I am a mermaid, with bug bites in awkward places and a new cottage and a new puppy that trails by my side down the dock. The puppy doesn’t choose to swim, but I plop him in anyway, to make sure he can float, because I am a mermaid and if you’re part of my tribe, you’d better prepare to get wet.
Or maybe I am a fish. What an odd looking fish, the other fish must think, as I pass them by with my naked scale-less body. And why does it surface where there are no bugs to be eaten? Look! It beaches! I fool them, those scaly fish, and then my daughter catches them with her hook; but she releases them, like the spider I enfolded in the crumpled-up napkin and carried outside. I’m not a fan of killing things. Mermaids are one with nature.
Or maybe I am a seal, with my black leather-like glistening skin, my wetsuit and flippers, making my way along the shoreline, cutting the water down, gliding through it.
No, I am a mermaid, and like those mythical creatures drawn to shore, unsure of where I belong, I’m seeking my place among my school of fish, my fellow merfolk. My MFA cohort, of course.
This week is my MFA residency through the University of King’s College/Dalhousie, and yes, I am at a cottage, and yes, I have been swimming like a mermaid when I can, and yes, I am trying to figure out my book project and my classmates and my workload and my life beyond this week with children and husbands to distract me and yes. It is better to remain grounded in this moment. Not worry too far into the future. Too many yesses is a no-no.
And I told my classmates, I warned them, “you’re a part of my life now and that means I might write about you.” They all nodded their heads, they understand. Writing is not so much the life we have been given, but the one we want to make, that we seek to create. They would no sooner take away my source, my lifeblood, than I would deny them theirs. These are my people, these writer folk. I like them a lot. My own mother would deny me a rich source of material; she forbids that I write about her. I told her, okay, I’ll write about you when you’re dead, in about ninety years. She laughed, I can tell you that much.
Back to the writer folk, because I can write about them. The books my classmates are working on are going to be so excruciatingly beautiful, I can’t wait to tell you about them. For the most part, our projects are mostly theory for the time being, but the writing will come, the writing will come. Let me whet your appetite with: flowers and mental illness, guilt, a dog over a man with pizzazz and glitter, a trip down the Camino on the way to redemption; dogs that eat health cards and other life shit that’s funny as hell and my next book: I Don’t Do Disability and Other Lies I’ve Told Myself. The writers are equally as interesting as their stories – especially for a writer! I haven’t met these people – hello, Covid – I just spend all day with them online. Though we’re spread out about the Canadian coral reef, wow, this group makes it enjoyable to be staring at a screen for so long. Sharing a passion for writing is enough to bind strangers, more than enough.
It’s a strange and wonderful experience to encounter others who adore reading and writing as much as you do and who are as interested in your work and writing as you are. ‘Colleagues’ I believe these people are called. Writing from home, one doesn’t encounter many ‘colleagues’. MFA programs are good for that.
Perhaps my project is the mermaid, the mythical creature. My hair may be damp from the lake, but it’s my project that’s the slippery fish to grasp. I generally have a better sense of what I’m writing, after I’ve written it. That doesn’t fit well into the academic mould or way of doing things, but it’s fine. I’ll try it their way. I do have my limits though. There are some things I just won’t do when it comes to assignments, like follow word counts.
There are some excellent reasons and cases to be made for avoiding the creative life. Chasing mermaids is hard work. Hell – they don’t even exist! Yet, I’m drawn, with my fellow merfolk, to this fantasy world, this place of creation, this transforming myself into whatever it is that I want to be.