Here's the good news: By the time you attend three residencies, write your thesis, and return in triumph to present your colloquium, you'll know everything you should have been doing all along.
Here's the bad news: There aren't any do-overs.
In the spirit of "forewarned is forewarned, or something," here are some bits of advice from graduating and current students. There is more good stuff in the Forum.
Take good notes of everything--classes, informational meetings, even readings and talks. You can expect a flood of information, with not much time to absorb it. Once you get home and can catch your breath, it's easier to sort out what's useful and what isn't. I always find it easier to keep it all in one notebook so I can find things from year to year.
The most important thing to finish before arriving is the critiques of workshop papers. I've had a hard time finding time to concentrate and write critiques one the residency begins.
If you want to get some exercise, there are bike trails starting on campus that connect to Goose Lake, Chester Creek Trail, and eventually Westchester Lagoon and the Coastal Trail. If you like biking for exercise, we have an incredible system of paved (and offroad) bike trails. Here is a site with maps.
We also have bike racks on the front of the buses. With your UAA ID, you can ride the bus for free. So, it's possible to hop on the bus with your bike and get to the best trails quickly while avoiding most of the traffic.
Biking on the roads is OK, but not fun. Our motorists are not friendly to bicyclsts. Along the roads, there are few bike lanes and the sidewalks are not always ramped for bicycling.
In general, bicycles are safe when locked on campus. I commuted to and from work at UAA for many years and never had a bike stolen on campus. There are some areas of town where I have lost a seat or a wheel that had quick release levers. But I've never lost a bike to theft.
Stock your room with snacks.
The professors are all friendly and approachable. Even in the other genres. It was interesting to hear their stories of book tours, travels, personalities of famous authors, and more. They were always welcoming.
In an MFA program, we’re paying for the knowledge of other students as well as for the advice of our mentors. The reality of the low-residency program is that we don’t keep in touch as a group for most of the year. So workshopping is one of the few times we get feedback and ideas from someone other than our mentor. You might see a lyric essay in workshop that you’d like to try, or you might realize that there are certain words you overuse, or you might hear really positive feedback about a specific part of your piece and decide to explore that.
Do not forget your ID if you go to the liquor store near the Blue Fox.
Do not forget your ID if you go to the Blue Fox.
I came to the residency two years ago expecting that I'd have time to write, walk, talk to people back home. These things all happen, they just happen in very short bursts. Like five minutes at a time. My advice is to come to the residency with acceptance. Your schedule will be controlled by the powers that be and you can't really do anything about it. Your days will be intense. You will get smarter.
It's nice to have read some of the work by guest writers and by program mentors before meeting them at the residency. Then you'll have even more to talk about than the moose outside the cafeteria. I'd also second the advice that finishing most of your critiques before the residency leaves a little more time to relax between classes and readings (the days are already pretty full).
Speaking of moose, this advice from Eric Larson in the Forum is too good not to repeat:
The first week is new and exciting, with lots of info and great conversation. It's a bit hard to keep the momentum going for the second week, but the workshops and classes are no less important or interesting. I noticed my physical and mental acuity sink last year toward the end. A good balance of sleep and activity will set you up well for week two. And, as others have mentioned, get those critiques fleshed out as much as possible before the residency!
Don't forget clean underwear. We don't know what that has to do with writing, but
it IS timeless advice.
There's been a lot of great advice about how to get around campus, how to balance the crazy-busy schedule, and how to take good care of yourself in the process. Here's just one thing more: all this insanity culminates in a dance party. Eric has been practicing his moves, but if you haven't, here are some tips:
Have something to add? Help out your new colleagues by posting it below.
This Week's Blogger: