Thursday, July 28, 2011

Do you HEAR me, Don?!

Yes, it has been hot here in Austin. Horribly horribly hot, reltentlessly sweltering, and so so SO dry. But right now, out in the Gulf of Mexico, there is a storm named Don a-brewin'. And as of earlier today, this was Don's projected path:

If there is a God, and if that God doesn't hate Texas, we will be getting some rain from this storm and maybe, just maybe, a day or two where it DOESN'T get to 100 degrees or higher. If we DON'T get any rain and relief from this godawful summer, I cannot be held responsible for my actions which may or may not include, yelling, screaming, crying, ripping out hair at the roots, punching kittens in the face, spitting at preachers, littering, and farting on the elderly. Seriously. This rain NEEDS to happen, or your poor Pine Curtain Refugee may have to go to the loony bin and/or county jail.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I dreamed I had cancer.

Last night, I was diagnosed. Bone cancer. The prognosis wasn't good. I started chemo right away. My hair began to fall out. I considered short haircuts to ease the progression to full-on baldness. Two friends from my writing workshop were there. A friend from work. My mother.

The treatment center was located on lovely green grounds, but the interior was bleak--filled with the sick and the dying. The doctors and nurses were faceless, their speech muffled.

I remember thinking, "I don't think I can do this, but I have to." They opted for an insulin pump type gizmo instead of a port-a-cath for the delivery of my drugs. My skin turned gray. I got puffy from the medication. I looked in the mirror and barely recognized myself.

The fatigue was overwhelming, and the only energy I did have was fueled by frustration and anger. My spirit was devoured by worry. I worried about not beating it, about who and what I would leave behind, about what happens after your heart stops beating and your eyes close forever, about being shut out of the world of the living.

I woke up and was flooded with sadness. I stared into the dark, quiet room, my husband softly breathing next to me. I counted my heartbeats, trying to lull myself back to sleep. But my mind went backwards, retracing the vividness of the dream. My body tensed. "It wasn't real," I told myself. "Relax."

I told myself that it was just my mind racing around, throwing together people and places and events and making up its own story about the body turning upon itself, rogue cells indiscriminately attacking from the inside.

It wasn't real, but I can't seem to shake it.


Haven't written a word since I got back.
Utterly uninspired. The heat. Work. The day-to-day drudgery of it all.
Reading a really good memoir and trying to seek inspiration from that.
Went to see a movie and my writing workshop brain was troubled by how poor the storytelling was.
Forgot how much The Geej talks. It is constant and relentless.
Dreading August more than usual.
Dreamed I got furious and yelled at someone for throwing a dirty diaper into the Mississippi river. Figure THAT one out, Jung!
The ugly and intolerant political rhetoric in this country is making me more sad than it is angry.
My headaches and IBS have returned.
Keep torturing myself by looking at the weather reports for Portland.
Also torturing myself by trolling real estate online again. Dreaming of a house with an office. 
Have no idea what to get The Geej for her birthday. It's this Saturday. She'll be SEVEN.
Excited that I have a couple of the authors from the writing conference following me on Twitter now!
That thing that the dermatologist dug out of my neck? It's back.
Noticed a severe and ugly new wrinkle on my face. First time I've ever seriously considered Botox.
Wondering what's next.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

And then, there's this.

Let's say it's a glorious day in July. Warm, but not too hot. Not a cloud in the sky.

Let's say there's a street fair. It's big. Tens of thousands of people are attending. It stretches on for blocks with artists and food and music and people, people, people.

Let's say it was a long, wet, dreary spring. Longer and wetter than it ususally is. Even in Portland, Oregon.

And let's say, there's a funky gospel choir made up of at-risk African American youth in their white robes, singing loudly and joyfully about their Lord.

What would YOU do in this situation?

Well, here's what THIS guy did:

God bless the freaks.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thoughts Upon Heading Home

Things I haven't done in over a week:
  • Cooked
  • Loaded/Unloaded Dishwasher
  • Kissed husband
  • Driven car
  • Eaten Tex-Mex or tater tots
  • Shaved legs
  • Watched TV
  • Hugged kid (mine)
  • Slept with windows closed
  • Played fetch with cats
  • Drunk bubble water (La Croix, or similar)
  • Scooped cat litter
  • Worried to excess
  • Done other people's laundry
  • Petted dog belly (my dog)
  • Gotten angry
  • Checked internet gossip sites
  • Felt uninspired, listless

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dispatches from Writing Camp: The Last Day

I am wondering if I should even attempt to write this post now. Right now, while the big end-of-conference Dance Party rages on in the Student Union building outside my windows, I am busy packing. Yes, I went to the party for a while, but I knew when it was time to leave (a gift of insight that comes to you in your 40s, I believe).

