Hey, You Never Know.

I don’t particularly miss the start of the school year. I wasn’t popular in school. I hated homework. But this year, for the first time in quite a few years, I’m going to school again and I’m actually excited.

On Thursday, I begin a class with the Great Smokies Writing Program. I have been eyeing their classes since I moved here one year ago. My first hurdle was to become a legal resident of this state so as to pay in-state tuition. To me, I wasn’t “official” until I had a North Carolina drivers license and North Carolina license plates. According the the application for the program, I wasn’t “official” until I had lived in the state for one year. As of August 22–after more trips to the DMV than I care to admit–I’m legal on both counts.

The second hurdle, though, was scarier to me than the ladies behind the DMV counter. The words on the course description were clear: Instructor’s permission required for admittance. I was to e-mail the teacher. With what, I wasn’t sure. And so it was that I set out to write my second-ever “pitch.”

The class in question was for “intermediate” writers. Am I an intermediate writer? I wondered. After speaking with a few friends, I realized I certainly wasn’t a beginner. And the next step after beginner? Intermediate.

So on Sunday night–a mere four days before the class was due to begin–I got up the nerve. I combed through blog posts and articles deciding which to send. Reading things I wrote in my first writing class five years ago, I realized how much I had improved in that time. But would this man think I was good enough for his class?

I should note that my potential teacher is the head of the Great Smokies Writing Program. He teaches in not one but two Master of Fine Arts programs. He has written more than a few books and was just voted Best Creative Writing Teacher in western North Carolina. What was going through my head? That line from the old New York Lotto commercials, “Hey, you never know.”

So on Sunday night, I sent off my request: How I’d walked a five hundred mile pilgrimage across Spain. How I had 50,000 words written so far. Links to my posts on Busted Halo. Four pages from my draft.

On Monday morning, his response contained the words, “I love this” and “I have one opening in my class.” I was a little stunned.

Prior to five years ago, the only writing classes I had ever taken were forced upon me. I read Odysseus and wrote papers about the virtues of his long-waiting wife Penelope. I memorized the first paragraph of Moby Dick (and still, if pushed, can recite the first line). Prior to 2008, the last “creative” piece I wrote was probably for Mrs. Farina in sixth grade when our assignment was to describe our bedrooms. I’d written a line about the radio tower lights I could see blinking over the Catskills outside my bedroom window. I can still see her red-inked compliment next to that line. A smile crosses my lips when I think about how much that single compliment meant to me.

Prior to that, my greatest writing joy came from my mother’s laugh at a Christmas poem I had written in which I referred to “Holy Mother Mary and her husband Joe” (It was a rhyming poem. The previous line ended with “snow.”)

At some point, I deemed my writing only good enough for diaries. I hid them from the prying eyes of my siblings: under mattresses, in filing cabinets, and between winter sweaters stacked in my closet.

And then, my voice came out again: on the campus of the John C. Campbell Folk School. My classmates–complete strangers–complimented my style. Upon my return home, I got brave enough to read stories to my family after Easter dinner (much scarier than reading them in any public forum). And when friends asked me to write a book, I said, “No way. But how about a blog?” And five hundred of you liked it so much you subscribed to it.

The story now has a new chapter. On Thursday I will take my seat in an Advanced Creative Prose Workshop. And for the next fifteen weeks, Thursday nights may just be the best night of the week. Homework and all.

Beginning at the End

At the end of every week at the Folk School, everyone gathers in the Community Room of the Keith House to display their finished works and admire the works of others.   It’s quite impressive what people can accomplish in just one week of class.  Here are some pictures I took yesterday:

The ART Doll: From Concept to Completion

Doll making class with Lillian Alberti – a fellow New Yorker instructing here for the first time.  (As usual with most first-timers, she loves the place.)











"A Book Banquet"

Paper Arts class with Suzanne Hall and Barbara Bussolari – who told me everyone in the class were absolute beginners – which happens a lot here.








"Mountain Dulcimer Building"

Dulcimers with John Huron – this class made these beautiful instruments this week.  Rumor has it that half of them don’t know how to play them:)








"Realistic Animals - Carver's Choice"

Woodcarving with Leah Goddard – the gentleman who did this was from California and at the Folk School for the first time along with his wife and two grandchildren (ages 18 and 20).  The four of them do a trip together every year – Costa Rica, Ireland, and this year: JCCFS:)

Note the “Periodic Table of Contra” behind this little guy.  There’s contradancing in the Community Room once a week, so one day I may actually know what that table means…

Decisions, decisions

How is it that one chooses fourteen classes out of one hundred forty?  This isn’t like college where a lot of the classes are “required” and in some area that is of no interest to you.  No, the John C. Campbell Folk School is a place where nearly every class is of interest to me.  Who knew such a place existed?

So how to choose?  Well, some Student Hosts pick a theme.  Maybe they have an interest in blacksmithing or jewelry making, so they take mostly those kinds of courses.  (And indeed, there are classes in both of those subjects nearly every week.)  I, however, can’t imagine only focusing on one craft during my time at JCCFS (surprise, surprise).  Instead, I have just a couple rules that I’ve come up with to guide my decisions.  And since I’m not a big follower of rules, the first rule is that any rule can be broken at any time.

1 – Take classes that don’t have any physical end product that I have to lug on to my next destination. The garden shed class fits this quite well – we’ll be building a garden shed for JCCFS.  So all I take with me after the course are the things I’ve learned:)

2 – Try something new and/or something I’ve always wanted to learn.  Thus, my list includes learning to play the mountain dulcimer and learning to spin yarn.

3 – If a class has me making things I’ll have to take home with me, take it only if what I make can be easily given away.  Thus a class on making wooden toys and blacksmithing.

4 – Take only classes that are of interest to me.  Thus, quilting will never be on my list.  Nor dying fabrics.  Believe it or not, there are actually some things in this world that I don’t have an interest in doing.

How wonderful is a life where my biggest decision each week will be which class to take the next?

All levels welcome

The class is called “Building a Garden Shed.”  I don’t have a garden.  Nor any property on which to put a garden.  In fact, I’ll be living “on the road” for the next year, so it’s inconceivable that I will need to know how to build a garden shed anytime in the near future.  Despite all of this, it is one class I’ll definitely be taking during my four months at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

Why?  Well, because I still have it in the back of my mind that I may one day want to live in a Tumbleweed Tiny House.  And I may just want to build it myself (well, with help of course).  There is just one small hurdle here: I have zero home building skills.  You might think building a garden shed is quite different from building a tiny house.  In which case I ask if you’ve seen a Tumbleweed?

My class covers use of hand and power tools (the only power tool I’ve every used is an electric screw driver thing), framing, trusses (I think those are the things that hold the roof up?), shelf building (I imagine this could be useful even if I never build a house), and window and door installation (because just about any house I live in will have windows and doors….though now that I think about it, maybe not…)  And when it’s all done, we’ve built a garden shed for the Folk School to use for years to come:)

Building anything is so out of my element that I just love the idea.  I mean, how else would I learn all these things?  You might think JCCFS would want only experienced builders on such a project.  And you would be mistaken.  Because one of the things I love most about JCCFS is that so many of the class descriptions, including this one,  end with the words “All levels welcome.”