A NEW ERA!
Welcome to a new era for Zoe Goes Running, in which the next big adventure is a labor of mind rather than body. For the next two years I’ll be an MFA student, writer, and Rotary Global Scholar. I’ll spend two years writing, reading, and teaching, including six months teaching in South America.
MFA IN CREATIVE WRITING
A couple weeks after returning from Santiago, Chile, I’m now finally settling into a blog post. I went to Santiago to start an MFA program in creative writing with Queens University of Charlotte, NC. Most of the program is done remotely, except for every year, we meet for several weeks in one of three different South American cities, in late summer. This summer it was Santiago, next will be Buenos Aires, and my third and graduating residency will likely be in Rio. During the residency in each city, we attend seminars by award-winning faculty, readings, field trips, cultural lectures, and daily tutorials where we have the chance to line edit with our faculty mentor.
I’ve also received a Rotary Global Scholars Grant for this program, which will allow me to spend two of four semesters volunteer-teaching in Argentina and/or Chile. This MFA program would not have been possible without Rotary’s support and I cannot thank them enough. I worked specifically with the Rotary Club of South Richmond (VA) in the application process, and their district, district 7600, will be my American host club during the program, joined by Rotary La Lucila in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who will be my international host club. The objective of the scholarship is, broadly, to enable graduate students to use their education and qualifications to serve others. I will be continuing Rotary’s mission in basic education and literacy by volunteering at community schools in Argentina and/or Chile. I begin in February ’17, teaching in Buenos Aires, but more to come on that!
SANTIAGO AT UNFILTERED FIRST GLANCE.
Santiago was, in a word, vivid. Everything about it. I was at first overwhelmed by how physically present the city is – there’s heavy smog, street dogs, once-a-week student protests, in answer to which the riot police regularly inundate the student crowds gathered in the main plaza with pepper spray, spray you feel in your chest for a long time afterward. You can buy anything you’ve ever wanted in the streets, people perform elaborate dances in the sidewalks between green lights, and every night in my neighborhood there were booming drum circles put on by the university students – who had been out of school for over a month in protest against rising tuition prices. Graffiti covers already-graffiti-covered surfaces. When I arrived at six in the morning, the sky was gray, spitting cold raindrops from too-close, overbearing clouds.
It was a lot to take in.
The first thing I did in my new city was to go for a run. A quarter-mile through my neighborhood brought me to the base of a very tall hill (Cerro San Cristobal) with an incredible view of Santiago and the mountains; I ended up running it almost every day. They call it a hill, I later discovered it’s taller than some of the mountains I used to train on in Virginia. Ha. What makes a mountain on the east coast of the US is referred to as a hill in Santiago. This was probably the moment the city began to endear itself to me.
SETTLING IN: EARTHQUAKES, WALKS, URBAN PITS.
There were twelve other students in the group, a couple coordinators, and four faculty – intelligent, provocative and courageous writers. From my apartment each morning I walked twenty minutes to the Catholic University where we had our seminars. The walk brought me past a construction site in and around a 70-yard-deep square ditch that covered an entire city block. I don’t know what they were building but I loved looking in that giant urban absence every morning. After that it was across the river, through the park, five minutes winding through a cobblestoned arts neighborhood, shortcut through the Gabriela Mistral museum, across the street to cut through the leafy, spacious courtyard of the University, down earthquake-proof stairs that bounced when you stepped on them, and into our classroom.
On our third day there was a small earthquake in the morning, the next day our afternoon walk was canceled because of the student protests, and in the second week my walk home took me straight across the long parade of protesters, past the huddles of riot police, and past broken glass bottles filled with paint, which some students throw at the police. Walking was my favorite thing, there was always something to think about. (Pic below from one such walk, taken outside a school not currently in session)
I ran every day and sometime around the fourth or fifth day I realized I really liked Santiago. After several days of clouds and rain, the sun came out and the Andes appeared as mystical backdrops to the skyscrapers of the city. I stopped bringing maps with me everywhere, I discovered a huge park four miles outside of town where I swear the air felt cleaner and I could practically touch the mountains, I went and watched the drummers perform at night, I shared tequila with the program director and our famously talented faculty, I made friends.
FRIENDS AND MENTORS.
In our little group of writers, there were several who I naturally gravitated to and who became familiar almost instantly, in the way that happens when a bunch of semi-strangers are thrown into a foreign city together with no real obligations other than to attend activities in the presence of one another each day. This experience of friendship was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The new friends – a group of two poets and two fiction-writers – were all veterans to this program. Collectively they were goofy and deadpan, perceptive, up-for-whatever, and made me feel like I belonged right where I’ve always wanted to belong – in a group of weird, mostly-introverted writers.
My mentor in Santiago was Francisco Goldman. Look him up if you have a chance, he is a wonderful writer and a warm human being. I’ll continue working with him on one story a month this year. In Santiago we had to submit four stories, and nearly every afternoon Francisco and I met to go over the different submissions, the content, technique, narrative, voice, line-editing, etc. This was a heart-breaking, soul-crushing, and ultimately encouraging activity. Francisco was always honest and never unkind, and there’s no better sort of editor.
I could go on, and on, and on. I’m working on a short, comedic piece about Santiago, which I’m intending to share here in excerpts over the next few posts.