It will take me a while to process all that this week has meant to me intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually. I have slept better, have had fewer bouts with IBS (yes, ladies and germs, sometimes your Pine Curtain Refugee gets sudden, explosive diarrhea brought on by stress. Deal with it. I have to.), have been more inspired by and engaged in life than I have in how long, I can't remember. But the biggest feeling I've had all week is peace. Peacefulness that can only be achieved when your primary duties of each day involve writing, talking about writing, listening to people talk about the craft of writing, reading, listening to people read, and writing down lists of books and writers you want and need to read. That, my friends, is a version of heaven that perhaps few can understand. The only thing that would've made this heavenly vision complete would've been to have my family and pets with me, some really good Tex-Mex at arm's length, and maybe not so much cigarette smoking.

Am I ready to go home? Yes and no. Yes because I am literally aching for The Geej. This is the longest we've ever been apart, and although I've talked to that little monkey every day on the phone, all I want to do is tickle her knees and squeeze her guts out. Yes because I want to tell BH all about it. I want him to see how happy I am. I want to make out with him. Yes because, as dorky as it is, I miss communing with my silly pets each day. Looking into their eyes. Feeling their fur. Laughing at how incredibly goofy they each are. 

But no, because what I'm going back to is relentless, 100+ degree heat and an historical drought. Green things burned up and ready to ignite with the smallest flame. A house I'm tired of living in that needs new carpet, paint. Air conditioning. TV. The ridiculous amount of email and other stuff I'm going to be faced with when I walk back in to work.

I am sad.

But so much more than sad, I am grateful and humbled by the experiences I've had and the knowledge I've acquired. I am filled with confidence and a dazzling desire to write write write.

I am already thinking about how and if I can come back here some time. I am already putting "yes" out there into the universe.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dispatches from Writing Camp: Day 6

  • My brain is full to flooding.
  • I am done with the hipsters.
  • I love being able to hear the train from my dorm room windows.
  • Clove cigarettes are stupid as fuck.
  • To the people who stamp out and leave their cigarette butts in the middle of this amazingly gorgeous green lawn that it takes a team of DOZENS of humanfuckingbeings to maintain: You should have to sit down and eat every cigarette butt you discarded this week. Because that? Is shitty.
  • I love my workshop instructor.
  • I am going to bed because I have a wicked buzz and have to be up early.
Yay college!

But wait!! Here's another pic from campus!!
It's hard to even imagine how lush and gorgeous this campus is, so you might as well quit trying.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dispatches from Writing Camp: Day 5

This one's gonna be a short one because I'm tired, I've had some wine, and I've got to do some reading before I go to bed (which will happen shortly, I hope). However, a techno dance party with some really loud and very bass-heavy music started about 10 minutes ago in the Student Union that's only a tennis ball's throw away from my open windows. And I'm a girl, so I don't throw very far.

Good lord.

Today started with a lecture on the subject of suicide in writing/poetry. Uplifting way to start the day, no? But actually, it was a pretty great talk with lots of thought-provoking, beautiful examples.

Then, workshop time. Most excellent.

The afternoon lectures were by one of my new most favoritest dudes, Luis Urrea (who I somehow got to follow me on The Tweeeeeeeeeeters) and another dude that I'm just plain curious about, Ben Percy.

Hiked to the 7-11 with one of my workshop mates, Tonya, and picked up some wine and crackers. The walk to and fro was all it took to rub some SERIOUSLY massive blisters on my heels. They are sort of killing me. Had a bit of wine before and after dinner, then went to tonight's faculty readings. Not bad, but not nearly as terrific as last night's--just a totally different kind of energy. Tomorrow night's lineup is seriously fantastic, however.

I am missing home. Not the ungodly heat that is still holding Austin in its hellish grip, but the kid, the husband, the dawg and kittehs. Yes, and even the leopard gecko. I am also missing my full-size shower and private place to, you know, doo-doo. Plus, when you're an old lady such as myself, there are at least a couple of instances of getting up in the middle of the night to tinkle. And having to stumble half-asleep down the hall and into a brightly lit communal bathroom to do so is not as much fun as you might imagine.

Okay, the dance party is now playing KISS's "God Gave Rock and Roll To You." I'm beginning to get grumpy, so I should probably sign off.

