Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Which Potentially Abusive Boyfriend Will Accept This Rose?

I hope in the next season of The Bachelor, the man cries as much as Kaitlyn is crying, those heaving, sobs of regret for being attracted to more than one person at a time.

Shawn, with the slicked back blond hair and beer bottle in the giant paw of his hand, says that he's not sure he can do this. He asks Kaitlyn if she's in love with him and she says, "I'm falling in love with you?" They make out. She cries. He goes and sits out on the steps in his denim jeans, his forehead super wrinkly, because that's how worried he is. Worried like a Shar Pei.

Next, Kaitlyn goes on a double date with JJ, the investment banker and Joe, who she thinks is hilarious and I think looks like he shoots guns at beer cans. He wears a denim shirt with a down vest over it. They go on a boat and Kaitlyn is hoping that Joe will speak from the heart and that JJ will not talk too much about his three year old daughter. One of these guys must go home. JJ says that he's really fallen for her, and Joe drinks to that, saying nothing in return, but like, what could he say, "Like, me too!" I am prejudiced against people with really Southern accents and buzz cuts.  Joe says, "The icing on the cake is you. You are one in million and you're worth putting everything out there for." Then, he licks her face. Like, his tongue came right out of his mouth and into hers.  JJ wants to explain about how he cheated on his wife three years ago and lost everything. I wonder why he feels like he needs to tell her that. She's not sure what she will do. How about sending both of them home? She sends the cheater home, and decides to keep Joe instead, and Joe just won a lifetime supply of hair gel but not rose. She won't give Joe the rose until the two of them spend more time together. Yes, send him home. Sorry, JJ, that you told everyone in TV nation that you cheated on your wife and then got sent away.

I keep thinking how this Joe guy is someone's ex boyfriend or many ex-es and how those women are throwing shit at the TV right now.

I don't care about Shawn, I'm sorry. I can't take him seriously. He's over-reacting. I feel like he's way too territorial too soon. Maybe he needs to go work out. Or at least take off his construction boots. Why doesn't he cry? Let's see him cry and sniffle and wipe off his mascara like she does. Likely, he'll just punch a wall. He goes to see her again and say that he's feeling bad. She starts crying and blames herself for making it so hard on him because she is just basically doing what she's supposed to do given the parameters of the show. She apologizes for being so fickle that he had to hit her. Of course he had to hit her, she made him do it! That's kind of how it's going. I guess if I felt like being more generous, I would make some statement about how the guys have to live up to this crazy version of masculinity, but I actually think many women are attracted to men who have some sensitivity.

Rose ceremony cocktail ceremony. Nick pretends to be
nervous even though he is wearing a rose and carrying around this big huge secret that he's been there, done that.  Lots of dark haired guys on this show. She is meeting with one of them now, Ben Z., she finds him handsome, manly and super sweet. He rubs his thumb on her face while they're kissing, like I do when I'm trying to get an animal to swallow a pill without balking. They must train them to do this. She likes Ben H. too. Ben H looks straight out of central casting from a daytime soap opera. Like Shawn, he is saying how he was upset because he could see that she was making connections with other guys. She starts crying again, relieved that he does not know that she slept with Nick. The previews of what's to come hint that Nick will be sent home, but that is usually not the case at all.

Nick has one on one time with Kaitlyn. He says he wants to make sure that she's okay. Why doesn't she just tell him that she's afraid that he will tell some of the guys? Nick gets tears in his eyes and tells her that he had a really nice time. He is likable again. They make out.

She must reassure Shawn for the third time and she again admits that it's all  her own fault. He says that it's truly not, but I think she's starting to convince him that she is the real problem.

She has a series of large rings that she wears. I wonder if Shawn's mom died when she was young. All of the guys are illustrating how much they're freaking out by putting their lion-like heads in their hands and steepling their fingers under their chins and rocking back and forth. And drinking A LOT.

As the rose ceremony begins, it sounds like someone is playing that Stones song "I see a (indecipherable) and I want to paint it black..." on the harpsichord when she enters the room.

First rose: Ben H., the soap opera actor.

Second rose: Chris with vampiric shadows under his eyes

Final rose: Send Shawn home, please. I don't like these final roses in the middle of the show. No, she keeps Shawn, but she asks him to stay in this dead voice like she really doesn't want him there.

Going home:  Some other brown haired guys named Ben. They take a moment to say farewell. She's sending home the huge dude who did not see that coming. They always say that. He really thought they had something good.  Stop calling her a girl, and she might like you more. "She's such an awesome girl."

