As many of you know, I began a MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at the Institute of American Indian Arts this summer. Five times I will travel to Santa Fe for a week-long residency, and during the four semesters, I will work online with the nonfiction mentor I have been assigned (Melissa Febos) and the four other folks in the group.
Sherman Alexie is a big supporter of this program, and he and the director, Jon Davis, have been cooking up ways for Alexie to take a more active role that also accommodates his busy schedule. So, two weekend intensives have been organized as well as Skype sessions. I cannot travel to Santa Fe or Seattle for the workshops, and I was reluctant to sign up for a session. My reasons:
1) It’s individual – meaning I cannot hide behind other student writers. It’s just me and Alexie, talking.
2) I didn’t want to take the spot from people who might not have had access to writers of Sherman’s caliber, experience, and perspective,
3) I’m intimidated (I’m listing this again in case it’s not clear in point number 1).
A friend told me to go ahead and sign up anyway. My guts coiled at the thought. But, I’ve done it. I will send Alexie 20 pages a week before and then he will read my work and we will talk about it. Doesn’t that sound terrifying? And what I do want his help with? Being funny. How to strike the balance between pain and laughter. How to honor the stories of people you love and not mock them. To me, this seems like a tall order. But he does it in his work. And I want to in mine. I want to be able to find the right focus, of highlighting surprise, of the freshness of new flowers emerging from the decomposing leaves, of people and their resilience.
Now, I have to decide which of the currently muddled new pages to send to him. Yikes. But it’s just me and Alexie, talking. As terrifying and human as that.
I’ll let you know how it goes.