Best Surprises From Grad School

Tomorrow’s the end of my residency, and this one was entirely different than my first. Everything was a surprise my first residency, so it was hard to tell which parts of my experience were unusual and which weren’t. And, of course, since happy people are all alike and unhappy people are all different, I just assumed that all our experiences writing alone during the project period were different.

First surprise: Not everyone had such a hands-off mentor. My mentor gave very little feedback on my writing, and only talked about my annotations to the extent that they were in the expected format. At first, I was okay with it. I was very busy during this project period, and if I had been working under a mentor that required a lot of new material or a lot of rewrites  every month, a lot of things would have been difficult. My mentor was also supportive of my technological efforts. This was absolutely related to my writing, but was separate from it. But hearing the stories of my fellow students who published tons of shorter fiction, who got their novels into publication shape, who received constant feedback, I began to feel cheated. I wonder what else I could have done with a mentor who was more hands-on. My mentor for the next project period is, I have been told, the polar opposite of my last mentor. We’ll see what that means for my writing.

Second surprise: They remembered me. Last project period, I knew no one and spent a lot of time trying to work up the courage to get into conversations. I was afraid that less-new students would look down on my inexperience. This time, I knew lots of people, and they said hello and we had lots to talk about and we shared our experiences and laughed like old friends. I met the incoming cohort, and they’re all wonderful folks. I’ve spent lots of time talking to them, hoping that none of them feel the way I felt. And in December when I come back, there’ll be even more new people, and the new people from this residency will have become old friends.

Third surprise: Lots of women writing horror. I listened to a great lecture on horror from a woman who was like a female version of my friend Cliff, the ultimate horror fan (right down to her dreadlocks). I listened to another great lecture on writing “transgressive characters” (think pedophiles, serial killers, etc.) by a woman who was trying to get to the bottom of her fascination with what makes someone turn into a pedophile. And that’s just the lectures. There are so many women writing great genre fiction here, and it fills me with hope.

There were tons of surprises every day – it’s always a treat to be in the midst of smart people busy thinking up cool things. At one point, I was in a lecture given by Aimee Bender, and the woman next to me said that she had graduated a year ago and she was still coming to lectures, because alumni are allowed to attend all the lectures they want forever. I was blown away at the thought that I could keep coming back, keep hearing all this amazing stuff – forever. I think that was the best surprise. I may never come back once I’ve been graduated, but I could.

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