What Was It Like To Get a MFA When You Are From Maine and Have Social Anxiety

If you guys don’t know, Vermont College of Fine Arts offers a master’s program specifically for writing for children and young adults. This is a very cool thing. They actually accepted me and I got a degree there. Eventually, I was even awarded a Distinguished Alum degree at a surprise event in D.C, which was ridiculously cool and a great line for my obituary.

But when I started? I didn’t think I would ever get that far. That’s because I get super shy and social anxious about public events. I present an extrovert, but I basically have stage fright about things like singing in public, or going to board meetings or parties. I still go, but I get anxious ahead of time.

I was so anxious about going to Vermont. I was a newspaper editor. That is not the same as writing books for kids and I would be surrounded by people who were devoted to the craft of writing and that seemed so scary.

What was going to Vermont like?

Um…. It was great. No plots were stolen. I did not go to jail or die. All in all? I’d say it was a success.

But when I first got there it was a more than a little scary. I was petrified. You know how when you go into the cafeteria and realize that you know absolutely nobody. No, seriously, and everyone else looks like they know everybody else and so you just stand there with your tray … wondering how you can go into the kitchen and eat with the cooks because they seem really nice … the cooks. 

And then you meet all the other people in your class and it feels like everyone is SOOOOOOOOO much cooler than you are and they all sort of have roles.

There was HE WHO WRITES YA SEX SCENES and SHE OF THE PEACEFUL POETRY and MAGICAL URBAN FANTASY WOMAN and PICTURE BOOK GURU and I AM FLUFFY and then of course, THE ONE CUTE GUY. This is a children’s writer’s program. There is usually one cute guy. There is also usually one ridiculously beautiful woman.

(Note: We were a rocking class because there were actually three cute boys out of our 18 writers. There was also three beautiful women. This made our class ultra-cool.)

Anyway, I felt like I didn’t fit in because everyone else was so cool,  and basically I almost had a complete nervous breakdown the first residency until Lisa Jahn Clough talked me down and said, “Carrie, writers never feel like they fit in. That’s why we’re writers.”

And I said, “But I’m from Maine. I’m not used to all these people talking everywhere about writing. Actually, I’m not used to people, which is part of why I wear a parka inside buildings at all times. You can hide in a parka and pretend to be a snowman or something.”

And she said, “I know. I’m from Maine too, but it’s good. Really. It’s sometimes overwhelming, but it’s good. And parkas are fine.”

And it turned out she was right. 

Everyone in my class at Vermont helped each other and HE WHO WRITES SEX SCENES eventually WROTE PEACEFUL POETRY, occasionally and MAGICAL URBAN FANTASY WOMAN wrote an occasional picture book, and everyone in my class just basically loved each other, creating a happy ending much better than any 1980s teen movie and we eventually all crunched up together and looked all emotional and dramatic but right together. And we connected and learned.

And I kind of miss it because as Molly Ringwald (1980s actress always wearing pink or black) said in the movie, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone“Us loners got to stick together.”

And you know? Writers wrote that line. And they also wrote that movie. Which is why we all need to support each other because sometimes… well… we writers stink.

Anyway, I really miss learning about craft instead of teaching about craft and becoming an exponentially better writer because of these other amazing writer/teachers.


And I really miss throwing cookies at people in the cafeteria and then looking all happy-faced.

Us loners got to stick together, baby, and that counts for writers and readers both, and writing programs give us writers a place to do it. So congratulations to all my friends who are starting programs, and to all my friends who aren’t. Because, basically, we all have our own paths and they are all cool. 

Well, almost all of us.

As C. JoyBell C. says,

“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.” 

This week’s episode link. 

Last week’s episode link.

Last week’s interview with writer Jordan Scavone! 


Continue reading “What Was It Like To Get a MFA When You Are From Maine and Have Social Anxiety”
Advertisements

I am a distinguished alumna! No… Seriously!

A few years ago (in June) there was a Vermont College of Fine Arts party at American Library Association’s conference that I was completely stressed about? It was at Tami Lewis Brown’s House. Katherine Paterson was there and I had no idea what I was supposed to say if I actually met Katherine Paterson.

I mean, what do you say to someone who wrote THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA?

1. You made me cry
2. You made me make my own fantasy world in the woods in my backyard.
3. No, really you made me sob.
4. Can I have 1/100th of your talent?
5. Gasp! Chortle! Squee!

Well, I did NOT make a fool of myself about Katherine Patterson. And I didn’t avoid the author M. T. Anderson even though he’s so tall I find it intimidating.

And I ended up having to wear my cardigan the whole time because my dress was way too cleavage-y.

How do I know this? I know this because the doorman at the hotel  stared at it and asked if I wanted to hang out. Really. And I am a children’s book author! I am supposed to be not the type of person the doorman thinks he can ask out.

I think part of the problem was I told him I loved him when he ran after the shuttle bus for me. Bad Carrie! Bad! 

Side note: Don’t tell random people you love them even when you do love them in that moment.

Anyway, I went to the party and my hair was flat and I had a cardigan on even though it was 98 degree.

And then… and then…

Katherine and Tami made speeches about the awesomeness of Vermont College. I think Tobin may have too.

And then… And then…

They gave Kekla Magoon of awesome an award for being a distinguished alumna and she cried and was beautiful and I pet her on the back and tried to comfort her while thinking how awesome she is and then….

And then…

I GOT ONE TOO!

Seriously! I don’t know what they were thinking, but I was awarded a plaque and everything and I almost died because I kept thinking, “People are going to take pictures and I am wearing my dumpy cardigan to hide my cleavage AND my hair is flat. Crud. Crud. Crud. Why did nobody tell me?”

But it was amazing.

The whole time I kept thinking that I wouldn’t even be a writer if not for the people at Vermont College and how there are so many amazing graduates who deserved that award, and I kept looking out there in the crowd and seeing those amazing writers, and it was so completely humbling. 

But then I also thought about how terrified I was when I first started at Vermont. Some people were already published. I had barely written one book. I felt – no, I knew – that I didn’t belong and I almost quit that first week because I knew there was no way I could possibly belong there with all those people who had been writing for forever and who knew all the terms like objective correlative and who all the publishing houses, and I knew nothing.

I didn’t believe in myself at all.

Lisa Jahn Clough and Emily Wing Smith and Ed Briant (who said something awesome at a reading to me) then Tim Wynne Jones were the reasons I toughed it out that first semester. I am so very glad I did because Vermont didn’t just make me into a writer it gave me a community of fellowship, of learning and of people who I adore (even if they are tall). 

I am still trying to make it so I can deserve that award. I really am. 

More than that though, I want to make it so everyone can get that kind of dumpy cardigan moment, to get loved and recognized. It might be for running after a shuttle bus. It might be for making a children’s book, but we get to choose who we are, how we interact with the world, who we can be.

I want so badly for everyone to choose empathy, to choose their own power, to choose to make the right choices. I want everyone to feel that love and recognition that I was lucky enough to feel that June.

WRITING NEWS

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed! 

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

In the Woods
In the Woods


ART NEWS

You can buy limited-edition prints and learn more about my art here on my site. 

Carrie Jones Art for Sale

Some Men Aren’t Meant to Wear Scarves, So Be Your Own Style and Don’t Pretend to Be Tom Cruise Or Bieber