Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Help end the mass slaughter of dolphins

The Japanese fishing industry labels dolphins as "pests" and conducts a mass slaughter each year to keep down the dolphin numbers so that competition for fish such as bluefin tuna is reduced.

Dolphins are rounded up in underwater pens, deliberately disoriented by the excruciating noise of metal poles being struck beneath the water (especially painful and cofusing for echolocators like dolphins), then hoisted from the water by their tails--still living--and dropped onto truck beds or tied to bumpers and dragged to slaughter areas where they are mortally wounded by machete and allowed to flop and bleed on the concrete floor until dead.

The dolphins are then cut up, packaged, and sold to grocery stores in Japan. This needless, brutal slaughter happens by the tens of thousands every year. Please sign a petition to stop this practice here.

I would also encourage you to watch the accompanying YouTube video of the slaughter. It is terrible, but it is important that we fully grasp the scope and brutality of this slaughter.

Thank you.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Cooperation among fish

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) has released a fascinating article that details a new discovery: Groupers and Moray Eels coordinating to hunt for food in the Red Sea. Groupers can hunt quickly over a reef, but if prey goes into a crevice, it can't be reached. Enter Madame Moray, who quickly dives in and continues pursuit. Groupers and Morays have been seen hunting, swimming side by side, looking like two friends out for a stroll. Apparently the grouper solicits the moray with a special nod of the head at the entrance to the moray's hole. Fascinating! We so underestimate animals. You can read the entire article here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Lessons from NaNoWriMo

For the second time (first was in 2004) I participated in National Novel Writing Month--or NaNoWriMo as those in the know refer to it. The goal is to write a novel in a month--50,000 words minimum. A lot of novices particpate in NaNoWriMo and many writers with higher literary aspirations look down their noses at NaNoWriMo, but just like anything, it is what you make of it.

I used it as a motivating tool and found it really helpful. I tend to write really slowly and sweat every word, and I recognize that it isn't always the best way to write. Certainly not the way to get to a deeper level in my writing. I'm not even sure why I write so slowly on a normal day. Fear? Perfectionist tendencies? Avoidance? All of the above?

For me, NaNoWriMo becomes like the exercises we did in art school to force us to loosen up: things like drawing from the shoulder and not the wrist, doing 30-second gesture drawings, and blind contour drawings (drawing without looking at the paper). Both of the last two exercises encourage really focusing on the object you want to portray, but not examining (or criticizing) your results until you are finished.

When I write FORWARD ONLY during NaNoWriMo--without looking back--it's like doing a blind contour drawing. I'll eventually take a look at it and go, "yikes!" but I will also recognize that I have learned something very valuable in the process--that "seeing" your subject is at least as important as portraying it--and I will find a surprising beauty in some aspects of what I have drawn.

So, 30 days and 50,000 words later, I have five new short stories (no, I didn't write a novel, but again, it's how you use NaNoWriMo that's most important--how you make it work for you) and a new recklessness to my writing that takes me to more surprising and exciting places. Yes, I have a lot to go back and edit and tinker with, but you can't make a finished sculpture without a whole mess of clay.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Not only do I love the way Jim Ruland thinks and views the world, I love the way he makes me think and view the world. Seriously, if you want to read a book of short stories that kicks ass and takes names, Jim Ruland's debut collection BIG LONESOME is it.

These stories are far from the usual fare--they're a breath of fresh air. Okay, wrong metaphor. They're a breath of smoke-filled, honky-tonking, tough-loving beer and animal sweat air. But trust me when I say you'll go there with him, and you'll like it.

I was captivated by Ruland's writing from the very first story, Night Soil Man, in which a group of World War II Belfast men--a zookeeper, a zoo curator, and the official shit-shoveler (through whose eyes the story unfolds)--are assigned the odious task of destroying all the zoo's animals ("specimens" as the higher-ups label them) before another German air attack sets them loose, wild, onto the city streets. The men don't relish this directive, and how they manage to carry out the orders will break your heart--in the most manly way, of course.

By the time I worked my way through The Previous Adventures of Popeye the Sailor (Bam!), Kessler Has No Lucky Pants (Pow!), A Terrible Thing in a Place Like This (Oof!), Pronto's Persistence (Unh!), Still Beautiful (Ouch!), and Dick Tracy on the Moon (Socko!), I was thoroughly hooked. I'm talking swallowed-the-lure, using-the-needlenose-pliers, guts-ripped-out-into-the-river hooked.

Then he gave me Red Cap. This one, wow. This one tore me up. Poor war-torn little skinny Ilse who gets mistaken for a boy in her favorite red cap...until she finally gets back to the one place she thought of as a refuge...finds it, too, invaded by the horrors of war...and then she isn't mistaken for a boy. And it's too bad. It might have saved her.

As for the final five stories? Well, I'll just whet your appetites with a few of my favorite lines:

From The Egg Man:

"The dancer winks at me and only an idiot would miss the message encrypted in the torpid descent of those lashes. She oozes closer, introducing a thousand possibilities in the curve of her lips, possibilities ten folded by the light grace of her hand on my shoulder."

From Big Lonesome:

"The bounty hunter stood at the trailhead and surveyed the expanse of desert before him. Nothing but crusty scrubland as far as he could see. To the west: a salty sink crawling with snakes and scorpions; the the east: a wasted plain stippled with sun-bleached bones. It was hotter than donkey piss and dry as beans. He had a fair piece to go and this was the way to get there."


"Boticelli Moon, the harlot, pushed her way to the front of the crowd in a ridiculous dress that exposed a fair portion of her oft-handled charms. "What," she asked, "do you require in return for your services?""

The voice in these 13 stories commands your attention, much as a good prizefighting tournament would. Clearly Ruland-the-writer has the skills of both an inside-fighter and an outside-fighter, with the occasional brash moves of a brawler thrown in for good measure.

With all this talent and diversity, here's hoping he stays in the ring all the way to the final bell.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Help save the bluefin tuna

This is from the World Wildlife Fund:

The Atlantic bluefin tuna is an amazing creature. A warm-blooded fish, it accelerates faster than a Porsche and covers thousands of kilometres in its lifetime.

But the fish, which swims into the Mediterranean each year to reproduce, is facing a crisis. Prized for sushi in Japan and across the world, the high demand for this valuable fish has led to huge illegal industrial overfishing. This has been fuelled in turn by the massive expansion of tuna farms in the Mediterranean in the last ten years, where wild tuna are caught, put in cages and fattened up for export.

Please sign our petition asking the European Union (EU) to support urgent measures to save tuna – before it is too late. Clickity

If this unscrupulous fishing continues the species could be biologically and commercially extinct in a few years.

There is one last chance to save the bluefin tuna. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is meeting this month in Croatia and will decide how to manage the fishery in the Mediterranean over the coming years.

Most of the illegal fishing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean is by EU fleets – yet Europe's representative at ICCAT is still resisting a strict recovery plan.

Please sign the petition!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Birds of Providence

Read the first installment of an excellent new short story by Jim Tomlinson available at Velocity Weekly. (This will be a regular feature.)

Saturday, October 28, 2006


I finished Nancy Pinard's BUTTERFLY SOUP the same day that Buffalo was hit by what is being called the "October Surprise Storm" as if it were a game show prize. Fortunately, where I live, we were only out of power for 12 hours, while some in the heart of Buffalo were out for 12 days. But that time spent powerless gave me extra time to consider Nancy Pinard's second book (Shadow Dancing being her first). And consider it I did. The characters have yet to leave me.

Butterfly Soup is peopled by a very engaging cast. Although there are many aspects of the book to love--like the fine writing, the study of our human obsessiveness, the unflinching examination of the frailty of the body, the damage that secrets can do, and the many lyrical descriptive passages--it was the characters I most adored.

Rose Forrester opens the book for us, and even though we "intimately visit" with her husband Everett and her teenaged daughter Valley in successive close-third-person chapters, it is Rose and her big secret that drives the story. Fortunately, it isn't a secret from us, the readers. We learn right off that Rose's daughter Valley is actually the product of a brief fling with a high school heartthrob who has just returned to the same small town where Rose lives with her husband and daughter-that-isn't-his.

There are a number of flashbacks that give us backstory, but the bulk of the story takes place in the present tense on a crazy weekend that for Rose begins with a Saturday morning phone call from the town gossip who tells her that Rob McIntyre (Valley's real father) is back in town. Rose dresses, jumps in her car, and drives into town to see for herself. From there, her disparate emotions gradually merge into an all-consuming religious-inspired exile. When Rose makes an impulse purchase of a used nun's bed (auctioned off in the grocery store parking lot of her home town), the bed (placed in her downstairs office) becomes a makeshift sanctuary that shelters her from what she knows will be the inevitable repurcussions from her sixteen-year-old sins.

Everett's secret is a recently diagnosed medical condition that threatens to render him physically helpless in a few years. Already his legs are going numb and disobeying what his brain commands. To avoid acknowledging his body's impending self-destruction, Everett takes off on a Saturday adventure: an attempt at parasailing that has disastrous (although somewhat humorous--and familiar--for those of us who have ever thought we were still young enough to try something rash) results. Along the way he finds a beagle dog that helps to keep the whole story turning in her own right (and has her own secret, too, as it turns out) and a woman who first makes him question his marriage and then helps to reassure him of the value of said marriage.

Valley is a wonderfully rendered teenaged daughter. As a mother of two of my own, and a former teenaged daughter myself, I can tell you that Valley's depiction and deceptions are spot-on. She sneaks out that same crazy Saturday that her family seems to be self-destructing and winds up on a deserted road with a juvenile delinquent (appropriately named Snake) who happens to be a charge of Rob-the-heartthrob--MacIntyre.

