MFA in LA, Part II: Climbing

My first day back in the Evergreen State after returning from the first residency for my MFA in Creative Writing, I went for a short hike in the Cascade foothills.

Southern California’s beautiful…but man, I missed THIS.

As I headed up the trail, I glimpsed a cliff through the woods, and hearing voices, stopped to look. Of course: a climbing group was gathering at the base. I couldn’t make out their words, but I assumed they were talking about routes, or gear, or who was going to try what. Since I’m a hiker, not a climber, I headed on up the trail, silently wishing them safe fun.

Then it hit me: that giddiness from the steep learning curve of my first residency? That wasn’t just fear of inadequacy or excitement over reaching new levels in my art–though yes, it was also both. That curve is even steeper than I’d thought. And what’s really happening is, as a writer, I’m trading hiking for cliff-scaling.

For the past 25 years, I’ve been step-by-cautious step, trudging up a marked path…

Granted, that trail can get plenty gnarly, and it has!

…but now, I’m going vertical. Straight up. I’m trying things I’ve never tried as a writer, and I’m all in. No more dabbling, fitting writing in where I can, taking whole seasons off. No more excuses. I’m learning craft, and my teachers are going to expect craft back.

If you’ve spent any time in Wing’s World, you’ll know I love to be on TOP of cliffs, but the idea of climbing them makes me nauseous. True to form, once I’d reached the top of the little mountain I was hiking up, I got as close to the edge of the cliff-top as I could…

Note knee at bottom right

…that same cliff those climbers were preparing to scale. And I gave myself this little pep-talk:

“Yes, you’re spending a huge amount of money and time to learn to write the kind of book you most want to read. But you have new tools and a crew now, you’re all roped up, and you get to spend the next 2 years discussing routes and gear and who’s going to try what. Yes, you might fall, but you won’t die, and your crew will help you find your way back up.”

(or words to that effect)

If you look closely at the bottom of that cliff, you’ll see them there: my imaginary writing crew.

Now imagine me halfway up that cliff, scared to death, but finding my route. Here we go.

MFA in LA, Part I: Small-Island Woman Hits the Big City

The first afternoon of my shiny-new Masters in Creative Writing residency in Culver City, a worried-looking man at the bus stop I was walking past stopped me, in halting English, with a question. Based on his appearance, I guessed he had immigrated from central Africa…but when his English failed, he tried a nice, fluent Spanish–and there we found a common place to converse about bus routes (and the fact that I, an out-of-towner, knew less than he did).

“Now that was an LA moment,” I thought. And that’s why I’m here: for the writing instruction, yes–but even more for the moments I cannot experience via Zoom.

Greater Los Angeles is a stunning place, in all the meanings of that word.

just your average Culver City yard

Since I’m here in full Writer Mode, I’m noticing every way that I’m being stunned, mostly on my 2-mile, twice-daily walks between the campus of Antioch University Los Angeles and the wonderful friends who are hosting me. Starting with these astounding ficus trees, planted down multiple Culver City streets…

Must…build…treehouse!

…whose roots are painfully constrained by concrete, and yet–they tower.

I’m so sorry, O Great One!

Since I’m entirely on foot, thanks be, I only have to deal with traffic when I cross the street. But this vehicle caught my eye as an embodiment of SoCal culture:

The decal on the window reads, “It’s always been about style!” Uh huh.

Antioch U itself is housed in a stunningly corporate-looking building, one of a cluster offering office space to such stunningly _____ (insert your own adverb here) corporations as Tik-Tok.

I still don’t get TikTok, but then I’m 60, so I guess that’s the point.

I’ve never worked in a building like this, but this scene through a window on the ground floor tells me that at least someone in there has a good sense of humor:

Yikes. Tough day at work.

Being, y’know, corporate and all, the building-cluster is thoroughly landscaped…

See that one tiny blooming white iris? I felt a kinship.

…and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I found this Pacific Northwestern sister, this madrona tree, literally chained to a concrete block.

Makes me want to rescue her, like that scene in Harold & Maude (go see it if you haven’t)

I have no critique of Angelenos or anyone else who chooses to live in a megalopolis. There’s just so much here here, it takes my breath away. So I’m finding special comfort in whatever feels familiar–not in that creepy, chained-down-madrona way, but like these adorable turtles…

Sorry, buddies, I don’t have any treats for you!

…in the grotto pool of the Catholic cemetery I cross through on my walks to & from campus.

candles burning inside for, in this case, all fathers on Fathers Day

In the end, everyone wants to feel at home, whatever home means, right? Which is a good thing to be pondering as I launch into a brand-new writing project with some brand-new helpers who come from places so very, very different from my little island. In the end, we all want comfort, whether that means a shiny sports car, an untethered tree…or just a sweet cat to lie on our tummy.

my friends’ kitty Drizzle

Until Part II, may comfort be with you!