The day after

I work a strange schedule: 24 hours on, 48 hours off. In practical terms, I get up at 4 every third day, schlep to the firehouse to be on duty at 6AM, and work until 6AM the next morning. When I roll out of the station, I have exactly 48 hours to recover before starting the process over again.

Most days when I get off work, I go home, try to recoup a little sleep with a short nap, and have a day in which I write and run errands with low expectations for myself. I'm coming off a shift in which I've usually been privy to some horrible shit, and the primary goal of the day is to avoid and suppress it. I have a bunch of rituals designed to reinforce the firewall between the world of perpetual emergencies and the quiet of home, but it is work to maintain the defenses.

Over time, I've noticed something about the day I get off work. It's like the third rail of my days. I'm more likely to have an argument with my wife - so much so that I avoid discussions of meaningful topics. I'm overcome by strange and sweeping emotions. I have sudden, compelling ideas - maybe I should buy a strange wig at Goodwill and wear it to the Odesza show! - and tend to see myself as damaged, if not outright psychopathic for my ability to tolerate such constant doses of human suffering. 

Then I get a normal day, in which things feel pretty normal. Then I go to work. Those are the normal days.

 

If you're considering Clarion West (part 1)

When I first considered applying to writing programs like Clarion West, I poked around the web in search of personal accounts from attendees. They were almost uniformly positive - enough so to convince me to undertake the personal and professional hurdles of clearing six weeks in the summer, along with tuition costs.

In retrospect, much of what I read contained the idea of what I experienced, yet I still somehow was unprepared for what it felt like. It was the difference between data and qualia, between the word "blue" and plunging headfirst into the sea.

Someday, I'll try to collect some of the best links to first-hand accounts, but for the moment, take a look at this essay by my friend and fellow Clarion West grad Robert Minto. He writes about many aspects of the program. He also address what I think is an essential aspect of the workshop, and something many participants experience: the possibility that you will fall short of your expectations, that you will experience failures, and that you will be encouraged to own your vulnerability as a writer. 

Meanwhile, I'm working on a parallel account, which will address another important aspect of the workshop: community.