shweta_narayan (shweta_narayan) wrote,
shweta_narayan
shweta_narayan

surviving Clarion with a chronic illness

I've been asked about how I survived Clarion while ill, and figured it might be of interest to more than just one or two people, so figured a post might be better than email. Also, that maybe other people with CIs could chime in? About Clarion or, even better, about other workshops? Given my limited experience this is going to be a very Clarion-centric post...

(Note: & feel free to email me at shweta at shwetanarayan dot org if you'd rather not talk publically about health stuff but have questions.)

ETA2: glorioushubris has some important advice in comments for anyone who finds themselves in the situation of becoming life-alteringly ill while at Clarion.

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Okay so I see this broken down into a few questions.

1) How well do I have to be to even try?

I think if you're well enough to contemplate 6 weeks of full days - with multiple stories to read every day - without melting down, then I think you're well enough to get something worthwhile out of Clarion. If you're at risk of meltdown, then it depends on why; is it fear of letting other people down? Forget them. Is it worry that you won't do "enough" there? Well, sure, those of us with CIs may not be able to do as much as our healthy classmates, but that doesn't have to stop us from doing what we can & enjoying it & getting a lot out of it.

But it's true that some of us aren't well enough, right. I certainly am not at this point. So: if you're melting down because the entire concept is horrific and exhausts you even to think about it and how can you possibly do this, then... it might be wise to listen to your body :/

2) How much can I expect to manage?

And that's going to depend on the details of your CI, of course. But, expect to make compromises. This isn't defeatism; Clarion at least is set up to be gruelling even for healthy people, so trying to always keep up in every possible way can be really bad for people with CIs, and lead to actually managing less. Better to guard your health and do what you can, and let the rest slide. In my case, I:
- did not make it to every day of workshopping.
- only wrote two stories plus one assigned-story while at Clarion - nowhere near one a week.
- did not do as much social stuff with classmates as I'd have liked to.

And you know what, that's okay. I did as much as I could.

3) How should I prioritize?

Since we're expecting to make compromises, well, which ones to make? Here's the priority list as I see it, for things to manage, from the top down:

- Read and critique your classmates' stories. This is where you learn the most, by thinking critically about pretty good stories that could still become better. If at all possible, read and crit every single story at Clarion. And write your crits down (even if that's not class policy) so that, if you're unwell during the crit itself, you've still participated.
- Spend time with classmates. You will never again get a stretch of time to just talk about the writing and what you want to do with it & what they want to do with it. It matters. As much as the craft itself, Clarion helps you create a narrative of yourself as a writer.
And water-gun fights are good too. Just sayin' XD
- Spend social time with instructors. This includes communal meals & evening activities; you may not manage all of these, but do try to manage some social time just talking to each instructor.
- EAT DRINK SLEEP!
- Write write write. Do write while at Clarion, it's a really important experience. But. Frankly I am amazed even at the healthy people who manage a story a week, and it's not shameful not to when dealing with CIs on top of everything else. And you WILL have writing time after Clarion too!
- Make it to the workshop. Obviously yes you want to do this as often as possible; the actual back and forth of a workshop crit is an amazing learning experience; but I don't see a 6-week stretch with NO bad days, do you? If you need a day of rest to recuperate & be able to manage everything else, take it. And don't guilt yourself over it. This is where having written down crits comes in handy, I found - means I didn't feel as guilty about not being there on my sick days.
- Read read read. It's really good to have read something by each of your instructors? But I think the best time for that is BEFORE Clarion not during. I took along a stack of books and barely cracked them while I was there. Far too much else to do.
- General evening activities. I tried to make it to every one, and I think that was a mistake. I could have done more if I'd been willing to say no to the ones that weren't my cuppa. But OTOH this is time with classmates, so *handtip*
- email, livejournal, etc. Forget these for 6 weeks. IT WILL BE OKAY I PROMISE. Also you will thereby avoid horrible internet messes that will haunt you forever after; posting anything personal/private while under the influence of Clarion is not a great idea.

4) Other things to keep in mind?

Make sure you know who to go to/where to go in an emergency. If your CI is complicated, it might be a good idea to write out the details in case you're not well enough to explain them to the campus medical folks? IDK, I had elsmi right there to help if I had problems, because I was local, but I'm always struck by how difficult it is to get new doctors up to speed, so.

If you have particular dietary requirements, make sure you have some alternative-snackies in case the cafeteria screws up. Because I'm afraid they do.

Monitor your energy level! It's really easy to get distracted at Clarion, so much is happening, so you might want to pick specific times to do a self-check.

Have all your meds and some emergency-spares to hand. I don't actually have to tell anyone with a CI that, do I, but just to make the list complete.

Ideally there will be a classmate you're comfortable poking to help out when you're not well - to get you food, or to tell other people you're not around today, or just to be the clear head when yours is all full of fuzz. And in general, there will be people who are happy to do this. Just figure out their & your comfort levels while you're doing relatively well :)

ETA: kate_schaefer reminded me! If your illness comes with impaired immune system or extra-bad reactions to bugs, *do* keep hand sanitizer with you, and don't feel bad about using it plenty. In largish groups especially, it's the best way I know to not pick up on every bug anyone has encountered.
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I think that's it. Additions, alterations, questions?
Tags: chronic illness, clarion, thinky thoughts
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