Last week on Longreads, I edited and published an essay by Richard Gilbert, “Why I Hate My Dog.” It’s a piece about Richard’s rescue dog, Belle Krendl (and a bit about his previous dog, Jack Gilbert). I’ve never had a dog, and am very much a cat person — I still miss Striper, my cat from my childhood-to-early college years — but Richard’s essay touches on the larger bond between humans and their animals, and I was happy to have the opportunity to work on it.
I met Richard while working on my MFA in creative nonfiction at Goucher College, from 2005–07. Goucher’s MFA is a limited-residency program — our class of 2007 met in person over a few summers, during an intensive period of lectures and workshops on its lovely Maryland campus. Then, for each of our four semesters, we returned to our home bases — across the US, in South Africa, in Switzerland, and other locations — to dive into writing, reading, and working on our manuscripts. We were assigned to a different mentor each semester, who then led a small group of writers. Richard and I got to know each other in our third semester, while working under author and River Teeth cofounder Joe Mackall.
I’ve written in the past about how I’ve felt I wasn’t ready for that MFA program, but ten years later, I still don’t feel I’m ready. Actually, scratch that — if I were given the opportunity to do another MFA or other sort of immersive writing experience, I’d probably not take it. You have to want to write. You need that drive, that passion. I had both then; I don’t have either now. But that’s a post for another time. (Or maybe I’ve written it before?)
At Goucher, Richard was working on a manuscript about his life on a farm in Ohio. I enjoyed reading about things I knew absolutely nothing about — did you know hoofed mammals are called ungulates? — and, over time and from afar, seeing his manuscript evolve into his published memoir, Shepherd.
After working on his essay for Longreads, Richard asked me a few questions about editing, blogging, and writing, as well as my work at Automattic, which is the company behind this blogging platform, WordPress.com. You can read the Q&A on his blog, Draft No. 4.
While I’ve questioned the value and timing of those two MFA years, I ultimately don’t regret it: I documented hundreds and hundreds of pages on experiences that I’ve since forgotten, and also met some fantastic writers, like Richard. Thinking back on this limited-residency MFA experience, I’ve also just realized how this setup of learning is similar to my current work environment at Automattic, which is a distributed company (in other words, my colleagues and I work from home and from anywhere in the world). I talk a bit about this in the Q&A — and realize how over the years, I’ve chosen paths that nurture my introverted nature, whether though solo traveling, freelancing, graduate school (I chose Goucher over Sarah Lawrence, a traditional full-time program), and my current job.
Anyway, I’ve been spending a lot of time these past several years featuring and interviewing writers, so it feels a bit weird being the subject of an interview this time around.
Read the Q&A: “My editor speaks”