Group date with Ashton Kutchner while the rest of the guys are on the bus. The dentist has inexplicably made it this far. Oh, of course, they are going to the Blarney Stone castle and must kiss the rock. Upside down, in case you didn't know. I have no desire to do that. Ew, and then they kiss each other with the germs of thousands on their lips.

Chris Harrison explains how she will soon be allowed to spend alone time with the men who don't have the roses, so that she can more accurately decide who to kick off.

The dentist gets the first intimate date. (Note: there are fifteen minutes left in the show and the dog won't stop barking at me because he wants me to pay attention to him). It's hard to tell if Chris the dentist has a personality or not. They get into a helicopter, which is flying in slow motion over the Cliffs of Moher. They take a picnic to the edges of the cliff and kiss. This will end in tears, I know this from the previews. They are eating tuna salad and pineapple. He also calls her a girl. Chris says that he loves Nashville and he wants to raise his children there, as long as he can be in charge of their orthodontia. 

I missed the last five minutes because we managed to lose the remote control somehow. According to Lori S. , my researcher, Kaitlyn told Chris that while she loved knowing he would always make sure she flossed, she would give her "eye teeth" to get the "molar" out of there and it took a lot of "wisdom" to not "crown" him into the next week, and it would take a "retainer" for her to stay, so she left him sobbing and alone.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

An Open Letter to the Producers of The Bachelorette, Season 41(?):

I get that you want viewers. I get that you are pandering to the lowest common denominator, to people who want to zone out in front of the TV or are watching it while doing something else, so only half paying attention. I get that you still believe we're a society who can't handle a series where we see anything but the most hetero-normative representations of people: white goes with white, female goes with male. Perhaps you feel it is still too early in American history to have a bisexual male bachelor or a black female bachelorette or perhaps you're leaving that to the more progressive cable channels. You want to the show to be palatable to the prime time viewing audience, which may consist largely of Christian white women or Catholic white women or Southern-born conservative white women. I trust you know your demographics and so are pandering to your viewing audience.

Okay, I take that back. I don't trust that you know what you're doing or that you have any research from Nielsen indicating that the viewing public is so narrow minded and unprepared to accept difference that you can only succeed by offering the same helicopter rides, waterfall make-out sessions and tears on a beach at sunset. I do trust that you think the American viewing public is stupid and that they're not ready for anything other than the most predictable tropes you've relied on since the first episode aired. And I get that your job is to make money and not to be the social consciousness of a country that's still struggling with issues of race and gender and social class.

But here are a couple of small ways that I think you could improve the show without really taking any significant risks:

1. When the show is taking place in another country, consider ways you could reveal interesting, unknown things about that country instead of, like, the first three things a third grader would name when asked to describe Spain. Pretend you're a combination of National Geographic and The Discovery Channel and let us see something unexpected and lovely, instead of something that reinforces the same tired things we know. For example, instead of a bull fight in Madrid, how about seeking out some of the statues there, or the graffiti-like art on the Justicia or having them romp around the Botanical Forest in their bikinis if necessary (for more ideas, go here: http://www.timeout.com/madrid/things-to-do/secret-madrid)? Instead of showing us the Ireland we know from a box of Lucky Charms (rainbows and clovers), have them make out in the hall of Trinity College or the Winding Stair bookshop or after a staged reading at the Milk and Cookies exchange. Or you could totally make fun of an Irish tradition while still exploiting it by having the bachelorette lie in a coffin while people toast to her with Guinness steins over her prone body.

2. The best part of the show is the out-takes at the end, because that's when then people seem most human and less like automaton models. Give us more of that. Are they only allowed to display emotions that you can write on an index card in Magic marker like, happy (cue laughing), sad (cue tears), drunk (cue falling down)? Can you show the complicated moments, like how weird it is to be making-out on TV or how boring it is to kind of sit around doing nothing for six hours in a row while they film various staged interviews. What if you let the seams of the process show more, so that sometimes, people are annoyed or are sitting in a make-up chair for twenty minutes talking about dumb, funny shit. In this way, you could also have interesting people capable of more than one character trait that you could also write on an index card: bitchy girl (cue lying to someone's face), dumb jock (cue lifting weights), conniving player (cue cast member saying "Not here for the right reasons"). We can handle it. We like it. It does not confuse us that someone is both oddly superficial and then scared to death in the same breath. We're human too.