Until tomorrow, greetings from:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dispatches from Writring Camp: Day 4

I am exhausted. Not because of any sort of physical exertion, mind you. But I have gone from lecture to workshop to lecture to event all day long, and I've been mentally engaged and zooming with ideas and energy since I opened my eyes this morning, and that creates its own kind of tiredness--the kind where you want to just stare at a blank wall and drool for a while. But instead, I'm keeping my "Dispatches" committment for all you fine folks (all 2 of you...yay!) while listening to Tom Waits and munching on stale popcorn.

So let me tell you a bit about our daily schedule here at Writing Camp:

8 - 9am, Breakfast in the Dining Commons
9 - 10am, Lecture #1
10am - 12:30pm, Writing Workshop
12:30 - 1:30, Lunch in the Dining Commons
2 - 3pm, Lecture #2
3 - 4pm, Lecture #3
4:30 - 6pm, Cocktail hour/Agent Meetings/Editor Meetings/Participant Readings
6 - 7pm, Dinner in the Dining Commons
8 - 9pm, Faculty Readings

So as you see, they've got us pretty busy here. And yes, most of this stuff is "optional," but why on earth would you WANT to miss out on hearing these folks speak? (I mean, aside from me skipping class yesterday afternoon to grab a snooze. But I had an excuse: I needed a disco nap to prepare myself for my night on the town with Michelle, and also, I am old.) The faculty are top-notch, highly-respected authors, poets, editors, etc. The lectures and panels I've been to have been outstanding and inspirational--not a bunch of bullshit fluff, but real tools, ideas and information to help writers along their paths. Other than staying in a "Faculty Dorm" here on campus, they are totally at all events (including meal times) and totally approachable and available if you want to seek them out and chat with them about whatevs. It's an amazingly supportive and surreal environment, and the lush beauty of Reed College's 100 year old campus only adds to the effect.

Today, my manuscript got "workshopped" in my class. It was awesome. The feedback was all positive and constructive. I came away with some great ideas and tools that will help me better craft what I've already written and what writing (there's quite a lot of it) remains in order to finish this sucker.

So at 8:00am tomorrow, it starts all over again. And that being said, I bid you goodnight.

Dispatches from Writing Camp: Day 3, Part 2

Michelle picked me up right on time. The sky had cleared and it was absolutely perfect outside. We rode to dinner at a fancy schmancy vegan restaurant with the car windows rolled down. We took our time with dinner, not wanting to rush just because of the 8:00pm show start time on the tickets, figuring that Gillian Welch would have an opening band anyway. We started with this incredibly flavorful and smooth pate. I had a rhubarb gin and tonic, which was just a lovely and refreshing as it sounds. For my entree, I ordered these out-of-this-world bowl with risotto balls served on greens with corn fresh off the cob, accented by fresh pesto and roasted red onion and jalapenos. It was freakin' exquisite, and the service was perfection. After dinner, we had another drink and kept chatting.

We finally got downtown to the venue and entered just as Gillian was finishing her first set. Apparently there WAS no opener and they'd pretty much started right on time. Damn you and your promptness, Gillian Welch!! The second set began, and she and her musical partner Dave Rawlings were sheer perfection. Their voices are auditory soulmates and seeing how much they truly enjoy the music they're playing--and the fact that they're playing together--is a wonderful, beautiful thing to behold. They did 3 encores, and ended with a crowd singalong version of "I'll Fly Away" that I'm pretty sure saved all of our souls, whether we realized it or not.

Michelle brought me back to campus as the bright, full moon rose in the sky and the temperature dropped. I went back to my dorm room happy and tired.

Now, some pictures!!

"Food Not Lawns"

Joshelle, hula-hooping old-school.
My room. Sparse but comfortable.
Cerf Ampitheater, where the nightly participant and faculty readings are held.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dispatches from Writing Camp: Day 3, Part 1

I ordered a fan for my room from Campus Services, it made a huge difference in the depth and quality of my sleep last night. I woke up around 5:30 to pee, and it was actually chilly in my room. When I returned to bed after my trip to the bathroom, I heard a faint, unfamiliar sound outside my open windows: soft, steady rain. I drifted back to sleep in complete relaxed peace.

It wasn't raining when I woke up, but the low clouds made if feel like it might at any moment. I skipped breakfast, opting instead to eat a piece of fruit in my room and take my time reading the stories that we were going to be workshopping in my class. They were both exceptionally good, and again, very different from one another.

At 9am, I went to a lecture by Mary Syzbist on the visual composition of poetry (interesting and curiousity-sparking) and then, after, to my workshop session.

