A Fiddler on the MFA Roof
Tevye refers to the fiddler on the roof, trying to keep his balance. It symbolizes every member of his community in tsarist Russia, but Tevye would undoubtedly say the same about the wonderful, fast-paced world of the MFA program here at Colorado State University, a world in which we all try to find our places as writers and teachers. It is a world that seems chaotic, in which we are attacked by syllabi and deadlines, and the need to establish goals in all facets of our lives here. Whether we’re first-year students or preparing to take flight, the end is always a shadow that lingers with us.
The first week of school here has highlighted the need to keep that balance, to look at things long term. I’m a first-year student, coming from Boise, but first felt the impact in my fiction workshop with Judy Doenges, when she emphasized that the work we generate will contribute to our thesis. Thesis. A loaded word, a word that evokes daunting tasks of generating new work and constant revisions (and Martin Luther and a certain church door as well!). It evokes images of erudite men and women rising forth, sounding dignified versions of barbaric yawps.
But ultimately, as challenging as it is, that goal drives me forth. It drives me to produce the best work I can, to keep my balance, however precarious. With each word I type, and each comma I erase, I remember this prize. I challenge myself to create singular characters, the sort of characters I would argue with if they walked into Avo’s for a beer. I cannot afford to succumb to the blankness of the page. I seek inspiration in all spots, in the Lory Student Center, walking along Mason Street at dusk, in my apartment. I look for those idiosyncratic, quirky characters who will linger with my readers, characters who defy their roots.
I was very lucky to come to such an open and friendly environment, an environment in which every classmate seems to have something to contribute, something to add. It’s a place where we can engage in dialogue, and debate about what it means to be a writer, and where we each contribute our own worldview. And that sense of community, of cooperation helps contribute to the collective balance.
Tchaikovsky said, “Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.” I need not only to be inspired, but to be changed. I came to Fort Collins to break from my world of tropes and time-worn characters, to push into new and daunting areas. And I feel lucky. And every night, as the train rolls through Fort Collins, blowing its somnolent tones into the moonlit Colorado skies, I feel this gratitude, this love for my new home rise within, and keeping my balance seems a little easier.