We are in the midst of our low-residency MFA’s intense 10-day full residency period. We hardly notice weekends or holidays (except we have the campus pretty much to ourselves on those days, and I need to lock and unlock out building!). This year, we did take a little break on Memorial Day, and that got me thinking about the value of these residencies — it confirmed what I thought as we were creating the program.
Yes, part of the value is that we get to do a different kind of workshopping. Yesterday, we met in the morning, as usual, for 2 hours of discussion of 2 texts that had previously been workshopped in other classes. We haven’t all been in the same classes together, so the texts were new to some of us and familiar to others. We had a couple of poems by one writer and a play script by another. These workshops are cross-genre, so we are exposed to writing that is outside of our comfort zone. We look at the work as art, not just in terms of how to fix it or make it better, but also in terms of what it says about the artist who wrote it.
Then we broke for lunch, followed by our afternoon seminar on writing the thesis. Our two students who had just defended theirs led the discussion and gave some great practical advice. Afterwards, instead of our usual mentoring conferences and evening reading, we adjourned until dinner.
We had intended a cookout at Plymouth Bluff, but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate. Actually, it would have turned out okay had we gone, but the forecast gave a 60% chance of thunderstorms, and we didn’t have much indoor room to shelter, so we opted to stay on campus and have our cookout in the building where one of our faculty is staying. We ‘grilled’ burgers in the oven and ate, either on the porch or at a big table indoors, depending on your preference. We ate and talked and joked, and stayed together about as long as we would have if we had had our evening reading.
The course content is on part of the value of residency, but the other part — I’d say bigger part, but they really are intertwined and can’t be separated or measured separately — is the social aspect. In residency, we build community. We laugh together, talk together, eat together, and become much more than classmates. I can’t imagine teaching in a fully online creative writing program, though the ease of organizing it without having to deal with food, lodging, travel, etc. would be tempting. Without these times together, we wouldn’t be a program. We would merely be isolated students and teachers in classes, and the experience would feel artificial and impersonal. We would not form the bonds we form when we come together.