3. Let the show fail by not forcing every scene to reinforce a racial or gender stereotype of some kind (women as needing to be desired, men needing to be strong and in control). For the bachelor episodes, what if half of the women on the show, when asked how they feel about the bachelor, said he was a dud, said that they were totally not falling in love with him, said that they wanted someone smarter, someone who makes them laugh, someone who doesn't want to have kids and would rather travel more. And what if, for the bachelorette episodes, the men said that they were scared of seeming scared, confesses they have a fear of heights, or don't really feel like playing soccer? Or what if anyone on the show said something that wasn't a phrase we've heard 100 times before. Maybe instead of saying, "I want to find my soul mate and I think Ben P. is him," the woman could say something like, "I want to find my soul mate, but I don't think that actually exists and I don't want to get divorced and remarried three times like my parents did."

4. Don't punish contestants for promiscuity. Hey, it was ya'lls idea to put them into this situation and see how it plays out in the fantasy suite or in the Atlantic Ocean at night or in a ski lodge or a barn or wherever they are. Can a woman on the show go ahead and have sex without being made out to be a drunken slut who regrets her decision immediately? Can the men admit to being confused, to liking more than one woman at a time, particularly when surrounded by 15 of them wearing string bikinis in a hot tub? Can we not have any more virgins who are saving it for marriage, particularly if they are women, aged twenty-six or older?

5. Complicate your cast members identities. Give us a Muslim, a transgender man, a female priest, a woman whose job is not a dental hygienist, nurse, elementary school teacher, or dance instructor. A man whose job is not entrepreneur, plastic surgeon, dentist, or lumberjack. A person of non-obvious ethnicity, a person who has a different body type, a different experience, a different perspective. There must be tons of interesting people out there, or maybe none of those interesting people send in their head shots to be on a reality TV show. Fine, find your own people then.

6. Let the woman propose when she's the bachelorette instead of being proposed to. You have this whole series where it's the woman doing the choosing of the men, and then you end it up with her standing waiting to see if the guy ultimately picks her to marry him. F that. She should go looking for the ring, he should be waiting nervously at the altar, or rather than just flipping it, why don't you lower the stakes and see if one of them chooses the other to go for a three month trip around the world? No one believes the proposal anyway and it never lasts. See, with a trip around the world, you could then have a whole other reality show to see if they can make it by living for one month in Africa, one month in Antarctica and one month in Texas.

Trust us more, your viewing public. We grew up with the very first few seasons of The Real World where the people were strange and straight and gay and bisexual and of ambiguous ethnicity and we liked it. We can handle it twenty five years later.

Just a final thought: whomever came up with that Irish wake idea should probably take a vacation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Back to the Real/Fake World with The Bachelorette

Not yet a week back from this intense, ten day writing conference where we're talking about ideas and how to write the truth and here I am back, ready to blog about the least realistic show on TV. I missed two weeks in a row, including last week when Amy Schumer was a guest, which bums me out.

Here's a question: Why is Nick on the show now and does he even not wear a bow tie? The remaining black guy left on his own volition because he felt that (wait for it...) Kaitlyn was not there for the right reasons, and also, because he went to Princeton and she went to Montreal Community Modeling School. Also, he believes that all she wants to do is make out with everyone she can and be on TV. He said that he's sick of talking about farts and high-fiving.

She admits that she is "a make-out bandit right now" explaining that if this physical side of the relationship isn't there for her, she can't marry the guy. She is covered in sparkles. She tells the other guys that Ian called her shallow. They go, "Like, seriously?" and their hair gel and muscles stiffen.

Are they now flipping the rose ceremony so that it happens at the beginning and not the end as a cliff hanger? Ashton Kushner is still on the show. They are in Texas and remind us of that by having the guys go to the Alamo for the rose ceremony. Or wherever this is...There's a cannon.

First rose: Bryan.
Second rose: Someone
Third rose: JJ
Fourth rose: Joe
Fifth rose: Ben Z. Big tall dude, looks like a former football player.
Sixth rose (last one!): 17 guys are left. Only one gets to stay. Who will it be?? Nick is safe, as are a few others.  All of the men will be very shocked if they do not get a rose right now. Tanner. He pushes this guy out of the way to get to her.

Going home: A man with a satin handkerchief and slicked back hair, an unshaven blond, maybe from Kansas.

Next stop: Dublin, Ireland. I was there once for fifteen minutes. I wonder what negative stereotypes they will reinforce in this country? Pubs? Sheep? Leprechauns? Probably tons of references to James Joyce and "The Dead." Oh, yes, we start with a wild horse, and a corkscrewed curly-haired woman playing the violin. One guy says, "Kaitlyn is the pot of gold at the end of rainbow." Jig music continues to play.