All of these twists combine to create a dizzying plot of secrets-kept and secrets-revealed while life and limb hang in the balance for more than one of the protagonists. The ending? You'll have to read the book yourself to get that--I'm no spoiler--but I can tell you that the final chapter of the book seamlessly weaves together a puppy, a quilt, a belly tattoo, a box of chocolates, and Sister Mary Theresa's bed.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


"Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man
will not himself find peace."

-Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, and musician (Nobel 1952)

Monday, October 16, 2006


The cover of Ellen Meister's debut novel has a Lichtenstein-inspired tongue-in-cheek rendering of four women standing before a backdrop of Suburbia, USA. The woman in the foreground has a thought-bubble that reads, "A MOVIE STAR IS COMING TO TOWN AND MY FRIENDS WANT TO DATE HIM!"

But the thought-bubble should read, "A MOVIE STAR IS COMING TO TOWN AND MY FRIENDS WANT TO SHTUP HIM!" Because--let me just tell you now--in Applewood? There's a whole lotta shtuppin' goin on.

Not that there's anything wrong with shtupping...I'm just saying.

Seriously, I had so much fun reading this book. The main characters are likeable and quirky, with real lives and families, real faults and longings, that make you see them as full, complete people and not the cardboard cutouts so many authors working in similar genres have produced. (And, actually, I'm not even sure what I mean by "similar genres," since I have to say that even though a hot pink cover has become synonymous lately with a "chick lit" label, this novel is not your traditional chick-litty book. It's full and rich and generously sprinkled with emotional, humorous, sexy surprises.)

And the minor characters delight as well: the husband, who, following a drug-induced stroke (more or less of his own making) is left impotent and yet perversely sexually uninhibited; the private investigator who is an emotionally sensitive wreck; the alcoholic blues-singing mother who keeps trying to upstage a talented daughter who could care less about being upstaged; the womanizing best-male-friend-cum-almost-lover; the evangelical-pure-on-the-surface, animal-in-bed widower who is also Applewood's most eligible bachelor; the smooth-veneered catty PTA maven who has her own dirty little secrets; and, of course, the infamous roving rock that has spawned so much trouble. (Do rocks spawn??....if they do anywhere, it would be in hyper-fertile Applewood.)

What? You've never heard of Applewood Rock? Why, it's right up there with Plymouth Rock, people. Wars have been started over lesser objects. But don't believe me: get the book, slip between the covers, and have the time of your life. This is a seriously funny, engaging, endearing read.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


What I feel most compelled to say in awe of Roy Kesey's talent, is that I read his entire book in one sitting. One! Honestly, I couldn't put it down. Maybe that just illuminates my own obessive tendences, but I gluttinously devoured NOTHING IN THE WORLD, cramming it all in as fast as I could and then licking my fingers when I was done.

NOTHING IN THE WORLD lures you in innocently--and lyrically--enough. The first paragraph is lovely, placing the reader solidly in Josko' world, which manages (like so much of Kesey's work) to feel both familiar and exotic, no small feat:

"The white stone walls of Josko's house were tinged with gold in the growing light, and the only sound was the sharp ring of his father's pick glancing off the rocks in the vineyard. Josko ran to join him as the sun slipped into the sky, and they worked together without speaking, his father freeing the rocks from the soil, Josko heaving them to his shoulder and staggering to the wall they were building to mark their property line to the east."

This attention to detail and to the sensory experience of the reader is consistent throughout Roy's book and as I read I was drawn along, unwilling to leave that world that felt so very real to me. Even when the world became darker and more violent, or perhaps especially when the world became darker and more violent, for that is when Kesey's matter-of-fact, detailed style really grabs you by the throat:

"Josko opened his eyes, and the sky was a thin whitish blue. There was the warm salty sweetness of blood in his mouth, and behind his eyes he felt a strange dense presence. He raised one hand to his head. Above his left ear, a shard of metal protruded from his skull. He wrapped his hand around it and ripped it out. Pain deafened him, and strips of sky floated down to enfold him."

Okay, from that point on, I was entirely hooked. My own brain began to throb with a "strange dense presence" and I realized it was Josko in there, Josko in my brain, becoming part of my grey matter creating new peaks and grooves as he becomes a legend in his own country (unknown to him)--a celebrated war hero, first for shooting down two enemy planes with his unit, and then for singlehandedly killing the infamous sniper Hadzihafizbegovic and setting his severed head on a table in a cafe. The trouble is, as Josko moves through the countryside alone, becoming more and more dirty and disheveled (also crazed by the haunting female voice that sings in his head, pulling him along siren-like) he looks less and less like a war hero and he is repeatedly shot at, beaten, even arrested and imprisoned. In prison, in an utterly painful and ironic scene, the soldiers beat Josko most brutally of all because when they demand to know his name, he tells them he is Josko Banovic. Of course you are, says the soldier, and I am Marshall Tito. They kick him for claiming to be a man they have made into legend, a famous hero. We know he is Josko, he knows he is, and yet the soldiers may just kill him for telling the truth which they are certain is a lie.

That sense of tragic unfairness permeates NOTHING IN THE WORLD, absolutely aptly, given that it is a novella that has the fighting between Serbs and Croats as its backdrop. The writing is intelligent, the story is gripping and dark but also funny and redemptive in places, and the ending is perfect. NOTHING IN THE WORLD is a great read--and like nothing in the world I have read before.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I loved so much about Jim Tomlinson's short story collection, Things Kept, Things Left Behind. It was one of those reads that I felt compelled to carefully portion out so as to not have it be over too quickly. I wanted to savor it. I hated for it to end.

The book has a beautiful, poignantly apt cover design with a number of excellent blurbs on the back, but one blurb in particular expressed what I found most to love about the collection. George Saunders wrote, "Jim Tomlinson uses the traditional gifts of the writer--love of place, a keen eye for the telling detail, unflagging interest in the human heart--to bring to life a very specific and eye-opening version of America, particularly working-class, rural America...his care for these people and his generosity toward them are evident on every page."

I have actually put off writing this review for over a week, because what I most wanted to do was point to Saunders' words and shout, "What he said!" But that would do a disservice to all of Jim's hard work and I truly was transported by the very real characters and their situations, so who better to discuss the book than me? I am a product of that "working-class rural America" that Saunders mentions and when Cass (in the the half-title story "Things Kept") says, "When he comes to see Ma, don't matter if it's a hundred degrees, Dale here is wearing long sleeves so she don't see them tattoos he's got drawed on his arms," I KNOW her. She is utterly, absolutely real to me.

And in particular, I was impressed by how the women in Things Kept, Things Left Behind are portrayed. In the reading, I had the sense that, while writing, Jim allowed them to live and breathe. They have flaws and desires and idiosyncracies that allowed me to see and appreciate them, warts and all--like real people. I think that can be difficult enough when we are creating characters; doubly so when we are creating characters across a gender divide. But there is no gender divide in this collection. Men cheat, women cheat, men love obsessively, women love obsessively, both succeed, both fail. It is such an even-handed look at what makes us human.

I am also so grateful that Jim resisted the urge that so many (particularly southern) writers of late have embraced: the urge to gently mock their characters. A fascinating article by Jonathan Dee (in Esquire?) opened my eyes to this, and ever since I have been sensitive to the notion that we, as writers, should respect our characters. As storytellers, you could even say we have a duty to let the characters show us their character, without a wink-wink, nudge-nudge by the author, over the character's head. I have been guilty of this in my own writing, but I have to say it was such a pleasure to read a book of stories in which the characters are allowed to blunder and fumble and generally be human, without commentary (spoken or unspoken) from the author. "They are who they are," Tomlinson seems to say. "I just write about 'em, I don't judge 'em."

And thank goodness for that.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sustainable Seafood Matters

This is taken from a WWF email:

Whether it is sushi, swordfish steak, paella or fish and chips, many of us love seafood.

The trouble is, our oceans are being seriously over fished. So much so, that unless action is taken some of our favourite fish may disappear from the seafood counter and restaurant table altogether.

But it is not just our supper that's at stake. Unsustainable fishing - caused by poor fisheries management and wasteful, destructive fishing practices - is decimating the world's fisheries, as well as destroying marine habitats and incidentally killing billions of fish and other marine animals each year.

Consumer demand for sustainable seafood can act as an extremely powerful incentive for better fisheries management. If you buy, or ask for, seafood that comes from sustainable sources you are helping to protect our marine environment and, at the same time, ensuring that seafood can be enjoyed for many years to come.

So look out for products carrying the distinctive blue Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label. This gives you a simple way to identify and buy fish from well-managed sources.

Take a stand against unsustainable fishing and pledge to buy MSC certified seafood here.

Thank you,

WWF International

P.S. Find out more about the unacceptable face of seafood with our
interactive menu (flash required): Clicky

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Edwidge Danticat

On torture.

ERASURE by Percival Everett

I'll be writing a few reviews over the next week, to share thoughts about and excerpts from some of the great books I've been reading recently.

I confess that I'm new to Percival Everett's work. Some of my good friends are great fans of his, and he was at Bread Loaf this year and gave a great reading, and well, I just decided it was about time I read something of his. Since I write a lot about race issues myself, I decided on ERASURE which on its front cover (paperback version) has the following quote from the New York Times Book Review:

"With equal measures of sympathy and satire, Erasure craftily addresses the highly charged issue of being 'black enough' in America."

