After almost twenty years of teaching in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Goddard, I am going to retire. When I first started working at Goddard, there was one campus only, in Vermont. I went to Plainfield, where I’d never been, and started to work with a bunch of people I’d never met before. Since then I’ve come to think of a lot of those folks, my fellow faculty, as friends, and artists I admire and respect.
The world has changed a bit since then, and I have too. I didn’t own a computer then and no-one had email. We got big thick envelopes with hard copy letters on paper and made xerox copies of everything; we didn’t have SIS. We couldn’t go online to look stuff up. If you couldn’t remember an author or the title of a book, you had to ask someone. I remember more than once being in my office and in conference with a student and having a colleague stick her head in the door and say, “What was that book about the.. you know… the Brazilian woman?” Or, “What’s the name of Portuguese guy? Just got the Nobel?” “Who wrote Labyrinths” Somebody had to know, you couldn’t just google.
Back then, there was still a residential program in Vermont, and the dorms were hideous, truly awful, they were disgusting. There were garish ugly hippie murals painted on the bedroom and kitchen walls, and cheap poster board “walls” in some of the dorms and skanky silverware in the communal kitchens creaky sprung bedsprings in the beds and mold in the bathroom. And when you came into the airport it wasn’t a professional taxi or van who picked you up, it was an undergrad who was working on campus for the summer, and he (it was always a he) would be driving an old beater that clanked and stank and smelled like wet dog and junk food and, faintly, of pot, and there would be Phish on the CD player and either the heater was broken or there was no AC but you somehow arrived alive.
In the years I’ve been at Goddard there have been five different college presidents. Some were awful, but some did good. Under one of them began a lot of improvements.
The undergrad residential program in Vermont was shuttered, but more, and more rigorous, low residency programs have begun. The dorms were redone, the grounds were spiffed up, the food even improved. We went online and got systems in place that make the administration around the teaching not only more consistent but also better. The people who come to collect you from the airport are professionals and they drive clean cars.
We now have a campus in Port Townsend, and two alumni writers’ conferences, talented graduates and faculty have published books and had plays and movies and shows produced, and won awards and done service as writers and artists and activists in the world.
I want to get back to my own work more, to spend more time on my own work and less on students’; I want to read what I want, not only books that I think about “how can I teach this? what can I take from this for a workshop or class?” I want to become a student of my own work again, and of the work of finished, published writers. I want to look back, as I know I will, with gratitude, affection and – OK, I admit it pride – for having been part of this goofy and great community of students, teachers, artists, humans, friends that is Goddard. Fair well! Write well! I’ll see – or rather – I’ll read you around.