She picks Nick for the first one-on-one date. Kaitlyn can barely walk down the street because she has a fear of pigeons or I guess all birds. Nick loves it but will likely send her a box of dead mackinaw when they break up. They do a jig on the street with strangers, because that's what happens in Dublin all the time. They go to a pub to drink a Guinness with the locals. They make out a lot. I think he did the exact same thing with the other woman. Kaitlyn worries that their chemistry is too passionate. He does that thing they all do where he puts his hands all over her face when kissing her. Has she forgotten that this is what he does? He puts his hands on their faces and then they sleep with him and he tells everyone about it and the woman becomes the whore. Not him. She will be the one who is labeled as promiscuous.

They have dinner in a castle with two dozen long candles burning. Or maybe they're in a church. Or is it a crypt? Smooch noises as the wary stone statues and stained glass figures look on with blank eyes. She wears a black turtleneck sweater and he wears a hounds tooth jacket. They cut to a shot of a gold crucifix to remind us that she's a slut who makes out in churches. Funeral flowers surround them. She invites him back to her room. Shot of them kissing in an arched doorway outside and then she leaps on him and wraps her legs around his waist, in case we didn't have any idea what's going to happen next.

A whole hour left. While Nick and Kaitlyn are having sex, the men speculate if the two of them are having a good time or not. The next morning, she goes out on the balcony and hides her face in her giant sweater. Nick walks away with his jacket over his shoulder, dying to tell everyone about it. He's whistling and doing everything but kicking up his heels in triumph. She thinks he's a really good guy and she is definitely falling for him. She worries that he will tell  the other guys about it, and they have this fake scene where she's pretending to have second thoughts and speaking them out loud on the balcony, sotto voce.

Group date and the show takes a turn for the surreal as the men are presented with Kaitlyn lying in coffin and asked to  serenade her ala an Irish Wake. WHO  are the producers of this show? She's lying prone in a casket with a whiskey flask in her hands, which are folded across her chest. The two great themes are sex and death so check and check. The men must sing and come up with poems to honor her memory. One guy goes, "I would kill myself too if I had to spend the whole day with Nick." Another guy almost starts crying because his parents died like two weeks before the show started taping.

The big faced guy wants to remind her of his humanity by showing him photos of him with his dog.

Another one on one date with Ashton wherein not much happens.

My laptop stopped working so I didn't get to capture the remaining 15 minutes, but Nick didn't tell anyone, one of the blond guys was practically crying because he didn't get time with her, and the upcoming episodes show everyone in tears.  How is Cupcake still on here?

Tomorrow, I am going to post an open letter to the producers of this show.

Let's return to literature. Here's the last paragraph from "The Dead," by James Joyce:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Short story by Lauren Groff, "At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners"

You have to maintain a much more focused attention when reading a good short story versus a novel, because if you skim, you might miss something.  For this reason, I find it a little more difficult on my brain to read short stories.  But if you're going to write in the form, you should read in the form (and others--I have yet to memorize a poem as was suggested in my workshop last week), so I've been trying.

Lauren Groff has a story called "At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners" in Best American Short Stories, 2014. You might have read her novel The Monsters of Templeton, or her other short story from a previous Best of collection, "Delicate Edible Birds" (also the name of her book of short stories), I have a vague recollection that that story was about World War II or possibly World War I and a dinner party where the people invited are living it up . I seem to also remember a line about the crunching of tiny bird bones. The Monsters of Templeton is about a town (Templeton) where a giant creature washes up in the pond one day and the town starts to unravel. For someone like me, with a long-term memory about three days long before the reset button is set, to remember these details at all says something about the writing--it sticks in your brain. 

This story is apropos for Father's Day, because it's about a dysfunctional family--a racist, cold, reptile-loving dad, a vague, ineffectual mother who runs away to save herself, and Jude, a confused boy who finds solace in mathematical equations. Its set in Florida (Groff teaches in Gainesville) and you should just go ahead and set every story in Florida that needs a hot, closed, bug and alligator-filled backdrop; a setting that allows your characters to live in fear of deadly snakes or cockroaches dropping into your hair from the branches of palm trees. Also, you have the sandy beach and the ocean and its secrets and slippery creatures capable of biting, saving you and beaching themselves in despair.  Plus, the fishy smells of low tide, swarms of mosquitos and big-billed pelicans to offer comic relief.  But never move there to live for real.