"Craftily" is a good word to use because Everett gives us a book within a book to illustrate his (and his character's) point. The protagonist, a novelist, Thelonious "Monk" Ellison, is having trouble getting his most recent work published when he comes across the work of an "authentic" black novelist whose book "We's Lives in Da Ghetto" is a runaway bestseller. Horrified by the stereotypes and the dialect in it, he sets out (angrily) to write a book just as horrible and titles it "My Pafology" (later changing the name to something that the publisher suggests he spells 'Phuck' so as not to alienate more sensitive readers--he refuses). Of course, he submits it to his agent and the book gets attention, raves and an obscenely large advance.

The problem is, Monk didn't submit it as himself. He submitted it under the pen name of Stagg R. Leigh, and endowed his doppelganger with a rap sheet and prison time in his past. Of course, everyone wants to meet the infamous Stagg, further complicating Monk's plan and forcing him into an even greater charade. Ever more humorous complications arise and the book is finally nominated for a prestigious award for which Monk is made a member of the jury. To recuse, or not to recuse??

That delightful romp aside, the book is also about relationships and love and filial duty...and about the damage a father inflicts when he dubs one child "the golden child" and emotionally excludes the others. (Damage, by the way, that is done not only to the siblings, but also to the golden child.)

Outside of his publishing woes, Monk loses a sister who is a successful OBGyn for underpriveleged women (at the hands of a radical right-to-lifer who guns her down), a brother who has come out of the closet and can't reconcile his relationship with Monk, and a half-white, racist half-sister he didn't even know he had until he found an old stack of his father's letters.

Monk is also slowly losing his mother to Altzheimer's disease, played out in tragic / comic scenes that were utterly devastating to read. Here's an excerpt from a scene on the day he decides to finally put her in a home:

I watched as she poured the water into the pot and dropped in the ball that I had already filled with tea. She put the cups and saucers on the table and set the pot between us.

"Isn't this nice?" she said.

"Yes, Mother."

"My favorite time is always waiting for the tea to steep." She looked past me to the screened porch. "Where is Lorraine?"

"Lorraine was married last night."

"Oh, yes." She seemed to catch herself. Then she appeared very sad.

"Will you miss her?" I asked.

She looked at me as if she'd missed the question.

"You were just thinking about Lorraine, weren't you?" I asked.

"Of course. I hope she will be very happy." Mother poured the tea.

"I'd like you to pack a bag this morning," I said.

"Why?" She held the cup in her hands, warming them.

"I have to take you someplace. It's kind of a hospital."

"I feel fine."

"I know, Mother. But I want to make sure. I want to be certain that you're all right."

"I'm perfectly fine."

"Your father can give me a pill or something." She sipped her tea, then stared at it.

"Father's dead, Mother."

"Yes, I know. There was a cardinal outside my window this morning. A female. She was very beautiful. The female cardinal's color is so sweetly understated."

"I agree."

Mother looked at my eyes. "I must have spilled something in bed last night."

"I'll take care of it."

"Shall I pack a small bag?"

I nodded. "A small bag will be fine."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

On Striving

"The best advice I ever got was from an elephant trainer in the jungle outside Bangalore. I was doing a hike through the jungle as a tourist. I saw these large elephants tethered to a small stake. I asked him, 'How can you keep such a large elephant tied to such a small stake?' He said, 'When the elephants are small, they try to pull out the stake, and they fail. When they grow large, they never try to pull out the stake again.' That parable reminds me that we have to go for what we think we're fully capable of, not limit ourselves by what we've been in the past."

--Paul Vivek, "The Best Advice I Ever Got," Fortune, March 21, 2005, p. 100.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Short Story Collection

I am so excited. I finally--FINALLY--feel like I've gotten my short story collection assembled and completed into a cohesive manuscript. I've written one last story to anchor the collection (six before it, six after), taken out ones that I was sort of including and looking the other way over, and I really feel good about it now. I am so excited. I'll be printing out and sending off this week. Yay!

Then it's off to work on the non-fiction book I am co-authoring. I've gotten some great edits back from the agent who is representing that (in a one-book deal) and I can't wait to start hammering those out. I've had a few days to think through the changes she suggested, and once I sit down I think they'll go quickly.

Just so I don't sound too Pollyanna-ish, my writing rarely goes this smoothly. I intend to make the most of it, though, and wring every bit of productivity out of this writing high that I can. I'm aware that the lows eventually make an appearance, but for now I'm focusing on how good this feels.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Boycott a stamp??

Why do this? Why? Why? Why?

Okay, sorry. A little background: I received an email today telling me that if I am a patriotic American, I will boycott the 2006 USPS Eid stamp that will be coming out in early October. It celebrates two of the holiest days of the Islamic calendar and a message of celebration (roughly translated as "May your religious holiday be blessed") is printed on the stamp in Arabic. It's a beautiful stamp. (Plus, the same design was originally released in 2001--it's been around a while.)

But the email I got was so hate filled, so ugly and narrow-minded...

I have to say, I don't find this stamp threatening at all. It's just a stamp, people. It doesn't hurt my own personal religious beliefs to allow someone of a different faith a postage stamp that celebrates what they believe. My faith is strong enough to survive a postage stamp. We need to be careful where we put our energies. There is enough hate in the world already. As Christians what we need to worry about is practicing love and compassion.

All of the Muslims I know are peace loving, intelligent, moderate, contributing citizens of America. They abhor what the radical fundamentalists have done to attack America just as much as the rest of us do. Some of them lost loved ones in the attacks, too (and no, they weren't hijackers--they were innocent victims).

Think about it: the fanatics who attacked America also damaged the image of moderate Muslims. To them, the fanatics are like our very own American-made ones: Jim Jones who orchestrated a massive group suicide in Guyana, or David Koresh and his bizarre Branch Davidians in Waco, or the Fundamentalist Mormons who practice polygamy (illegally) and marry their daughters at age 12 to 50 year-old "prophets." All of these radical sects profess(ed) to believe in the Christian God.

My point is that every religion has its extremists, but they do not define the majority (they are just the loudest, most attention-getting ones). We need to be careful how we lump people together because of how we perceive their religion based on a few vocal / violent extremists. I would never want someone to compare me to David Koresh because I, too, believe in Christ.

Please, let's remember what it really means to be compassionate; and focus our energies on making the world less hate-filled...not more.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Yellow jackets from hell

Yup, they're still here. Will they never die? Admittedly, they aren't as bad as they were. The ones that get in now are confused, twitchy, and not long for this world. But they still have enough oomph to make it to my bathroom, where they crawl around on the rug, or the covered toilet seat. Brrr. That's the scariest place they've been.

Pierce Tattoo did say to call him back if they were still coming in after a week, and it's been two, but I have a confession to make: I am more afraid of chemicals than of yellow jackets. Yup, just fifteen minutes south of Love Canal and I have a HUGE fear of man-made chemicals: insecticides, herbicides, defoliants...I'd rather swim with sharks. At least I can see the sharks coming. At least I can fight back against the shark, punch him in the eye, growl in my snorkel (that scares them away every time--add that tidbit to your "if I'm ever attacked by a shark" mental file). But chemicals? They are silent, deadly, insidious, and I hate them with the most irrational of fears. They poison the air we breathe, the soil in which we grow our food, the water supply on which we all depend. Did you know that delousing shampoo is one of the worst water polluters of all? One tiny bottle of it can utterly contaminate something like 20,000 gallons of water? (Okay, I'm not giving reliable facts now, just promoting my fear. I'll try to get actual stats and get back to you.)

ANYway, as bugs go, the yellow jackets squash with a really satisfying little "pop" under the shoe. They aren't messy, squishy diers at all. And I tell myself that my karma won't be damaged because they were dying anyway, and I'm just putting them out of their misery. But my dear husband is so frustrated he's ready to pull down the wall and see just what lies behind it.

Not me, though. No way, Jose.

Too many chemicals have been sprayed back there.

Monday, September 11, 2006


ITME's fall students are just starting their 12 week semester program and the first update can be read here. We have a great group and are anticipating a great semester!

Nearly good

I'm struggling with a novel that is nearly good. I have recently come to understand that it needs another draft, after I had told myself I was done. I can't get to it yet because I'm finishing my short story collection, which is almost, almost there. And the writing I'm doing for the last story is thrilling me, so that's good. But there's that novel hanging out there...I'll get to it, I'll get to it.

Here's a quote from Doris Lessing that I share for anyone who is having the same struggle:

"All writers...go through the stage when what we write is nearly good: the writing lacks some kind of inward clinching, the current has not run clear. We go on writing, reading, throwing away not-quite-good enough words, then one day something has happened, a process has been completed, a step forward has been taken...The process of writing and rewriting, and of reading the best, has at last succeeded. Professional writers all know this period of apprenticeship. Amateur writers cling to their early uneven drafts and won't let them go."

I will not cling...I will not cling...I will not cling...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Dolphin intelligence

There has been a great debate raging in the community of dolphin researchers and animal ethicists about the intelligence of dolphins. Most of us have long believed that dolphins are intelligent, but a recent researcher is positing that they are not as intelligent as we have given them credit for. Personally, I think he's a quack--just so you know where I stand--and offer this link to another researcher's article as evidence.

Mark Doty's lecture

Hey, I found my notes! And it only took two weeks.

Anyway, Mark Doty's lecture was titled "Whitman in Tears" and was born of an essay he wrote for Virginia Quarterly Review on the anniversary of the publication of Leaves of Grass.

The first thing Doty discussed was the poetic tone in of Leaves of Grass. It was very much a voice of confidence and intimacy (an "I know you" voice) and it was a revolutionary way of speaking to readers. Who dares to speak in this way? was the reaction of many.

