Four Points to VONA, Or the Nagging Question: What Am I Doing Here?

I start with four points, stumble through four thoughts and end with four, gems thats where VONA presents itself so far at the end of the first full day of workshop.
Today was the end of the first full day of “workshopping”, which apparently is a thing you do in a MFA program. I had spent the plane ride over to Miami, Florida reading the manuscripts of other participants in the VONA Voices Travel Writers Workshop. Four things stand out:
  1. I have no idea what I have signed up for, let alone what an MFA experience is all about. This makes the whole thing even more intimidating.
  2. I honestly can’t even compare my writing to these manuscripts I am reading. They are so good, and honestly raw.
  3. I don’t understand poetry, and in fact, I find myself really despising it and despising myself for despising it. Whats this visceral response to poetry about?
  4. As the first/second day comes to an end, I don’t have any answers to my questions but rather far more new questions piling up on an already extensive list of unanswerable questions.
Besides these four immediate bothersome things, I am still really excited to be here. Miami is a great change of environment. The moment I stepped off the plane I got hit with a blast of hot humid air and it hasn’t let up. In fact, during the first full day of workshops the clouds gathered from out over the Atlantic and dumped a gracious amount of rain all over us while we were making our way back from lunch.
I really am happy to have a functional room, and my room mate didn’t show up (this is a constant ongoing occurrence in my life!). Its odd how the smallest things can change attitude. My room at home is not functional, its also not set up in a way that makes me feel welcome. It just exists, much like my current status in life. So having this little space that I can fully control and that provides functionality is a huge blessing that I am realizing the importance of now that I have it.
I also have retreated into my introverted self. I am not going out of my way to make new friends. I am not going out of my way to connect with people outside my workshop. I think the biggest reason is that everyone here embraces their ability to write and their perception of self as a writer, whereas I still feel like an imposter and like a visitor that stumbled upon this magical place where writing is the center of everything everyone does. They seem to know the secret to writing, whereas I am still not privy to it. (Please someone fill me in on it!)
I am trying really hard to focus on the writing and the craft, but also, its Ramadan. Having to fast while here, not having the Ramadan environment, thats proving to be a bit more difficult for me. This is the first Ramadan where I am not fully engaged with it. I am leaning toward skipping the fasting so I can conform to the VONA schedule and make the most out of the “workshopping” experience.
Some unrelated yet still significant gems from the experience so far:
  • I dont know much about travel writing, I don’t think that I saw it as a separate genre of literature prior to this workshop. But Faith Adiele, who wrote Meeting Faith and is the facilitator for the travel workshop, framed travel writing as a by product of the imperial endeavor that came into being as an independent genre today. I think that places me in the larger scope of the genre at the intersection of status quo and disruption.
  • Faith also reiterated that “Writing isn’t like gymnastics, you dont age out,” which was a good reminder for me to keep embracing this challenge and working on it for myself.
  • In discussing today’s manuscripts there was a constant focus on the “Show vs Tell” dichotomy in the writing craft. This is part of the craft, and a good writer stays clear of “telling”, rather they are very articulate in showing the reader.
  • English is my dominant language, yet its like a suit, a bit uncomfortable at times. English, like the suit, works and gives a sense of pride. When the suit looks smart you feel good. But that doesn’t make the suit, or the English language, less constricting. Its not like a second skin. Urdu, while its familiar and a source from which I can draw comfort, often makes me feel like I am being viewed by its speakers as I view a white girl wearing a sari and sporting a bhindi- silly, a bit of a token. If I had a language of choice, a second skin, its the language of silent thoughts and observations in my head.

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