Writing and Community

  A few months ago, I blogged about my Spiti adventures and what I learned there about the my own relationship to both solitude and community — about learning that the two aren't really opposite ends of a spectrum. Over the last week or two, I've been thinking again about the relationship between the two, but this time in the context of writing.

Two years ago, while I was in graduate school, I would have laughed at anyone who told me I would miss the MFA community. Not because I didn't like that community, don't get me wrong, but simply because I had been so saturated with poets and poetry that I was craving something else, anything else. In moving out of Bronxville and into NYC, then throwing myself into my various jobs in the more social change-y space there, but still going up to college two or three times a week for poems, I found a balance. But yes, I admit I prized college more for craft-based learning and the conversations with professors (especially my super-awesome thesis advisor) than for the rest of the MFA community. Maybe prized is the wrong word; maybe it's simply that I took the writing community aspect for granted because it was everywhere.

Also because I never fully felt like I belonged in it — I still struggle to identify myself as a "poet" (because it's only one of so many things I am, and because people read more weirdness into that than I ever intended to pack into it!). Consciously or unconsciously, so much about who I am becoming is about breaking out of categories and boxes — just when you think you've finally wrapped your mind around who I am and what i care about, I want to spring out of that box and surprise you...  just when I think I've finally wrapped my mind around who I am and what i care about, I want to spring out of that box and surprise myself. That's become the most fun part of being who I am!

And recently, I have surprised myself by how much I miss having a community of writers. I don't mean a critique group — I do still exchange and critique manuscripts with friends from various writerly spaces, and while it would be lovely to have more of that in physical proximity, right now, I'm talking about something else. I'm talking about being part of a community of writers. About a group of people who care about, work with and enjoy talking about words — a group of people alongside whom I can read and laugh and spend hours talking about a favorite poem or about the etymology of my favorite word or about a metaphor I just used but don't fully understand myself. A group of people who understand the frustration of a misplaced comma and the exhilaration of getting into the backseat of a character's life and letting that character drive you wherever they choose. it isn't so much about what we give each other's writing as it is about being able to share this thing that we love so much — perhaps so differently, but still so much. Whatever else my MFA community was or wasn't, this it was, and this I miss about it.

Which is part of why I'm very excited to announce that I will be spending three weeks in residence with five other writers from around the world at Sangam House this winter. I'm looking forward to the focused time to write and edit and pull together a manuscript from all the disparate poems lying in various online folders and paper scraps (yes, I said it. I'm working on pulling together a manuscript. Eek). But perhaps even more than that, I'm looking forward to three weeks of being part of a community of writers again... of early morning walks and late evening conversations about words, our love for them, and the ways in which we tame them and are tamed by them.

I've never fully bought that whole "solitary profession" thing people are always saying about the work of the writer, and now, I'm looking forward to conversations and cross-linkages that breathe new life into my words. You shall hear more about all of that in a few months, and perhaps about some other kinds of interesting writing-and-community things in the offing before that.

For now, I just remember what K. Srilata told me about her experience of Sangam House: "For once, I felt like I was walking on the right side of the road." As statements about the role of a writing community go, that pretty much sums up everything I'm hoping for.