The first publication of Leaves of Grass was a volume that Whitman self-published (at age 36, although photos of him at that time show him looking quite grizzled). He didn't even put his name on it. When Mark said this, the audience laughed, as if it was a show of Whitman's ego. But I understood it as a lack of ego--like potters who choose not to sign the bottoms of their pots. Lots of famous Japanese potters did this and it was to show that they were part of the culture...that they were one with the world of art and the act of creation. It's actually a very complex concept to try to describe, but it was clear to me along the lines of "I, as creator, am nothing. I am merely the conduit for this greater force: creativity." And I understand this feeling all too well. it's like that third essence of writing that I mentioned before, the "Where the hell did that come from?" part.

Anyway, Whitman is the father of the wholly American vernacular and used words like "luckier" "stuck up" and "foo-foo" in his poems--unheard of before him. He wanted to speak like an everyman and wished for the widest possible scope of public intimacy. "You" is his most used word. Doty said Whitman communicates with his readers "lip-to-ear."

Also important to understanding Whitman, is to examine the culture of the times in which he lived. The 1850's was a really pivotal time in America. There was a whole industry of healing just coming into being: the TB sanitoriums in upstate NY that represented the healing powers of nature; the "science" of phrenology, wherein the bumps on your head could tell a phrenologist what ails you, and even change as you heal; the rise of the cereal empires of Post and Kellogg, who also opened their own vast health-spas that regulated all aspects of diet and exercise as a way to cleanse and cure the body of its many afflictions.

It was also the beginning of the self-actualization movement and Whitman represented the belief in a "Cosmic Consciousness" a term that psychologists use to explain the fusion between the self and the universe. What today we might call "being one with the world." I believe many artists understand this feeling...this being plugged in to something greater...it is a very human craving, being transported, being connected with something so vast that we cannot comprehend it...also the appeal of religion...which similarly experienced a surge of popularity in late 1800's.

Doty spoke about Whitman's wracking self-doubts, despite his poetic voice that demanded, lip-to-ear, that we listen. Doty asked us an important question: what constitutes a useful amount of self-doubt? Too much self-doubt paralyzes us. Too little makes work that is agrandizing. The doubter, he said, is in search of what remedy for uncertainty can be found on earth. (Think about it for a minute. It's lovely.)

And he used the following passage from Whitman's "As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life" to illustrate Whitman's sense of being one with nature/the universe, to illustrate his creative self-doubt, and to show us a breathtaking point-of-view shift that occurs at the end of the poem when the voice of the poet is at once both the dead creatures at the edge of the sea and the other self--witness to the dead bodies, so that he is both diembodied, but also within his body, the eye in two positions at once: the eye that watches the eye.


As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life

As I ebb'd with the ocean of life,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walked where the ripples continually wash you Paumanok,
Where they rustle up hoarse and sibilant,
Where the fierce old mother endlessly cries for her castaways,
I musing late in the autumn day, gazing off southward,
Held by this electric self out of the pride of which I utter poems,
Was seized by the spirit that trails in the lines underfoot,
The rim, the sediment that stands for all the water and all the land of the globe.

Fascinated, my eyes reverting from the south, dropt, to follow those slender windrows,
Chaff, straw, splinters of wood, weeds, and the sea-gluten,
Scum, scales from shining rocks, leaves of salt-lettuce, left by the tide,
Miles walking, the sound of breaking waves the other side of me,
Paumanok there and then as I thought the old thought of the likenesses,
These you presented to me, you fish-shaped island,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walk'd with that electric self seeking types.

(Skipping a stanza, here comes the writerly shame...)

But that before all my arrogant poems the real Me stands yet untouch'd, untold, altogether unreach'd,
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows,
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have written,
Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand beneath.

I perceive I have not really understood any thing, not a single object, and that no man ever can,
Nature here in sight of the sea taking advantage of me to dart upon me and sting me,
Because I have dared to open my mouth to sing at all.

(Skipping to the POV shift...my apologies, Walt.)

Ebb, ocean of life, (the flow will return,)
Cease not your moaning you fierce old mother,
Endless cry for your castaways, but fear not, deny not me,
Rustle not up so hoarse and angry against my feat as I touch you or gather from you.

I mean tenderly by you and all,
I gather for myself and for this phantom looking down where we lead, and following me and mine.

Me and mine, loose windrows, little corpses,
Froth, snowy white, and bubbles,
(See, from my dead lips the ooze exuding at last,
See, the prismatic colors glistening and rolling,)
Tufts of straw, sands, fragments,
Buoy'd hither from many moods, one contradicting another,
From the storm, the long calm, the darkness, the swell,
Musing, pondering, a breath, a tiny tear, a dab of liquid or soil,
Up just as much out of fathomless workings fermented and thrown,
A limp blossom or two, torn, just as much over waves floating, drifting at random,
Just as much for us that sobbing dirge of Nature,
Just as much whence we come that blare of the cloud-trumpets,
We, capricious, brought hither we know not whence, spread out before you,
You up there walking or sitting,
Whoever you are, we too lie in drifts at your feet.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

It's officially over...

...Summer, that is. Sigh.

My kiddos just left for school. My eldest is a Junior in high school, my middle is starting her first day of high school today, and my youngest, no longer a baby, is in fifth grade, top of the heap in elementary school. And to make things worse (better??) he is on Safety Patrol this year and so he isn't riding the bus. Which sounds like a good thing if you know what buses are like, but the thing is, we always had great mom/son time while he waited for the bus. We would shoot hoops, or in winter play a sort of soccer-hockey with chunks of ice from the roof, we'd talk about life, read books together, pet the cats who waited for the bus with us. Damn, I am so going to miss that time. So I told him this morning, "I'll walk to school with you," thinking we could still share a little morning time.

He said, "Mom, do you mind if I ride my bike? I get there faster..." and I could tell he was really worried about hurting my feelings. Then he said, "You can walk with me some other day..." and I'm not sure which was more heartbreaking--the fact that he wanted to go on his own, or the fact that he was so worried about hurting my feelings when doing his own thing.

I assured him it was fine, that it was his first day and he needed to do it however he wanted to so that he could feel comfortable. But I'm sad inside. Proud of him for being independent and strong and asking for what he wants, but sad that he's growing up.

Parenthood. It sure is a mixed bag, isn't it? And the crazy thing is, if we do it well, we work ourselves right out of a job.

When you have that newborn little baby you aren't thinking about the planned obsolescence waiting for you at the end of it. But I suppose it's all about seasons. I truly don't want to be a mother of small children all my life. I have things I want to do, things I want to accomplish.

...But grandmother! Now there's a job I could really sink my teeth into. :)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Waiting for my copy

I got an email saying it had shipped...maybe it will come today. I'm waiting for Jim Tomlinson's Things Kept, Things Left Behind, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. Here is an excerpt from his "Backstory" essay, which can be read here.

"There is a saying in playwriting that the scene is never about what the scene is about. So it is in Things Kept, Things Left Behind. The stories, ultimately, are about things not written, at least not overtly. The unuttered core of these stories, the invisible center around which they twine, is the conflict inherent in human connectedness, all the passions and incredible difficulties tangled there."

Can't wait!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Ex-terminator

So, we called around, holiday weekend and all. Orkin wanted $269, starting price. Another place wanted $150. Finally we found a local place that would do it for between $95 and $140. And they would come right away. Hallelujah.

By 3:15 the cats were getting hungry and giving me disgusted looks at the closed door that separated them from their food, so I snuck in for the food bag--their regular bowl was aswarm with yellow jackets--and gave them a small bowl of food on this side of the buzzing door with the sign that read "Do NOT open!" lest anyone forget what lay--flew--on the other side. Both my cats were born on the same day as I was, and they have many of my stubborn Taurus tendencies; had they been able to work the knob, I have no doubt they would have been in there attempting to eat around the bugs.

The exterminator arrived around 3:30. He was a young guy, very polite, and covered with tattoos and piercings. There was a large celtic cross on his left forearm, a ring of flames blazing from his right wrist up to his elbow, and several more that I could see disappearing under his sleeve or peeking out from his neckline. He had a short buzzed haircut and at least three silver hoops in one earlobe (I forgot to look at the other). Suffice it to say, the man obviously has a fondness for things piercing his skin, so it seemed perfectly natural that he would be here to rid me of a hive of stinging creatures.

He was fearless. He sprayed in the laundry room (after I removed the clean stuff, shaking off the yellow jackets first) and then shut the door, phase one complete.

Phase two involved spraying the nest from outside, squatting low (hoping, no doubt, to be less noticeable), swatting them away from his head, spraying again, studying, spraying, studying, spraying. The whole thing looked very Zen from inside my closed second-story window. Then he applied a powder, statically charged, that would cling to the opening and to the yellow jackets. He said, "They groom themselves like cats, so they will ingest the powder when they try to clean it off." Who knew? Yellow jackets are like cats. Huh.

I still don't like them.

But the exterminator? Him, I like. My new favorite person. Thank you, Mr. Pierce Tattoo. You have saved us from the yellow jacket hordes. And in my case, from myself.

Later that evening, I vacuumed up 487 yellow jacket carcasses, some still twitching ominously. What? Of course I counted, are you kidding?

And I went to a party later that night and discovered that infestation stories are like pregnancy stories: everybody's got one. I heard about the man whose living room wall began to buzz and then finally to drip honey, about the family whose living room ceiling fell in on them, overburdened by a huge nest of wasps...it actually made my story seem sort of lame. But at least I had the physical evidence to top them--I had my swollen wrist, my war wound. And I had the numbers. 487. Read 'em and weep, baby. Read 'em and weep.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The nest

I arrived home to a yellow jacket infestation. I've heard about the giant nests appearing this year, to the bafflement of entomologists, but never thought I'd be this close to one.

