What Clarion West Does to You

I am a cautionary tale.

I’m not warning anyone away from Clarion or Clarion West. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life, and the best six weeks I have ever had. It made me a real, grown-up writer. It is Hogwarts. No, it is Narnia.

But if you know anything about magical worlds, you know that once you’ve learned what you need to learn, the doors close and you can’t go back. And anyone who’s been there is changed, one way or another.

Thing is, when everyone leaves the big old house north of the UW campus, we seem to go through some sort of Fate Scrambler. There’s no predicting whose careers will suddenly take off. And there’s no predicting who will return to the real world with a belly flop instead of a splash.

I arrived at CW with too much confidence. Not in my writing–I’m proud of the work I did during my six weeks and in the work I’ve done since. But I really thought I had my shit together, personally, 100%. I knew who I was and I was happy and fine, and Clarion West was a challenge I could handle. My friendships and experience there were intense and unprecedented but I was certain I could transition them back into the real world and I would be okay.

I was totally confident until I got home.

It was a complete surprise to discover that I am one of those people who leaves the workshop and suddenly, out of nowhere, has a major existential crisis. Before Clarion West I thought I was happy, stable, content. Returning home I felt like I had lost my sight and hearing. This place was colorless, passionless. My job was meaningless, my relationships too quiet, my life far, far too careful.

It’s been a little over three months since I left the back driveway of our magical house, and I don’t have answers yet. I’m still trying to figure out how to incorporate the me that I found at the workshop–a person far more passionate and unpredictable than I thought she was, someone who drinks too much and talks too much and indulges immoderately in the joy and pain of her work–into a life with a paycheck and mortgage and husband. There have been big changes and might be bigger ones.

Anyone who has asked me how I’ve been, post-workshop, knows already: it has been hard. It has been harder than I ever imagined it would be. I have cried, and scared my husband, and hurt feelings, and compromised my job. It is frightening.

The point is, I was not expecting this. I thought I knew my shit, and I thought I knew myself. I wasn’t young, I wasn’t searching. I found something anyway.

It has been painful but very, very worth it.

So bear that in mind, as Clarion and Clarion West application season begins. You might learn something you aren’t expecting to learn.

Good luck.


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