  • speaking or reading in front of a crowd of 77 people 
  • learning scads about writing from smart, funny and fascinating faculty 
  • listening to a workshop of 7 smart people discuss my work
This residency in Dublin and Galway was particularly good (and I will discuss some of the not-so-great moments, too) because I felt comfortable in my skin most of the time.  Does that sound weird?  On past residencies I was shy and awkward.  I hid a lot behind my hilarious friend Different Laura (that's what my son calls her anyway -- I know a lot of Lauras so he has to have a system).  Laura and I roomed together twice and both times ended up back in our room in tears.  We'd take turns, to be fair.  She missed her boyfriend; I missed my husband and two kids.  We both felt like idiots and frauds in the writing program.  And we fed one another's neuroses.  Good times.

Not this go-round.  No.  Laura graduated last spring and I'm entering my graduating semester.  Time to act like a grown-up (or at least fake it, as in until I make it).  And it worked!  I didn't cry once!  I dropped off my kids at camp the day I left and as I passed my daughter to say goodbye, instead of welling up with tears and causing her to do the same, I walked by and gave her a high five on the way to the car.  I knew I needed to keep it upbeat and light.  And it worked for both of us.  My son was fine.  Plus, I scheduled two camps for them while I was away which included an art show for the girl and a talent show for the boy, along with a gaggle of field trips.

Okay, the residency was great for other reasons, including:
  • going to workshops on Trinity College campus
  • listening to interesting lectures on craft
  • spending loads of time with so many smart, loving, funny friends
  • drinking Guinness, often
  • eating tons of fish and muscles (my new fave)
  • seeing the gorgeous west coast of Ireland for the third time
  • having a bus driver who sang traditional Irish reels and step danced during down time
Some of the not-so-great things really had to do with terribly inconsistent internet services (mostly bad for calling or Skyping home) and dorm rooms the size of a coffin (okay, that was just the shower) -- and to be fair, these ARE 17th century buildings.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I found a pair of Jonathan Swift's skivvies in the closet.  Also not-so-great, two required films that we saw as part of the Galway Film Fleadh, one of which detailed the REAL slaughter of a sheep (and that was just the third scene).  I left before the end of the film, nausea setting in.

So yeah, I wasn't always physically comfortable.  No big deal.  Some friends were much more uncomfortable than me: one broken arm, one sprained ankle, one almost-broken toe, and strep!  I consider myself lucky.

 As far as emotional and mental comfort, I think I won the jackpot!  Every residency, since my first when a third semester student told me I had to sign up for a student reading because I had to get over the fear and practice reading in front of an audience, I have done just that.  That student was right.  It does get easier.  I actually kinda enjoy it.  In truth, I worried that I hogged the stage this go-round I was up so frequently (I even moderated one of the readings).  This is a huge turn-around from my college days oh so many years past.  Back in the late 80s I was known as . . . nothing. I didn't have a nickname or a reputation because I never spoke.  Never.  In class, that is.  It cost me grades, people!  But now, I can lead a small discussion (which I did two weeks ago) on a favorite essayist, offer my opinion in a large group discussing films (two guesses on what I said about the sheep film), read from my journal in the same large group, and talk frequently during workshop.  One of my friends told me she thought I had grown a lot since my first residency three years ago.

It's all about stepping out of that comfort zone until the awkward becomes more familiar and more comfortable.  I'm certain of it.  Thank you, third semester student from 2011.  I can't remember who you are, but you gave me the best advice ever.

Without further ado, here is a photo recap of my big, fat, Irish residency.  Enjoy!

From left to right, top to bottom: Trinity College, my dorm; Guinness on draft; Temple Bar; Muscles; Oscar Wilde sculpture in Dublin; Round Tower at Glendalough, County Wicklow; Me, reading stuff