The story spans the boy's entire life, from age two to middle-age. His mother abandons him and he learns to live with his father, who collects snakes for the university and brings them home. His father dies later from a snake bite and he leaves Florida and he goes deaf at one point for no real reason. He is reunited with his mother and his uncle, he gets into a car crash, he meets a woman, they have a son, he almost dies in a car wreck, and his main problem is that he cannot connect, not to his wife or his son or anyone, and you can see why, given his childhood. When his wife leaves to take his daughter to college, he takes to a row boat onto the pond and loses the oars. Underneath the surface, he knows alligators lurk, waiting for the chance to gobble him up. He sits in the hot sun with no water, knowing he might die. He hallucinated that his dad comes back to him,  a ghost and he tells him how much he hated him and also how he didn't completely hate him. The boat eventually is pushed by the wind to shore and his wife comes rushing at him, and he can't hear what she's saying, but he "puts his head in the crook of her neck. He breathed his inadequacy out there, breather in her love and the grease of her travels and knew he had been lucky; that he had escaped the hungry darkness, once more."

Best character description:  "The boy walked three miles to school where he told nobody he already knew numbers better than the teachers. He was small, but nobody messed with him. On his first day, when a big ten-year-old tried to sneer at his clothes, he leapt at him with a viciousness he'd learned from watching rattlesnakes and made the big boy's head bleed. The other avoided him;. He was an in-between creature, motherless but not fatherless, stunted and ratty-clothed like a poor boy but a professor's son, always correct with answers when the teachers called on h8im, but never offering a word on his own."

About writing the story, Groff says, " A story arrives in me either as a flash or as a slow underground confluence of separate fixations. This story was of the second type. I have lived in north-central Florida for eight years and have struggled with the place the whole time: my overwhelming love for aspects of Florida is balanced with an equal and opposite dread."

I still don't understand the title. You have to read a short story four or five times before it all coalesces.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"The Gun," by Mark Haddon

Inspired by the writing conference and because the Rider library had two of these books, I am going to try to read a short story a day from one of the two "best of 2014" collections and see how that goes. 

The story I read last night was Mark Haddon's "The Gun." You know who Haddon is--he wrote that charming and sad book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This story is about a moment from childhood, as remembered by Daniel, a significant moment from his life the summer he was 10 years old.  FYI, If a short story is called the gun, you have to apply the Chekov mandate, something like, a loaded gun in a story must go off. The gun goes off several times, but what the story is really about is not what happens in the story, but what doesn't happen.

Paradoxically, one of the things I often forget when I'm writing a story is that I should also be telling a good story. Like, something you could relate to someone else, something that you might remember as being interesting or compelling. I do not mean the surprise twist at the end, but something that makes sense within the bounds of the story but is still unexpected.

The most interesting part of the story for me happens when the narrator articulates why he's telling this particular story.  It's the first in the series of life events that he describes as" " the times when something happened that was unexpected and odd. .

The other three events also reflect moments where disaster strikes, or where one's mortality is starkly revealed (seeing a barn burn after it's struck by lightning during a storm, a cow falling through a factory roof, and getting a call from his mother after (he later learns) she has already died. The fourth story is the one that the narrator is telling now, the day his classmate and he are running around the woods carrying a gun they found.

The gun does go off, several times. But no one dies. At least, I don't think anyone died.

There was one very strange part of the story; and I can't tell you if this occurred because I was tired while I read it or if it was Haddon's intention. Part of the story involves the friend shooting a deer and then the two of them dragging the dead animal back to the house and skinning it with the rest of the family. I had the weird impression that maybe it wasn't actually a deer they killed or a person; if this narrator had revised what really happened to be able to live with it.

Okay, wait, I just re-read the passage. The reason I'm confused is because the narrator isn't sure what happened at first "a part of him still thinks of the deer as human. A part of him thinks that, in some inexplicable way, it is Robert transformed."

Here's part of his explanation of what inspired him to write this story:

"Good stories seem to come from some weird zone it's impossible to access in retrospect. After all, if we knew how they came into being they'd be a damn sight easier to write. I know simply that I'd been haunted for a long time by the image of two boys pushing a pram containing a dead deer across a dual carriageway several miles away from where I live, a road I'd driven down many times. Where the image came from I have no idea, only that it had a peculiar charge and that it stuck with me. The story grew around it much as those blue crystals grew around the string you left hanging in a jam jar of saturated copper sulfate at school (O.Henry, 345)"

Most memorable physical description of a character from the story: "He has a biscuit unwashed smell and bones that look slightly too big for his skin."