I can't tell you what these sessions do for my brain. It's like I can actually feel dormant pieces of my mind awakening and shaking off the dust. The muscle memory is there, and it is strong. Using it makes me feel a bit high.

Lunch (a sandwich and salad) with classmates, and then back to my room for some email checking. And then I did something I doubt I'll do again during the rest of writing camp: I skipped the 2 - 4pm lectures and took a really spectacular nap. I did this because, a) I was sort of feeling lazy and b) I felt like I needed to rest up for what I'm pretty sure is going to be a longish night. You see, my friend Michelle is picking me up at 6:30, and we're going to dinner and then to see Gillian Welch at The Roseland. Not sure what time I'll get back, but when I do, it'll be time for to sneak a shower and get my arse in bed.

After my nap, I went to the participant readings at the outdoor ampitheater to support a few of my classmates and my friend from Ausitn, Lisa, who is here. About an hour in to the readings, as Lisa was at the podium and reading a passage from her novel in which it was raining, the skies above the ampitheater opened up, as if on cue. We all scattered, unsure where to regroup. I felt bad for her and for those who hadn't yet read, but it was time to head back to my room to prepare for my "date" with Michelle anyway.

More later...WITH PICTURES!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dispatches from Writing Camp: Day 2

Surprisingly, despite the open windows and the strange, too-firm bed, and the lack of white noise I so love ceiling fans for, I managed to get a pretty decent night's sleep last night. I think the relief of finally, finally actually being here after thinking about it for so long played a part in my easy rest. I'm also going to credit that one Tylenol P.M. for making my trip to sleepytime a bit easier than it might have been otherwise.

At any rate, I got up and went to my first breakfast (fresh fruit and a slice of walnut banana bread, if you must know) followed by my first lecture of the day in the main lecture hall that's being utilized during this conference. After that, I went to my first workshop class, and it was, in a word, GREAT. We're spending a bit of each class talking about the craft of memoir/narrative nonfiction and then maybe working on an exercise and then, we spend the rest of our time "workshopping" (yes that's a real verb) two of the participants' works. Today's session was interesting because we focused on one of the most polished and cohesive pieces and then turned our attentions to one of the most unconventionally structured pieces in the class. Everyone has clearly spent time reading these pieces and is coming to class with very constructive feedback and questions. My piece will be reviewed on Wednesday. I have absolutely no idea what to expect, but I'm more excited than anxious.

The Fresno Posse (who are entering into their 4th hour of drinking/smoking out on the Quad as I type this), actually participated and contributed some decent feedback during today's class. (See! I told you I was going to be open minded!!) I think one of their peeps gets her work critiqued tomorrow, so we'll see how that goes.

After the workshop session, it was lunch time. I had a veggie burger that wasn't half bad. I ate lunch with 3 of my classmates, and it was nice to get to know them a bit better.

There was a bit of a post-lunch break, and then two back-to-back lectures--one on the literary agent's perspective (a panel of three agents chatting and fielding questions), then a lecture about the future of publishing as seen through the eyes of this dude who sort of defies description.

Remember the Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch characters of the English Professor/Lovers?

Yeah...he was sort of like that. I was all ready to hate him for his affected manner of speaking and ego that can probably be seen from space on a clear day, but he actually had a very interesting and compelling case to make about where publishing is heading and what we, as writers who want to be authors, need to think about and do to swim in that stream.

I left his lecture about 10 minutes early so that I could sneak my first shower in the coed shared bathroom. Yeah...not a fan of that whole set up. Oh well. At least I'm clean and no one came in while I was showering...or DID they?!

During the rest of my break, I decided to call the home front. I spoke with BH first, and then he handed the phone to The Geej. For some reason, upon hearing her little girl voice say so enthusiastically, "I miss you, Mommy!" I burst into tears. I didn't let on to her that I was crying, but tears streamed down my face almost the entire time I spoke with her. I didn't realize how much I was missing her until I heard her voice, and I didn't know how much my missing her would affect me. This is the longest we've ever been apart, and I am really feeling it.

The end of the day held a meet-and-greet appointment with a Big Shot Literary Agent (one of the speakers from the previous panel). I was so unprepared. I'm just not ready to speak with someone in that line of work about what I'm doing/hope to do yet. I think my meet-and-greet with the Big Shot Editor on Wednesday evening will make more sense. But hey, at least I was freshly showered, right?

This evening's readings at the ampitheater featured two women and one man and all three of them were so wildly different from one another, it was like having Greek salad, followed by chocolate eclairs followed by shrimp quesadillas for dinner. I liked all three of them a lot, but for very different reasons.