At first, they were just appearing in our basement laundry room--occasional, groggy fellows that we sucked up with the vacuum or dropped in the toilet with a tissue. We wondered how they were getting in, but didn't stress over it too much.

Then one day, Len turned on the light in the basement only to have ten or so swarm the light (they are attracted to light--natural or artificial). Bravely, he turned on the vacuum and sucked them up mid-flight. It became a game, of sorts, and I quickly learned to do the same. With the sleight-of-hand required, and the threat of mortal injury, it was almost like a video game. Three more days elapsed.

Then, yesterday, I was trimming the front shrubs (manually, in a Mary-Scissors-Hands fashion since our electric trimmer recently bit the dust), getting closer and closer to the end of the bushes, back aching from the strain of using dull clippers, when I was distracted from my work by a small swarm of flying creatures. I had found the yellow jackets' entrance to our house. Three holes in the molding between the first and second floors of my split-level home were their entry-exitway, and it was Grand Central Yellow Jacket Station, I must say. Busy, busy fellows, they were. In and out three and four at a time. Fortunately, they were merely menacing me with fly-bys, and not yet attacking. (I have since learned that when one yellow jacket stings you, it emits a pheromone that sends any nearby nest-mates into a similar stinging frenzy and they will attack anything that moves, favoring the head and face. And unlike bees, who can only sting once because they have a barbed stinger that stays in you, yellow jackets have a straight stinger and can happily sting again and again and again.)

Needless to say, I stopped trimming. Well, for a few minutes, anyway. I am a single-minded perfectionist who really likes to finish what I start, so I edged back in and got those few annoying stray tendrils that make a bush look like it has a bad haircut. The yellow jackets buzzed me, but didn't strike. What's the old saying? The Lord looks after idiots and small children? Fortunately I fall into the former category and so you will not be reading about me in the listing of next year's Darwin Awards.

I called Len, told him about finding the opening and we agreed to buy some hornet and wasp killer and hit them at sunset when the most yellow jackets would have returned to the hive and also quieted down. At about 9:30, we did. The hole was small, though, and it was difficult to get the insecticide inside. Plus there were numerous holes. But we did our best and went to sleep hopeful.

This morning, there were at least 150 angry flying sting-meisters in my laundry room, which is also where the cats eat and use the litter box. Sorry kitties. We shut the door and checked the outside openings. Yup, they were still flying in and out. All we had succeeded in doing was a) angering them and b) confusing them so that even more of them came inside instead of outside.

I think my middle name should have been Pandora. Mary Pandora Akers. I can't let potentially dangerous situations lie. And I always think I can handle whatever comes up. So, after three or four times of peering through a crack in the basement door and seeing that the numbers had risen to two or three hundred, I decided to go in and suck them up.

I know, I know. I'm the stupid girlfriend in horror movies who slowly descends the basement steps with all the illuminating power of a CANDLE after finding her boyfriend's head in the toilet.

But I did at least cover my head with the hood of my hoodie, pull down my sleeves, and turn off the light so that the angriest yellow jackets went to the window. Then I entered quietly...

I turned on the vacuum and used the long hose to suck up the logy ones on the floor. So far so good. Emboldened by my success, I went after the ones attached to the light fixture. I would estimate that I managed to suck up about 75 or so before that one fellow that I missed. He got brushed off the light by the suction hose and dropped, falling onto my wrist, where my watch stopped him. He then proceded to do what yellow jackets do best. And then I did what humans do best: I screamed, flicked him off, turned off the vacuum, and fled the room before his pheromones could alert the remaining 250 hive-mates.

So now, as I type, I have a swollen, stinging wrist and a heightened sense of my own fallibility.

But in my defense, if I'd just had on gloves, I'd still be okay and the yellow jackets would be in the vacuum cleaner bag...where they belong.

I wonder if I have a pair of gloves from last winter's stash lying around...

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Day 11

Day 11 was the final day of fiction workshop. It was my turn to be workshopped, and going last was a new experience for me. The last two years I was the first to be critiqued. As "Akers" I am often expected to go first. In grade school, I would be the first to answer "here" in morning roll call (in High School Lisa Agee beat me out), the first to do whatever painful thing the gym teacher would make us do, the first to have to see the nurse for the scoliosis test, the first to get my report card...always first.

But I'm all about equal opportunity, even when it comes to firstness, so I was happy to go last this time. The personal advantage for me, meant that on the last day when I was exhausted and my brain was mush, I'd only have to read and comment on one story since the other one was mine.

I've also thought a lot about the workshop experience--the dynamic, if you will, and I realized that it changes over time. The advantage to going first is that everyone is fresh and gives your work a really careful read. The disadvantage is that they are often still tentative in their comments. The dynamic of going last is reversed: everyone is really comfortable with one another, but they're often worn out by story number ten. I have to say, though, that my group was really coherent and generous right to the end. I got some great comments, compliments, and suggestions. It's the best workshop group I've attended at Bread Loaf.

At the end of the workshop, we presented a bottle of wine to Ursula and a card that we had all signed (the day before, at the Gala Reception and also that morning, furtively, for those who hadn't been at the reception). She lifted the bottle out of its wrappings and said, "Oh, Chardonnay, my favorite! How did you know?" I smiled and said, "I've been serving you all week." It was a funny moment.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that the day before, at the Gala Reception, Ursula had told me that she wanted to nominate my story for Best New American Voices, which was a wonderful surprise. Of course, Bread Loaf can only nominate two (total) from the conference and each workshop leader nominates two, so I may not even get past that first cut, but it's still nice to be asked to the dance. I was allowed to revise the story, based on the workshop comments, but since that was on the last day, I had less than twelve hours to do so, along with the final barn dance to set up, a reading to attend, my husband to not ignore, and bottle club to work, nine to midnight.

So. I ate lunch, helped set up the barn (the poets--who weren't workshopping--had already done most of the setup), squeezed in a few minutes of revision before the afternoon reading. Jason Schneiderman was reading, and I did not want to miss him. He was my head waiter the year I waited tables and I just adore him as well as his very funny and poignant poetry.

Dinner was the special, final sit-down dinner with wine and tablecloths and everything fancy. I had hoped to sit with Laila and her husband and daughter, but lost my nerve when I saw they were sitting at the head table--just didn't feel like I had earned that spot yet. I know, I know, chicken me. I should have. I ate the rest of my dinner feeling bad about my decision. But the staff table was nice, too, to be with my hard working costaffers one last time, Michael did his thank-yous and the prime rib was good. (Unfortunately I had requested the ravioli which was "squash" ravioli, but it was sweetened and nutmegged and tasted exactly like pumpkin pie. Just didn't work for me. I can still work up a shudder, just thinking about it. And I'm not a picky eater.) Fortunately Len shared his prime rib. (Sounds sort of Biblical, doesn't it?) And the dessert made up for everything: a fabulous, dark chocolate mousse that was to die for. I should have asked for two.

I worked on story edits during the final reading. I did want to attend. It was David Baker and Sigrid Nunez, and I heard it was wonderful, but I really wanted to make the most of the opportunity that Ursula had generously given me, so I revised. At 8:30 I had to set up Treman for Bottle Club, which means setting out cheese and crackers and opening the liquor cabinet, lighting candles, setting out mixers and generally tidying up. Len made a fire in the fireplace (it was very cool out) and it all looked very cozy.

After Treman was set, I went up to the dance to serve beer and wine and boogie. The staff may not get to dance on the dance floor much, but we dance behind the serving tables, and it's a nice big area, so we'd boogie, pour, boogie, pour, boogie. The DJ was excellent--lots of hip-hop, good sound system, no silences between songs--and the crowd was having fun. By 1:30 a.m. we were cleaned up, by 2:00 a.m. I was back at my computer, propping my eyelids open with sticks to get my final edits done. I usually don't have much luck with eleventh-hour edits, but the excellent and specific comments from my workshop group helped me to target the problem areas. I may not have done as thorough a job as I would have liked (toothpaste in the nail holes, rather than spackle) but I'm pleased enough with the results, and happy to be done.

I still had to print it out and turn it in to the office, but that could wait until morning. My pillow and my patient husband were calling.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Day 10

Bread Loaf, Day 10 began with a lecture by Mark Doty (and if you don't already know how I feel about the man and his work, you haven't been paying attention). I was definitely there, and was not disappointed. (Damn! Where are my notes?????) I'll have to get back to you on recapping the lecture, but suffice it to say, it blew the top of my head off. It was about Whitman and his struggles with form, popularity and ego in his lifetime. It really struck a chord with me. I need to read more Whitman.

After the lecture the fiction staff members started setup for the Gala Reception to be held later in the day, while the poetry staffers workshopped. We had to re-establish the alcohol perimeter (complete with its eight-foot moat--good old Vermont!) that we had taken down for the book signing that ended up being in the barn anyway due to rain. We set up the tables and generally organzied things as well. At noon, I hurried through my lunch and raced off in my vehicle to Port Henry, New York where my husband was to be arriving by train. Yay! Except the train was an hour late, taking us almost up to the reception by the time we got back. Fortunately, my awesome fellow-staffers had finished set-up (minus the alcohol, which can't be left unattended--VT state law) so I was able to attend readings by Eric Puchner (very funny) and Ursula Hegi (excellent, as always). Ursula read from her latest novel, the maunuscript of which she had just turned in to her editor before coming to Bread Loaf.

The Gala Reception went off without a hitch--good food, plenty of drinks, people really at ease with each other by this point in the conference, and the traditional Gala Reception hayride. If you've not been on this hayride, you've not lived. Or, rather, you've not almost nearly died. One of the BL caretakers, Leo, runs the tractor and he starts out calmly chugging through the fields across from the inn. It's idyllic, really. Until Leo kicks his tractor into high gear and shoots forward, dragging the wagon down into steep gullies and up the other side, producing a strange marriage of the roughest wooden roller coaster you've ever been on, and a screaming, giggling roll in the hay. It's really quite the experience.

