The Harvard Creative Writing Residency has been in the books for over a month now but I think I’m still processing it!
Earlier this summer, I spent a week in Cambridge surrounded by some amazing writers and friends who quickly came to feel like family! The residency is a requirement of my ALM in Creative Writing and Literature at Harvard Extension.
I was most excited to finally meet three classmates that I have “known” for several semesters – Lindsey, John, and Nicolas. Although this was our first in-person meeting, we were all in agreement that hanging out together was like spending time with old friends. I spotted Lindsey in the airport from the top of an escalator and we just started talking like two friends who picked up where they left off in whatever crazy conversation they were in the middle of the last time they saw each other. Someone in class asked me how we all knew each other, if we lived in different states and countries. We’d only ever had class together and chatted online, but that didn’t stop us from becoming fast friends. Kindred spirits. Framily. They are my people and I love ’em.
In the mornings, Lindsey, our friend Danielle, and I walked from our AirBnB down to campus. Every morning we ended up somewhere different for coffee and breakfast. A few mornings, we ducked into the library to finish our readings and print out copies of our work. We spent our weekdays in class with Rachel Kadish, an author and professor from nearby Lesley University. Ours days were full of writing exercises, workshops, and creative activities. Every day, we headed out somewhere in a group for lunch before returning to the classroom for our afternoon session. Over the weekend, we attended editing workshops with Christina Thompson, editor of the Harvard Review. I wish I had taken a class with her, because her workshops were phenomenal! In addition to her sessions, we sat in on several author, editor, and agent Q&A panels. We got to have our work briefly reviewed by literary magazine editors and got to mix and mingle with a few local literary agents.
Having your work critiqued in an online class is one thing, but having it done right in front of you is another. It seemed like it went really well, though, and I appreciated the feedback that I received from my classmates and my professors. If I learned anything from this experience, it is to trust your writing. A lot of the comments I got from my classmates were things that I had worried about when turning in my draft; they were also things that I had already planned to rewrite or add back in – I’d had to trim the story way, way down to meet the word count for the first draft, and had ended up cutting parts out of the story that people wanted to know more about. An easy and fun fix!
The culminating event of our residency was a public reading of our work. I used to be an elementary teacher and spent all day talking in front of my students. I never had any problem standing in front of the kids, but would always get tongue-tied if I had to speak up at a faculty meeting or talk to parents during conferences. Even in my online classes through the Extension, I would find myself hesitant to speak up. Then, naturally, someone else would say what I was thinking, and would likely say it more articulately than I would have been able to. While on campus, I found myself still being a little quiet, afraid to speak out or throw my two cents in. I think a big part of that was just taking it all in, and being there in the room with so many talented people.
As our time in class wound down and we prepared for our reading, I realized I was running out of time to get to speak up. The week was almost over and this was going to be one my last chance to show what I could do. I think that’s why I went into the reading feeling much more confident than I normally would have been. I tried to look at it as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to read my work in front of a room full of people. I think it went really well. See below!
(The snippet that I read was part of a longer story that I have worked on in a few different classes. It will also be part of my thesis project. More on that later!)
Being on campus was such an amazing experience. I loved learning my way around campus and walking all over Cambridge. I loved trying different coffee spots every day. I loved sitting in the library and wandering the stacks. I loved making multiple trips to the Coop to buy even more school merch. My entire closet might as well be Harvard crimson at this point.
One of the highlights of my trip was getting to spend some time with my first professor at Extension, Dr. Elisabeth McKetta. She was also one of my last, as she was my independent study director in the spring semester. Our first night in Cambridge, she hosted a happy hour get together for everyone in the residency, so that we could all get acquainted. We met for lunch and ice cream in the middle of the week, and it was just a pleasure to walk through the Yard and bump into her and her kids, zipping along the sidewalks on their scooters. Dr. McKetta and I have spent a lot of time talking about my thesis project and I am so grateful for all of the advice and feedback she has given me.
In the evenings, my friends and I hung out, going to different restaurants for dinner. Sometimes it was just our core group, other times we mixed and matched with other groups. We made it to a Red Sox game, Lindsey and Nick’s first ball games, ever! My favorite night, though, was our first night together. John and I headed to the grocery store, loaded up on wine and snacks, and then five of us sat down in backyard of our AirBnB to eat, drink, and play Cards Against Humanity. We laughed and laughed.
That night, Lindsey, Danielle, and I picked up takeout and sat around on Lindsey’s bed, watching TV and talking. It was a quiet night. We were all just beat and it felt strange knowing that we were about to once again be scattered all over the place, after spending so much time together.
Saying goodbye was hard. Way harder than I expected. A bunch of people got together for drinks at Russell House after our last event. A few people, John and Nick included, had to leave shortly afterwards. We crowded around a long table with our backpacks and suitcases all around our feet. When John’s car came, Lindsey and I walked him out to say goodbye. I managed to hold it together. A little while later, we said goodbye to Nick. I managed to hold it together.
The following morning, both Lindsey and I agreed that we were exhausted and done and just ready to go home and hug our husbands and our babies. We got to the airport early and grabbed breakfast. We ran into another classmate who was also flying home. We sat around and chatted, and then it was time for Lindsey to head to her gate. I stood waiting with her for a couple minutes and finally she said, “You don’t have to wait here with me. Go get to your gate!” We both got all teary and hugged goodbye.
To pass the time until my flight started boarding, I called my mom. I was able to choke out that I’d just said goodbye to Lindsey and that I was really sad. Actually, I was feeling all of the emotions. I was exhausted. It had been a long, busy week with lots of walking and not a lot of sleep. I was proud and excited and happy to have been a part of it all. I was excited to think about what my classmates might end up doing in the future. I was sad that it was my last class before starting my thesis project. I missed my boys like crazy and couldn’t wait to get home. And another thought hung over my head… one that is awesome, exciting, and kind of a little scary all at once…
The next time I head back to Cambridge, it will be for my graduation in 2021!