It was mostly cloudy today, and a bit cooler than yesterday. I didn't mind since this was the first day I had to be inside for most of the day. The clouds made me feel like I wasn't really missing anything about being outside. Tomorrow, it's supposed to rain. It's only supposed to hang around for one day, and it's been so long since I've actually SEEN rain, I'm actually looking forward to it.

Tomorrow, I promise I'll post photos. But now? Now I need to go re-read the pieces we're going to be discussing in class tomorrow.

Until later...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dispatches from Writing Camp: Day 1

Holy crap. I'm here. It's still a bit surreal. I feel like I'm in some sort of magical fairy land of amazingness, and I keep wondering, "How the HELL did I get here?"

First up, I've been in Portland since Friday night. I have been spending a couple of wonderful days with two of my favorite people on the planet--Josh and Michelle, or as I like to think of them, Joshelle--and their utterly charming six year old daughter, Ruby. The weather has been exquisite. It's like the anti-Texas here right now: green, everything blooming, pleasant days followed by cool nights. We spent the bulk of the weekend being outside just for the sake of being outside. Long walks followed by more walking around followed by dinner on the deck sans mosquitoes and flies followed by falling asleep with the windows open and still needing a blanket. Fucking amazing.

Today after a vegan Lebanese FEAST for lunch, Michelle and Ruby drove me to what will be my home for the next six days: Reed College. It's a hoity toity, 100 year old private liberal arts college with an unbelievably picturesque campus situated in the middle of a fancy shmancy residential area. After hauling my so-big-you-could-literally-put-an-adult-corpse-in-it suitcase to the Student Union building (on the "Quad" dontcha know) for registration, I finally found my dorm building. I'm guessing it's an original part of the campus, i.e., built in the early 20th century and therefore somehow not subject to ADA building modifications because then I had to haul the gigant-a-bag up a twisty flight of stairs to my stark-but-comfortable dorm room. There is no air conditioning, but there are 3 windows that open, so that's nice. That's the good news. The bad news is that those windows face the student union/Quad area where all the 20-something future Pulitzer winners who are at this workshop are going to be hanging out partying and smoking every night. Twenty years ago, I would've been right there with them, but now I'm old and tired and want them to shut the fuck up.

And the other bad news? Three words: Shared co-ed bathrooms.

But I digress.

We assembled for a welcome assembly with everyone, then broke up in to our respective workshop groups and met in what will be our classroom for the week. Our group is made up of eleven women and one brave man. Four of the people in the class are here together from Fresno State. The MFA program. And I'm guessing they're all hanging out below my window right now talking about how awesome they all are. But I'm trying to keep an open mind so that I don't write them off simply because they're too young and insecure to be here by themselves and they're parents are (most likely) paying for them to be here.

After that, we went for a "reception" in the student union building, complete with free beer and wine and snacks. Okay, I'm not the kind to turn my nose up at free libations, but when you've got about 100 writers and wannabe writers descending upon you for free hooch, you might want to have more than one person working the bar. I stood in a ridiculously long, winding line for about 1/2 hour for one glass of white wine, and then walked around chatting with a few folks I recognized from my class.

As chatty as I am with people I know, I'm sort of lousy at the whole "mixing and mingling with strangers" bullshit. It always reminds me of sorority rush and/or business conferences, and it makes my stomach turn. That kind of lame small talk is not my bag. So I don't know how much I'll be socializing here at writing camp. That could change, of course. We'll see...

Next was dinner. The dining hall options were surprisingly diverse and appealing. I got my dinner and went to eat outside. Again: No sweat and no bugs. Awesomeness. Ate and chatted with a couple of ladies from my class--Judy and Aggie. They've both been to this writing camp before. Old pros. It was nice getting to know them a bit better.

After dinner, I went back to my dorm room and settled in: unpacked my luggage and made my bed, check email and called home. Then, at 8pm, I went to the outdoor amphitheater where there will be nightly readings by the authors who are teaching at writing camp. Holy Hell, y'all. This amphitheater? On the side of a green hill surrounded by tall green trees and right in front of a pond where beavers were gliding by dragging limbs for their dams and ducks and other water fowl flew by and landed expertly in the water while the sunset made the light almost impossibly glisteny? And Pulitzer nominees reading excerpts from their latest works? I seriously thought I'd died and gone to fucking heaven.

To say that I am happy to be here would be the understatement of the century. I feel blessed and humbled. And you know what? I feel inspired.

More to come. Including pictures!!