That evening's reading was fantastic: Thomas Sayers Ellis' bold, funny, innovative poetry delivered in a sing-song slam style complete with gestures to depict his punctuation followed by a great reading by Robert Boswell that was also very funny, and read with perfect comedic timing despite his obviously sore throat.

Day 9

Well, I'm actually back home, recovering, but I'm going to keep my promise and recap each and every day on the mountain.

Day 9 at Bread Loaf was a staff day off. (Yay. This is the first year they've done this and it was very welcome.) Most of us did laundry, slept late, and engaged in other college-dorm-like activities. I had workshop at ten and had a bit more reading/commenting to do beforehand, so I didn't sleep in. Workshop took us to lunchtime where we were having mac and cheese! Oh, the joys of comfort food. They could serve that every day (instead of the endless chicken) and I'd be happy.

I was sitting at lunch with Ru (another staffer) quietly enjoying my comfort food and anticipating an after-lunch meeting with Dorian Karchmar an agent at William Morris, when I got the rushed message, "Stop eating! We're kidnapping Michael (meaning Michael Collier, the director) and taking him to lunch." But the mac and cheese was so good, and I'm not real great at switching gears mid-bite, so I finished my food, found Dorian to reschedule, and met them outside. Lunch was at a lovely restaurant in Rochester (VT) and even though I was full I indulged in a marvelous coffee milkshake from their soda fountain. There was a nearby used-and-new book store, too, and I found three books I couldn't pass up: a book of Ruth Gordon's poetry, a Peter Matthiessen non-fiction and a paperback fantasy for my son.

Mid-afternoon I caught back up with Dorian and had a nice discussion about publishing and establishing the writer's long-term career. One nugget: She said that the prevailing first-book wisdom is changing. In a two-book deal, it was often the short story collection that was published first, but the thinking now is that it's better to have the novel published first, establish a readership, then come out with the collection. Luckily, I have both, just ready to go (well, very nearly ready). :)

For dinner, the staff and waiters converged (courtesy of several caravans) at Ian Pounds fabulous, hand-built house for pizza, music and dancing. I left early to go to a party at the Gilmore Guys' house where they had a great bonfire, drinks, and music. I desperately wanted to stay, but wanted sleep more, and so I left and hit the sack by midnight. Boring, I know, but when I wring the most out of every second of the day, I have very little left for the night. I'll have to work on that.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Day 8 Continued

After Randall Keenan's craft class (which was fun and useful) I had big dreams of a quick nap, but it was time to head to Treman to set up for our Harley-themed night. We put up posters of motorcycles, made a bar sign for the front door--"The Exhaust Pipe"--turned out the lights and used red, green and blue lights clipped to the bar. We had whiskey sours on the menu (a special drink for the special night) which were very good, by the way. I'd never had one before, but mine hit the spot.

The most fun for me was being the tattoo maven. We had a big selection of temporary tattoos and we offered them to all who attended. It was great fun seeing who picked what to adorn their body and then applying it for them. As one young woman said, "This is the most physical contact I've had all week." I've decided if this whole writing gig doesn't work out I'm going to open a temporary tattoo parlor and make people happy without the commitment or the pain. After all, how many people can claim to have given Mark Doty and Michael Collier tattoos?

(I think I need to write a story about a tattoo artist...there was definitely something powerful about adorning another human body, even if it was temporary adornment. Imagine what it must be like to permanently mark people every single day. To send them out of your shop knowing they'll be wearing your art every day until they die. Now that's commitment. Unless of course you're Cher.)

Another great thing about Harley night was looking out into the crowd and seeing Merrill Feitell and Chris Castellani, and having Merrill tell me she's been reading my blog (Hi Merrill!). Merrill and Chris were both waiters and fellows at Bread Loaf and it was wonderful to see them back on the mountain. They are both fantastic writers, too, so check out their books. Plus, I hear they kicked some serious butt at Bread Loaf poker.

After Harley Nite, we went to dinner, still in our full Harley regalia, and got a great welcome from the waiters when we strutted in. After dinner I made a quick wardrobe change because my dear friend Laila was reading with Carl Phillips, and much as I loved my Harley costume, it didn't belong in the reading hall. Laila read from the beginning of her new novel and it was marvelous, plus she looked absolutely radiant at the microphone. I know it's superficial, but it really does make the reading even more pleasant when the reader is beautiful...and even that word is misleading, because I don't mean the traditional trumped-up-movie-star beautiful, but the beauty of an artist, sharing her/his work and glowing...it's an aura, an attraction that makes you want to know that person, that makes you wish you had equal talent...the rock star quality. Am I making sense?

After the reading, I had my turn at Barn Pub, which is basically just standing watch at the barn and making sure no one leaves with alcohol or brings in their own. Easy enough. I sat with Isaac (fellow social staffer) and read the next day's workshop stories. The shift ended at 12:30 and so did my day. I had told myself I would party more after hours this year, but I just couldn't. I need my sleep in order to be coherant in workshops and also to keep from getting sick. Maybe if I come back as a scholar someday (read: No responsibilities) I'll party then.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Day 8

The day began with a lecture by Mac McIlvoy titled "Somatic Wisdom." He's one of my new writing heros now that I have heard him read and lecture. (Note to self: next step, buy his books.)

Mac started his lecture by referencing Virginia W. (I'm abreviating because it's nearing the end of the conference and damned if I can remember how to spell Woolf, Wolff, Wolfe, Woolfe...) who bemoaned the fact that she often felt as if there were a layer of cotton between her and the world. Meaning that often we have to focus in order to remember to feel. We can be divorced from our surroundings, tuning out sensory experiences until the world around us becomes just so much moving wallpaper.

This is not a problem I have. I am entirely tuned in, sometimes to the point of it being painful--a sensory overload. My sister had a brain injury a few years ago and the term "flooding" entered my vocabulary, but I had always experienced the sensation, without any injury that I knew of, and wihout any words to name it. In case you aren't familiar with the term, flooding is when the brain has become so full of sensation that it begins to swamp, and everything becomes overwhelming.

In the West (moving back to Mac's lecture) we are moving farther and farther from feeling. We test our children without remembering that feeling the world is just as important. Neither do we teach them (or remember ourselves) to get worked up about language. He read a lot from Anais Nin and referenced her work as very emotional, very feeling-based, sensation-based. "I only believe in fire," she says. (You would have loved this lecture, Linera--if you're reading--I'm getting a copy to send to you.)

He told us to think about children, about how engaged they are in their world. "For example," he asked, "how many of you have reached down to pick up an object off the floor of the little theatre...and put it in your mouth or nose?" Children are all about sensation. We can learn from them. He believes that our first gift is physical aliveness, after that comes intellectual study/awareness.

He proposed we use the word "prehension" to describe the act of being without words, feeling that there is something there...as opposed to "comprehension," a word we all respect and use. (I will be writing more about this next week, because the topic is huge and very somatically important to me.)

We made a quick trip to town to prepare for Harley night, then I attended Randall Keenan's craft class which was wonderful. The class explored what Greek myths and the tabloids have in common and he urged us to write a tabloid headline for one or more of our stories. He also gave us a handout using some famous examples. See how many you can guess:

**Answers below.

1)Mysterious millionaire found dead by pool. Cops suspect filling station owner nad possible mistaken identity.

2)Mad captain destroys self and ship in pursuit of murderous white whale.

3)Old woman emotionally misused by drifter.

4)Neglected wife and chemo patient finds momentary solace in the arms of a dim-witted teen on a moonlit bridge.

5)Woman haunted by owl.

6)Entire family slain by escaped convict while on vacation in Florida.

7)Old woman braves wilderness and elements to retrieve medicin for her sick grandson.

8)American couple in Spain argues publicly about abortion.

9)Kansas girl vanishes! Returns with tale of three gay men, a vicious fag hag, flying monkeys and a wizard with S.A.D.

10)Louisiana Governor assassinated on Capital steps. Conspiracy feared.

11) Rich old farmer gives away all land before death. Children throw him out.

I need to run to my workshop--I'm going up today--but will finish the day's recap afterward. Thanks for reading.

1)The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
2)Moby Dick, Herman Melville
3)The Chrysanthemum, John Steinbeck
4)Floating Bridge, Alice Munro
5)The Owl, Elizabeth Spencer
6)A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O'Connor
7)A Worn Path, Eudora Welty
8)Hills Like White Elephants, Ernest Hemingway
9)The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
10)All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
11)A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Day 7

Okay, so Tuesday turned out to be my BL day from hell. Not any fault of the conference, mind you, but a fault of personal scheduling, and the inescapable syndrome of FMS: Fear of Missing Something.

I had workshop comments to finish after breakfast, then workshop, then lunch with my workshop, which I had to leave early because I had a meeting with the editor of Orion Magazine, a periodical that I just adore for its emotional take on environmental and social issues. It is also gorgeously put together. our meeting was productive, and he said they are taking fiction again, which is good. (I haven't seen any in the magazine for two years, but always thought they would do well by a story, so I'm glad to know they are accepting again.)

From there, I went to a craft class taught by Laila Lalami, which was very interesting and informative. She had a handout of excerpts from different authors who write in English but whose characters do not speak English, or for whom English is a second language. There was a wonderful discussion of the politics of using italics to set off "foreign" words, which of course then makes the assumption that anything other than English is foreign, much in the way we always start out reading with the assumption that a character is white and American. She said that certain words are often not translated and/or nontranslatable. The list included: endearments, insults, explatives, idioms, food, greetings, place names, metaphors, proverbs, and an especially fascinating one: animal sounds. In the US, the rooster says cock-a-doodle-doo, in other languages, the "translation" is quite different--"kree, kree" for example.

