Battling Post-Residency Blues, Mid-Semester Doldrums, and Eventual Oblivion
by Anthony Dolan Scott
Remember your first residency?
What about the drive or flight home after your first residency? It was like being expelled from Eden, complete with tears and moaning and dread. I don’t mean to minimize this reaction; the post-residency blues were real enough, and there was good reason for that dread. Consider what came a couple of months into the semester: a long separation that reduced residency to a dream-like memory. In case you’re not sufficiently depressed by now, let me mention one more thing. Those mid-semester doldrums are at least tempered by the hope of another trip to Wilkes-Barre, as well as the continued—though limited—contact with peers and mentors. What about when your M.A. and M.F.A. are complete? What then?
Stop! Put down the Prozac. I want to offer you something more substantial than hope and medication.
First of all, for those still finishing your degree, the program isn’t done. Residency wasn’t just a dream or a fluke. That whole experience won’t totally evaporate in the numbness of ordinary life. A part of why leaving may feel so traumatic is the uniqueness of what happened, that sense of being part of a new family of writers who get you, who hear you, who help you. If you were like me, you never had that kind of affirmation with that strong connection of mind and spirit anywhere else, and leaving it whispered the possibility of losing it.
But shake that off. You were brought into this family based on writing samples. Your words held a recognizable power, a certain familial likeness in your voice. You are now one of us, connected not by mere genetics, but by the elemental kinship of the soul. And didn’t residency prove that you belonged? Didn’t your beauty and resonance flow naturally among the other powerful voices? That voice is still your voice, and you are still one of ours. Keep working. Come back in June, and it will happen again.
Of course, while most of this is also true of alumni, when miles and years intervene, relationships atrophy. So the issue becomes the lack of structured, program-based opportunities to connect. However, as the Creative Program continues, as it adds more components and voices, opportunities to stay connected grow. For example, many faculty, students, and alumni participate or attend the annual AWP Conference, which moves to a different city each year, facilitating easy access to those in different regions of North America. And there are chances to work on new projects (consider Kaylie Jones’ new imprint with Akashic books) and opportunities to publish articles and reviews. In addition to all of this, alumni are welcome back at residencies. The night readings are open to them, and lodging for a reasonable rate is available. All it would take are some enterprising alums to organize daytime workshops, and, voilà—residencies and connectedness ad infinitum!
But for now, to help you deal with the blues and the doldrums, take this little poem as your antidepressant:
To my Pen-Siblings at January Residency
Do you know how beautiful you are?
Don’t shrug! Don’t drop your eyes
in the face of this deserved compliment.
This week, your beauty wrung tears
from eyes, yanked mouths into smiles,
bared souls and re-wrapped them
in warm squeezing love. You are here
because someone saw how beautiful you are.
What proof do you have otherwise?
A small asymmetry in the mirror?
Some lopsidedness of your mouth,
a mismatch in your past actions? Only
the lip-curled jealous, the myopic moronic,
would mistake your mistakes for plainness.
I know how beautiful you are.
As you brush your teeth, your hair,
you see you every morning. You
hear you every day. Don’t let
routine render you commonplace.
Listen. I have suffered through months
without your half-smile. I will hunger
for June to see, hear, you again.
So do me a favor.
The second Monday month after next,
when you shuffle from bed to bathroom
in a morning heavy with another week,
think of me trying to re-see your face,
re-hear your voice, with the grainy
real-to-reel of memory, and stop—
look long into the mirror and cherish
that precious thing you see,
how beautiful you are.
Anthony Dolan Scott has an MA from the Wilkes Creative Writing Program and is currently an MFA candidate. Anthony was honored at the January 2013 residency as the recipient of the Jennifer Diskin Memorial Scholarship.