Imagine 100 people packed into close quarters in a charming yet definitely aging building. Imagine a schedule that began at 7:30 am with breakfast and often didn't end until past 9:30 pm with readings by incredibly talented and energetic people, most of them a little crazed from lack of sleep. Imagine a cafeteria menu that ran from inventive to–um, inventive. And conversations, endlessly circling around books, work in progress, viewpoint, genre, movies, plot, stories, more books.
Do not imagine (because I am trying to forget) a couple of nightmare travel days courtesy Delta Airlines.
Food and travel notwithstanding, I feel honored to have been invited to be a part of the July 2006 residency of the Vermont College MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. From students as well as faculty, I learned more than my brain felt it could possibly hold.
I wondered at first why Kellye Carter Crocker, from the fabulous MFA graduating class, wanted to quiz me about the correct pronunciation of the Tamil goodbye, "poyittu varain," from Naming Maya. I tried protesting that it didn't matter. I'd meant the language to be like background music in the story and it was much more important to me that she had enjoyed the book. She insisted. Fine, I said. The words mean goodbye but not goodbye–literally, "I'll go and return." The proper response being in the affirmative, "Go and return."
It turned out Kellye loved the expression so much she used it in the invocation for the graduation ceremony. I knew it was coming, and still, when we got to that point in her talk, it made me cry. Words can be like that, leaving us and yet coming back repeatedly.