On Being Overwhelmed

            The readings for my next semester’s residency (the ten days I spend in Maine working on this MFA) have been posted on Blackboard, the high-tech assignment/message center that I’ve struggled to navigate. I think my anxiety level went up exponentially as I looked at which lectures I should attend and the required reading. Cold Mountain (nearly 500 pages in paperback) by Charles Frazier and Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings (a mere 104 pages) along with two short stories are required for one session on writing endings. The suggested reading for that lecture includes All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (paperback is 672 pages). And yes, I should have read that classic years ago, but I didn’t, and guess what? I won’t be reading it this year, either. Suggested means I don’t have to do it and write about it, and I’m running out of time.

I will have turned in my course work for the May first deadline by the time you read this essay, and I’ll have begun on my final packet of work for this semester that’s due June 1. That gives me all of June to RELAX? and read required readings for the sessions I’ll attend in July.

I knew going in that earning a master’s of fine arts wasn’t a walk in the park, but I vowed that I would keep my normal life going. That means reading two books a month for my book clubs. That means volunteering twice a month at the Spiva Center for the Arts. That means keeping up the laundry and cooking an occasional meal for Jimmie, and pushing that vacuum around the house. And seeing my grandson at least once a week. And what about having friends over? And then there are the out-of-town trips to speak at Young Author events and school visits.

In Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, she recounts the story of her brother putting off writing a science paper on birds until the night before it was due. Never mind that the ten-year-old had been given three months for the assignment. He panicked, absolutely paralyzed, with all the research material surrounding him, but his dad told him how to start. “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

That’s the old one-step-at-a-time adage. And I know it’s true.

(An aside here. Many, many years ago I was a mystery shopper for a bookstore. For my report to the owners, I had to check alphabetizing of books, etc. I found Bird by Bird in the nature section, and it was labeled that way by a national bookseller chain. Just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its title.)

All this is to say that I’m feeling overwhelmed. But I don’t miss deadlines, and I won’t miss deadlines for the residency, either. I’ll get it all done. And I’ll be stronger for it. But you may be listening to me whine.

And you can tell me to stuff it. It’s not like this is more than having an 8-5 job, coming home to a house and a family needing attention, and dropping into bed at ten, only to get up and start over early the next day. It’s just that I’m older than I used to be (you can quote me on that brilliant statement), and my energy level isn’t at the point it was when I used to wake up and hit the floor running.

But I chose this challenge. And it has giving me new purpose. So, thanks for listening to me complain. I’ve got to get back to work.