Choosing your advisor for the semester genuinely feels like a courtship. Some students can do this quietly; others, not at all. Myself? Well if the analogy fits, then I can only conclude I’m still the awkward teen standing on the front porch at the end of the first date, waiting for a goodnight kiss.
In the residency setting that translates to making yourself known. This is not about competition folks; we’re all cordial here. It’s about stating your interests over lunch, contributing to workshop in honest yet finely tuned ways – comments that play off one another, that reveal deeper meanings, that show a writer well-versed in craft and the articulation of it. Further, it means seeking the coveted advisor out for side conversations, simple wooing gestures if you will, that take the shape of intelligent questions about writing, writerly puns exhibited with immaculate timing, and thank heavens, the occasional question and answer period about personal lives too.
Some would say my description of this process is unfair, inaccurate, even. But oh, when I know I want to work with someone I know it in my bones, can feel the power of their determination at the page rambling over my worldview. To truly learn the most from an advisor over the course of a semester you must be willing to surrender. You must be willing to take suggestions, to stretch and grow without complaint, without kickback, without a bitchfest.
Therefore, the best pairings are voluntary; writing is a painful, full-contact sport at its best, even though it remains a solo sport when the final hour arrives. And so, when we choose our advisors we have to be willing to fight for the person we know we will do anything for on the page, the authors we know we respect thoroughly enough to drop all our preconceived notions, to drop the thought that our latest work is our best work, and be willing to try absolutely anything they say.
For the past three days, I’ve courted. Tonight, I leaned in after the dinner, after a glass of wine, after the talk about kids and home and hobbies and my genuine interest in, for God’s sake, talking about something other than writing for a minute or two. And I asked: “Do you think we could do it? Do you think we’d be a good match?” I wanted her bad and that’s when the dating analogy came to me. I was on the fronts stoop, wanting a second date, hoping she’d be available for, say, oh, the next six months.
So don’t get me wrong…teacher-student love is sacred and it’s safe when at its best and that is what I’m talking about here – reverence, respect, admiration, total … fucking …trust. You say “Here. Here is my heart. Here is my dream to make art, to bring babies into the world, to be the best and only person I know how to be. Will you help me?”
And you wait. And hope that they say YES.