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settling into a writing vacation

July 14, 2009

It has taken a bit longer than I thought it would to settle into my vacation — the Tin House Summer Writers Conference.

I am excellent at leaving the real world behind, even in little bits throughout my regular days at home, and so I’d expect that I would have clicked immediately with that wonderful fantasy place from whence the poetry comes. But what’s funny about a writing conference is that it’s not a fantasy place. It’s a real place with real people. I am sleeping in a dorm, sharing a bathroom (with two women who, at most, grunt and nod at me) and eating in a cafeteria. So I have to get my bearings about me before I can zip off into a creative space. I need to have a grasp on where I’ll be landing when I come back down.

I’m a bit of an outsider here because I’m not in a manuscript workshop. “Who’s class are you in?” is the first question people ask, and once it’s been sorted out who belongs with whom those are the established social circles for the week. I’m perfectly OK with being an outsider here. I have traveled this far for many reasons, and one of them is to get lost a bit. Sometimes that means it’s jarring when people (strangers) talk to you.

I don’t want to tell people my life story (a serious work-in-progress) or my writing story (barely serious compared to many here). In short, I don’t really want to be known. Not very social of me, I know. Sure, I’ve chatted with people; but mostly I’m keeping to myself. I have a terrific meal and cocktail hour buddy. Would you be surprised that I have gravitated to the youngest person here? She’s 21 and still an undergrad (isn’t it fabulous that she’s here?). She’s pierced and tattooed and she has a platinum blond mohawk. Ahhhh! Someone I can relate to.

Since I’m not workshopping, my schedule here is very light. Sometimes a lecture in the morning (sometimes not). Lectures in the afternoon. Readings in the evening. In between, they serve wonderful meals and beverages. I have time to run and walk and sleep. I have no excuse for not having written up notes/observations from the readings I attended at Skidmore last week. I have no excuse for not telling you about the lectures and readings I’ve attended here. Except it’s a working vacation for me. Emphasis on the “vacation.” And I’m enjoying the slow pace. The “me-time” pace. The do whatever-the-hell-I-want-to pace.

Meeting blogging pals was on my Portland to-do list. I met Dale on Sunday: lunch and a ride to Reed College, where the conference is. He is every bit as delightful as you may imagine. A true gift. I am meeting Deb this afternoon: a lecture and dinner and, perhaps, drinks. Perhaps.

So far, this is the exact writing vacation I wanted/needed. I made the decision to come in December. Almost immediately, I made the decision not to workshop a manuscript. There was too much stress in my life, too many pressures. And now, while some of that has eased, I’m still glad I’m not workshopping. I’ve seen some devastated and really pissed-off people emerging from the mornings it was their “turn.” I’m sure people have had fabulous experiences, as well.

I probably could have learned a lot from the process, but it has occurred to me in watching everyone talk so much about writing and publishing that I care very little about the opinions of strangers. You pay a lot of money for the workshop side of things — to get feedback from people about whom you know nothing. Now, the workshop leaders are well-known writers, and their insights are undoubtedly valuable. Still, the workshop with a professional writer is but one path. It’s not my path, though. At least not right now. I will find another way.

P.S. Jill! I miss you, man!

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5 Comments
  1. July 15, 2009 12:03 am

    Yes, that’s the part of the post that hit home with me, too. I envy you these meet-ups with other bloggers. sounds like an ideal vacation.

  2. magpiedays permalink
    July 15, 2009 2:50 am

    This sounds perfect. I’m glad you’re there.

  3. July 15, 2009 3:14 am

    by the way, y’all (a phrase i sometimes revert to from my WV days) OR by the way, “mate,” ( a phrase have used with an Englishman living in L.A. (wrong continent, i know), the dude who was flipping out in my dorm about his workshop experience has left the conference. i got the scoop. he just went berserk. otherwise, it seems, people are having a great workshop experience. as suspected. i’m living vicariously through some new pals and also enjoying my own laziness extensively.

  4. Michelle permalink
    July 15, 2009 3:18 pm

    I loved reading about your experiences here, Carolee. You are one of a kind. And I send hugs. I’ll be your cocktail hour buddy anyday.

  5. July 15, 2009 6:06 pm

    Perhaps? Perhaps? Well, maybe a bottle of wine with dinner. ;-}

    Yes. You are a smart cookie.

    I wish you were still here next week. There’s a tattoo art show at PAM. Sigh.

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