Grad School Residency IV: Leaving Fear Behind

I just finished up my fourth grad school residency, and I don’t know how to process it. Truly. I have no idea where to start.

For those who are just joining us: Hey, I’m Karis, and I’m entering my fourth semester in the Writing for Children & Young Adults MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. This means I also just completed the 9-day intense residency that precedes each semester. And while the first three residencies were almost entirely good experiences, this one…had some bumps.

I haven’t had time to really sit and decompress after everything that happened, so I won’t get into it in this essay. Instead, I’ll save those thoughts for my newsletter, and will focus this piece on what I learned, and how I’m preparing for my fourth (and final!!! What???) semester.

The shining bright spot of this residency were the lectures. We listened to four faculty members share their wisdom, as well as two teaching assistants and a plethora of graduates. I learned so much from these incredible writers and teachers; not just about the craft of writing, but about the art of being a human in community with others.

One of the biggest lessons I learned at this residency was about fear. I was sitting in this weirdly-shaped lecture hall listening to a teaching assistant, and I was struck with the realization that I’ve been living my life, both within school and outside of it, in total fear.

...through the darkness, I saw light. And I’m going to chase that light into a fearless life...

I told my therapist about this revelation after residency, and she was like… “Yes? And?” because she already knew this. And to be honest, I did too, to an extent. But it wasn’t until this lecture that it was really hammered home.

I’ve been living in fear of the people in my life. Not so much the fear that they’ll turn out to be bad people who will leave me, but fear that I will turn them off somehow, and they’ll realize their lives were better without me; they’ll realize the world is better without me; they’ll realize they can find greater joy without me.

That’s such a shitty feeling to live with, and it’s colored so many relationships of mine. I give my friends such great props for sticking around someone who didn’t believe them when they professed their love! That’s so hard.

But I’m so stinking grateful they did stick around.

I’ve lived my life in fear of turning people off, and that’s affected so much, from my writing to my reading to my relationships to others and to myself.

Going forward, I plan to practice letting go of that fear. I can’t wait to see how that empowers my writing, improves my relationships, and colors every aspect of my life.

Another lesson I learned at this residency was about allyship and speaking up. It goes hand-in-hand with my fear of others, but I’m learning that the best thing one can do as an ally to anyone else is to be unafraid to speak — to speak truth to power, to speak love to the hurting, to speak up when injustice is delivered, intentionally or not.

This was a hard residency for me. I was deeply depressed most of it, and struggled to find the joy that has so often sprung up, effortless, in these situations. But through the darkness, I saw light. And I’m going to chase that light into a fearless life, I hope.

Karis Rogerson

Column by Karis Rogerson

Karis Rogerson is a mid-20s aspiring author who lives in Brooklyn and works at a cafe—so totally that person they warn you about when you declare your English major. In addition to embracing the cliched nature of her life, she spends her days reading, binge-watching cop shows (Olivia Benson is her favorite character) and fangirling about all things literary, New York and selfie-related. You can find her other writing on her website and maybe someday you’ll be able to buy her novels.

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