After Laila's class, I really wanted to hear Emily Raboteau's reading, but unfortunately the weather decided to turn foul. Since we had a major outdoor reception half set up, things got hairy, really quickly. Eleventh hour decision--move to the barn. So we schlepped everything through the rain, against impossible odds (dramatic writing) and re-set everything up. It was a book signing and turned out wonderful, once the staff all caught their breath and calmed down. But then there were two places to break down afterward. When the crowd finally left, the staff sat around and had quick bloody Marys and laughed with giddy exhaustion.

Then we went to dinner and a combination of things came together to send me over the emotional edge. (I feel compelled to mention that I'm not prone to going over the edge, but the combination of academics, physical exhaustion and social overload lead most Bread Loaf waiters and/or staffers to have one day when everything comes crashing down. It's most often intense, but short lived. As I had to give my reading in a mere two hours from my moment of breakdown, I could not afford to be the exception.) Here's how it built: By a purely clerical oversight, my picture was not included on the bulletin board with the other staff photos. I mentioned it to a few people, but we're all busy and that really is a small thing. No worries. But as we sat down to dinner, the head waiter named the staff that would be reading. Everyone was listed, except for yours truly. Oops. Another clerical error. Nothing personal. So I rush to the podium to tell the announcer my name wasn't read, so that he can amend his announcement. "Oh, he said, checking his notes, it wasn't my fault. You aren't on the list." He doesn't return to the microphone.

My God, I start thinking, maybe I don't exist. Am I really here at all? So, barely containing my rising panic about the actual state of my existence, I return to my seat at the dining table, where my plate of food was waiting for me. I think, you're just tired, Mare. Tired and hungry. And I talk down the panic. Then, as I approach the table, I see that someone is sitting in my seat, eating my food. I kid you not.

What can I conclude, but that I am in fact invisible? Mary Akers, The Invisible Woman.

Of course, I wasn't, but the cry I had over it was very cleansing and actually helped to give me some attitude for my reading, which was very successful. I chose humor to read, since everyone here is desperate to laugh, and was rewarded in my choice. The audience was great, very encouraging, supportive, and enthusiastic and the day ended on a high note, thankfully.

Oh, and my picture is now on the board.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Day 6

Day six is actually the day that the entire Bread Loaf campus takes off. Well, more or less. There's still food to be prepared, rooms to be cleaned, people to be directed. "Off" applies mostly to the readings and workshops, but it really is a welcome chance to take a collective breath and catch up on laundry, or reading, or calling home, or any of the other things that hover just beyond our consciousness waiting to be addressed.

The morning was devoted to the Writer's Cramp race: 2.8 miles marked off around the campus. This always takes place the morning after the barn dance--a clever ploy of scheduling that limits the race to only the very hardiest of runners.

The day dawned drizzly and cool, but cleared just in time for the picnic at Robert Frost's farm. I didn't make it to the picnic, but heard good things about it. The staff went to town, ate lunch at A&W, a drive-up hamburger joint with root beer floats that is a local fixture. Then we went to Ben Franklin and bought props for the Harley Night at Treman cocktails.

Oni Buchanan gave a kick-ass visual poetry reading, a portion of which can be found on-line, followed by simliarly kick-ass readings by Katharine Noel and Cheryl Strayed. (Pronounce my name like a sentence, she said: Cheryl strayed.) I would also just like to mention that Cheryl and Katharine both brought their beautiful baby daughters with them. Every year I have attended Bread Loaf I have seen evidence that the staff understand that writers have lives beyond the conference and they are very accommodating and progressive in this. Yet another reason to admire the program.

The evening reading was fantastic. Rachel DeWoskin read from her very funny memoir Foreign Babes in Beijing (I hope I've got the title right). Then the ending gave me such a visceral reaction that I cried out before I even realized I had. It was so well set up. Following Rachel, Mark Doty read. I am a huge fan. He has been here all week and is so open and friendly and accessible. His partner is with him as well, and all I can say about that is that two finer specimens of male pulchritude would be hard to find. Then he read and wowed us even more. I'm sorry I didn't get the titles (planning to buy the book...), but there was a wonderful poem about being the only one in his group to hear the call of a bat and taking it as a personal message from the cosmos. He read The House of Beauty is Burning which left me breathless and burning, and a wonderful poem about dogs, retrievers, and Thanksgiving. There was a wonderful section of nonfiction, too. He talked about spirituality and the need to access your own. The Kingdom of heaven is within you, he said, and repeated. But the "you" can be deceiving. He said he prefers to think of it as the collective you. In English, he said, we struggle with this notion of a plural "you" and various regions of the country have dealt with this by employing various plural forms such as youse, y'all, you guys, etc. But it just doesn't sound as good when you try to insert it: The Kingdom of Heaven is within _____.

A waiter reading followed and this year's "crop" revealed themselves to be especially impressive writers.

Bread Loaf really is a magical place. Those of you who have been here before know what I mean. Those of you who haven't...what are you waiting for?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Day 5

The morning lecture was by Josip Novakovich and was titled "Writing in English as a Second Language or The Mot Juste." The most interesting part of the lecture to me was hearing how he had learned English. In school he had to choose between English and Russian, and the Russian class met in the early morning and he wanted to sleep in, so the choice was made for him in that small way. It really made me think about how easily and arbitrarily our lives can be forever altered..."Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."

Josip said that once he began to write in English, he felt that writing without a broad knowledge of the language was actually freeing, and I was taken out of the lecture (again--my mind wanders easily) and reminded of my art school days when some of the best most freeing assignments were actually those that had restrictions. Make a painting smaller than a teacup. Draw with chalk on black paper so that you are only drawing the highlights. Make a pot that is not round, but start out throwing it on the wheel. Often, when we are told what we cannot do, our mind is forced to think in different directions and suddenly soars with thoughts of what can be done within our new parameters. Josip's analogy was a painter with a palette of three colors who can nonetheless combine them and produce wonderful creations. The lesson: Not all limitations are bad. Also: too many choices can be not freeing, but paralyzing.

Another interesting point was that the writer working in English, but as a second language, is not susceptible to cliches, because he or she does not know the English cliche and as a result the descrciptions end up being much fresher. Then Sigrid Nunez spoke up from the front of the lecture hall and said, "Yes, it's like the scene in Lost in Translation when the woman says, "Should I marry him? I asked myself in English: Yes. Should I marry him, I asked myself in Polish: No."

After that I had a lovely meeting with Julie Barer, a really approachable, intelligent agent who has opened her own agency after working at Sanford J. Greenberger. She seems really motivated and energetic and involved with her authors, one of whom is Gina Ochsner. Besides that, she's a lovely person.

Unfortunately, I missed the afternoon readings by Peter Orner and Toi Derricotte, one of the hazards of being on social staff--you simply can't attend everything. We were setting up for the big dance. We hung lights, opened cases after cases of wine, tapped the keg, cleared the dance floor, and even challenged the waiters to a dance off, thereby ensuring more people would attend the dance than might otherwise. Everything was ready. Except the DJ had trouble with the sound system--not good news for a big dance. There was much sweating and moaning and gnashing of teeth, but we did finally get the music going and the wine flowing, and a good time was (ultimately) had by all.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Day 4

Day Four's morning lecture was "Lyric Poetry and the Problem of Time" by David Baker which I had hoped to attend, but I still had workshop comments to complete before we met at 10AM so I skipped.

When our workshop met, we continued the excellent work from the prior meeting. The level of work continued to be quite high and again it was a pleasure to workshop. Ursula gave us an interesting two-part writing exercise which I will share:

Part One: Write about someone who has made you really, really uncomfortable, angry, unsettled or disgusted. Describe how they made you feel, then as you write, slowly make it more about them and less about your reaction to them.

Part Two: Write a scene in which you take your earliest childhood memory and give it to that character you have just described. It will help you to feel more empathy for the character and see him/her as a human being.

Important Twist: If you are woman, write about a man. If you are a man, write about a woman.

She also quoted Faulkner as saying that the act of writing fiction can be described in three parts: 1-Experience, 2-Imagination, and 3-"Where the hell did that come from?" (I really loved this.)

After lunch, I attended a craft workshop on voice, also run by Ursula Hegi. (I can't get enough.) I almost skipped this craft class and attended a different one because--after the morning fiction workshop exercise--I had reason to suspect that it would be more writing exercises and less lecture and after five days on the mountain I was feeling sort of "thinked out." But I had signed up and reserved myself a space and so I decided it wouldn't be fair of me to skip. And, sure enough, it was all exercise. It was valuable, though, if exhausting on a day when I felt as if I were swimming through pea soup. Here was the exercise:

We arranged ourselves into groups of about six or seven writers. Then she told us to all agree on an emotionally charged situation to write about. After much deliberation (seven fiction writers trying to collaborate was like herding cats). We finally settled on the funeral of a young man who had broken his neck diving into too shallow water. (Other groups had an older man coming out at a family Thanksgiving dinner, an older man being sent to a nursing home, and a December-August romance announced to the children of an older gentleman.)

Then, within each group, we were asked to write a short narrative scene from various points of view. If you were a man, your character needed to be a woman and vice versa. And each character had a different point of view from which to tell the story. We used a collective voice (we), a second-person voice (you), a limited third person voice (he, she), an unreliable narrator, the dead person, and I was the funeral director in third person. After the exercise we read them out loud and it was fascinating to hear how the same story sounded from all the different angles.

