Surrounded by vineyards but what to write

This has been a long week. There were department meetings, interviews of potential resident advisors, recommendations to write, classes to prepare, review, and prepare again, classes to teach (4-hour classes at that), emails to send, professional development workshops to commit to, old plays to read, grant requests for proposal to review, much, so much to do. Last night, at the end of class, my left foot knotted itself into a ball. I remarked upon it briefly, ouch, and then continued to teach, suspended in one space until the pain loosened its hold on my body. I had not drunk enough water, and it was not until my left foot twisted me a reminder that I knew myself limited again.
Now, here I am, at Mont La Salle, a faculty member of St. Mary’s College among colleagues. I am expected to write … something. Earlier this week, planning ahead, I had already filled my trunk with files: the ones on rank and tenure, the ones on an article on which I am working about the Performance Assessment for California Teachers and going through the process myself, the plays to revise, etc. I even brought papers to grade. Before sitting down to write this note – the view outside my window is of a vineyard rising on the hillside, while a water reservoir rests silk-skinned below – I even made myself a list of all the things that I wanted to get done. Still, when I set myself down to write, I found myself looking around at all of these materials, all of these loose threads, wondering which one to pull and where it would lead me: out of the maze of confusion or straight into the minotaur’s path.
I have been fortunate. I have been to many writer’s retreats: Montana Artists Refuge, Macdowell, Vermont Studio Center, Kimmel Harding Nelson, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland, Cave Canem. Now, Mont La Salle. In those previous residencies, I learned that a month is my ideal time for a residency (the first weeks find me generally producing a 100 or so pages of work, with usually one half to three quarters of it complete or near complete by the end of the time, submitting most of that work to journals, writing a few reviews, reading at least 20 books, and having the time and space to shift back into my relationship with the world. I have also found that I generally need a writer’s retreat in which I will see other artists/scholars. I need the pressure of saying what I’ve been working on. Without social interaction, I find myself wandering the locale, frequently lost, my mind sifting through images with no direction. More important than all of this is that I need to keep a journal.
Generally, I keep a journal anyway. I’ve been keeping them since elementary school. But when I am at a retreat, I find that I need to keep a journal in a different way: I have to type out my thoughts. I have to give myself the time to just write out what I am feeling at that moment. After that, I give myself a break, come back to the journal and underline, bold, or highlight those pieces that stand out as suddenly and surprisingly new, even to me, the author. Those are my first lines for poems or paragraphs in prose. These are the bits of glittering thread that I know leads out and out and out, through the mire of my own thoughts, the path back into the real world.
Of course, now I wonder if all of my writing is an attempt to connect with the real world. I do admit that I am prone to what Joan Didion would call magical thinking. I conceptualize this differently in that, while her magic is filled with could have beens, mine interweaves the real and the fantastic. It’s all very Latina. 🙂 Lo real maravilloso and Carpentier and all that. I touched upon my imaginings and truths in a recent publication, “Dragon Spine Girl”, in The Packinghouse Review, in which I talk about my personal relationship with scoliosis.
But here, who cares about this attempt to connect with the real world? I am supposed to be in it already: writing my scholarship, being my scholarship. What is the purpose of an educator writing about the slip between this viewpoint and another? How does that fit into the tenure process? I don’t have an answer to that question, or rather, I do not want to answer it. Even my answer would shut doors. I wonder if the shut door would cause me to never step into the maze in the first place. Or would it lock me in?

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