After dinner, which was not served by the waiters, as they had the night off, there was an amazing reading by Linda Bierds and Randall Keenan. Linda's poetry was amazing and all had a common thread of being told from the voice of various scientists from history, so it made for a very cohesive reading. There were poems either from the voices of, or about: Gregor Mendel, Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Watson and Crick, and others. I really enjoyed it.

Then Randall Keenan delivered a fantastic reading / performance from a great short story titled "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" which, in one of those utterly bizarre coincidences of real life that you could never write into fiction and make believable, I had been singing all afternoon. I very rarely sing out loud in public, but I had been serenading the entire social staff prior to the reading, so it was kind of a weird moment when he said his story title and it mirrored the music in my head. But his reading was amazing.

The staff reading was tonight, and it was wonderful, although I freely admit to a particular prejudice. After the reading, we congregated at Treman (the faculty / fellow lounge) and had drinks, built a fire in the fireplace, and sat around talking about literature and life. These are some of my favorite moments at Bread Loaf, but I was hitting the mid-conference wall and so went to bed at about 11PM.

Day 3

Day three officially began with Robert Boswell's lecture "Process and Paradigm." It was really moving. He framed it by using the story of a young, desperate woman he met while on the road, staying in a hotel. It started humorously and ended very thoughtfully and made me reflect on the morals of co-opting other people's lives and desperations to make our stories. Let's face it, we all do it...and do we do it as a way to make the cautionary tale that Bill Kittredge spoke of, or to find understanding, or to simply entertain? What are the moral implications when we use a real person in our fiction? (Mind you, the whole lecture was not about this at all, but it was a powerful message that spoke to me.)

Here are the crib notes:

1-The Writing Process:

-Dress characters in clothes that make them uncomfortable.
-Throw in some instability; create a shifting ground (alcohol, smugness)
-Bring in a catalyst (a young woman who persists...like a story persists)
-Give your main character a sense of obligation (the masculine duty to buy her a drink when she offers to first)
-Offer a backward glance or a sideways reflection (often accomplished through the barest associative details)
-Then do whatever it takes to make the story work

2-Paradigm and Paradigm Shift

-A paradigm is the general collective of principles, patterns, suppositions and practices of a particular culture
-A paradigm shift occurs when there is any revolutionary change in a particuar way of thinking. An example would be a religious conversion.

3-How we think when we think about writing fiction

-conflict should not be imposed from outside, but should occur from within
-be mindful of the limitations of your story
-create a social paradigm in which the character participates (the young woman in the bar had lost custody of her kids--mothers are not supposed to lose their children)
-Tolstoy does this in The death of Ivan Ilych when he says, he was an ordinary man and that was terrible to be. (paraphrased) The paradigm stays the same, but Ivan's position in it changes when at the end, he asks, "how should I have lived?" His young son is there at his bedside but Ivan hardly notices--thus his question is answered.

4-Servants of Mercy

-In the Jean Thompson Story "Who Do You Love?" A policeman named Quinn opens the story by saving a possum from his dog. The possum is ugly and ungrateful and Quinn sees it (as do we) as a gratuitous act of mercy. Later in a convenience store there is a hideous man stealing cat food. His name is Gary and he is the son of Bonnie Livingood. Quinn takes them into his patrol car to talk. When Bonnie falls asleep in teh back seat, he lets her sleep--another act of mercy. Later, when Gary dies in a car accident, Quinn responds to the call first and is the last to leave the scene. Then he goes to see Bonnie and ends up having sex with her. Then, at the end of the story, the paradigm shifts when Quinn goes to find Bonnie later and she looks at him with disgust and tells him that she only slept with him because she felt sorry for him. Bang: Quinn's (and our) understanding of the world is changed.

-Peter Taylor's "A Wife of Nashville" offers a similar paradigm shift, involving race and gender in the south.

5-The Wrap Up:

-Take a look at your stories that are not quite working and examine the social paradigm.
-Search for patterns and use them.
-Ask yourself what social customs you accept without even considering them.
-Then, in the final wrap-up, "Boz" socked me in the gut by saying that he had come to understand that he used that young, desperate woman in the bar because of his interest in what her story could give him. Then, he told us, he had used her again, just now...but somehow--in this social paradigm--he thought he could get away with it. (Which of course, made us all instantly complicit as we had listened to the story of this desperate woman, and had laughed and gone along. It was a very powerful ending to the lecture. Let's just say my paradigm shifted.)

Later in the day there was a reading by Gina Franco (poetry) Allison Smith (CNF), and Michael Collier (also poetry). I missed most of Gina's reading, but I heard positive things about it, and what I heard was musical and lovely. Allison's story was a humorously melancholy examination of her childhood relationship to Jesus and how that ended the day her older brother died. And Michael's was excellent (as always). I was grateful to hear two of my favorites read. One about Spelunking and one about his son's mummified pet chameleon discovered behind the clothes dryer years after he went missing.

At lunch Cliff and I realized we had a few hours to kill and so decided to go for a hike. We walked about two-and-a-half miles up bread Loaf Mountain and back. It felt great to be weat and exhausted, but not so great when I had to still work the Treman Cocktail hour, smile, and serve drinks. We had our staff pictures taken, went to dinner, and then attended an excellent reading with Robert Hill (a collection of humorous mostly first-person rants), Barbara Klein Moss (who read from a story about two historical interpresters who blur the lines of the past--in college I worked in Colonial Williamsburg, so that was fascinating to me) and Mac McIlvoy read a very impressionistic, jazz-influenced sort of piece that was delivered in a perfect, smoky, sotto voce.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Day 2

This morning's lecture by William Kittredge was great. Here are a few of the highlights:

He talked about his friend Ray Carver (you may have heard of him) who was a snoop and never failed to "pay attention to the world around him."

"The medium we work in is the reader's imagination."

He said in college he read Eudora Welty's "Death of a Traveling Salesman" and it stopped him in his tracks. Meaning he didn't get it. He was baffled, so he dropped the class.

He belonged to a jock fraternity where the main activity was punching one another on the shoulder.

Sentimentality doesn't happen in life, just in the retelling. Avoid it.

Don't ignore your impulses, they are your strengths. Use them.

There are two types of stories: Cautionary tales and celebrations.

Get out of the way of the story.

"If you don't write every day, at least pick up your manuscript and carry it around, so as to stay in touch."

Conceptual stories don't make good novels because there are no characters to take over the story.

You have to first know what the question is, then find a false answer, then find the real answer, then explore the consequences.

When a reader finishes your story, you don't want him thinking about the story, you want him thinking about his own life.

Stories are the rafts we build and the maps we lay out on the table. (My personal favorite.)

Always strive for that slight, continuous sense of surprise.

After the lecture we had to return the yucky remains of last night's barn reception to the kitchen, pick up things for the big reception to occur later in the day, organize all of that, race to lunch, hurry to finish workshop comments, and then race to workshops. Mine was with Ursula Hegi. She is amazing and I am so psyched about workshopping this whole week. I am ecstatic to be working with her. My whole group seems to be really astute and articulate, too. Of course by the end of the conference we will all be slightly less astute and articulate.

Unfortunately I missed the Antonya Nelson reading because I was preparing for the reception, but Cliff said her reading was amazing. The big Treman reception passed in a blur, but went very smoothly. Dinner was scrumptious--I've been eating all teh wonderful veggie options. Tonight was a portabello mushroom covered in breadcrumbs and baked with a nice butter sauce over top. I love the food here. Afterward I did get to hear Sally Keith read a long lyric poem and David Shields read a humorous essay from his book about living with back pain.

The waiters are having a party tonight, but I'm skipping to keep my promise and update my blog. Thanks for reading.

Day 1

Day 1 was a blur. My friend Cliff arrived. Lunch was good. Social staff worked and worked and worked and worked. What did we do? Honestly, I can't remember exactly, but I have vague memories of smiling, lifting, carrying, cleaning, organizing, smiling, giving directions, pouring drinks, answering questions, smiling, cutting cheese, building a fire, etc. Exhaustion keeps my brain from working well enough to give details.

I did hear an excellent reading by Percival Everett from his new work in progress that was very moving. And I got to watch it from up in the sound room where the tech guys tape everything, which was awesome. Michael Collier gave his always-charming opening remarks. Unfortunately I had to miss Linda Gregerson's reading because I worked nine to midnight at Treman Cottage, being social, smiling and nodding and answering questions, finding things, and being generally as helpful and accommodating as I know how to be. The job of being a Bread Loaf social staffer uses the three main things exhaust me in my normal life: being social, being intellectual (during workshops), and physical labor. I will be an absolute wet noddle by the end of week two.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Day -1

I'm posting early today because the schedule for today is packed. Last night was our last relaxing evening. A few of us congregated in a nearby building with a great view from the roof and drank wine and talked about life.

Today there's driver training to get licensed by the college--I'm hoping they'll just renew my expired one from last year and I don't have to watch that movie again. Then it's off to town for various supplies. We have a Harley Davidson theme night scheduled, so we have to find appropriate decorations. You know how much writers like to pretend they are tough badasses, so we thought we'd have a night just for that. I'll tell you all about my costume later--don't want to spoil the surprise. But I do love to don a different persona. Last year I went as Madonna for our '80s theme night. Which Madonna you ask? The early, Desperately Seeking Susan Madonna with big hair and leather jacket and lots of jewelry. It was a blast.

Then we have to organize all the liquor and get set up for a cocktail hour for the faculty, then break that down, head to dinner, and then we're giving a keg party for this year's waiters who will also be arriving today. I'll be tired and falling into bed by the time it's all over.

Off to stuff conference packets!