What to steal: Ask people if they have any stories that include brushes with death or incidents of the supernatural. Dan has a terrible car crash that he was in when he was about 17 when he flipped his car and almost killed his girlfriend, her twin sister, and this other friend of his. Luckily, they landed in a ditch near a doctor's house and the doctor, on hearing the crash, came out and helped save them. Dan remembers reaching over to see if his girlfriend was okay, and feeling a gash in her neck with warm blood running out of it.

You can have your own inspiration by readiong the full length pdf of the original piece, which appeared first in Granta and then in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014: http://web1.asl.org/jambalaya/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Mark-Haddon-The-Gun.pdf

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: The for real last day

I shared an Uber car with Miranda this morning after my last Yale Dining Hall breakfast of bacon, Frosted Flakes, yogurt, and a blueberry pancake. For my trip, I stashed away a box of Raisin Bran, a nectarine, an apple, and a cinnamon muffin that immediately came apart in the napkin. It's likely that I'm just transporting this muffin from one state to the next to throw away when I get to Princeton.

While waiting for our trains, Miranda and I brain-stormed a list of the necessities that we must remember to bring next time. This is the exhaustive list, the list that allows you to ship a trunk of things like someone in Downton Abbey. I put asterisks next to the objects that are worth the extra effort. Please note that almost all of these items can be purchased at the Yale bookstore after your arrival for 100% more than you would pay at Walgreens.

Extra hangers
Your own twin-sized sheets*
Mattress pad
Pillow that smells like home*
Flip-flops to avoid athlete's foot*
Shower caddy*
Umbrella *
Feminine hygiene products (you're there for 10 days with a bunch of other women. Why be surprised like I am every single time?)
Kleenex (in case you cry in class or at a reading)
Eye make-up remover
Water bottle (I spent most of the conference in a state of dehydration though water was readily available at breakfast and lunch from those soda machines)*
Detergent if you plan on doing a load of laundry
Extra pens
Reading lamp (or you can borrow a lamp from the shared common room, which is what I did)
Noise machine to drown out the incessant sound of motorcycles' revving and the blare of ambulance sirens (do the motorcycles lead to the ambulances in most cases)*
Your manuscript* (if I had been aware that we would have the chance to meet with editors, I might have brought along another story or stories to pitch)
Something good to read out loud at the student readings
Thumb nail drive
Business cards if you have them*
Ear plugs (only if you don't bring a noise machine)
Real camera
Stamps so you can send postcards to your friends back home and make them jealous
A washcloth*
Shower soap

Miranda also recommends that you read and write your critiques for the workshops prior to attending so that you can spend your down time focusing on your own work based on class prompts and other things that inspire you during the day. Very solid advice and I wish I had done that. It would've saved some anxiety too on printing up the end comments, though the copy people were very nice.

I was going to add "snacks," when Miranda revealed to me that there are vending machines in the basement that take debit cards. You can get chips and candy bars and Snapple. I didn't know this and it's best that I didn't, because along with eating ice cream with Hershey's chocolate sauce on it every single day for lunch, I would've likely added a Snickers bar to the intake around 9 PM each evening.

I hope, hope, hope to be back next year.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Yale Writers' Conference: Day 10, Last Workshop, Saying Good-bye

I wasn't of those kids who went to summer camp every year. The only formal camp I went to was with my youth group in seventh grade to Warren Wilson (hi, Maja! Don't forget to send me your dad's phone number for my next organ donation story) and my recollections of it are vague. As we're doing here, we stayed in the college dorms which I thought was very grown-up, but the only distinct memories I have of that time are discovering a stash of Penthouse Forum magazines one of the college students had left behind (thereafter, I never quite got looked at any root vegetables in the same way), and a lot of crying after Kitty Wiseman told Katie Battoe to watch out for Scott Reese, after what he had done to Kitty in the swimming pool the summer before. I wrote an essay about it in grad school for Vivian Gornick's nonfiction class. About my heartfelt essay, she said something like, "Why should we care about these girls? Who gives a shit about your summer bible study and how you got poison ivy?" Exactly. No one did, not even me, really.

I'm not saying that this conference is like summer camp, but it does definitely have some of the trappings, because you're away from what's familiar, you have to make new friends, you're forced to go through that flashback-to-middle-school ritual every morning as you scour the dining hall for friendly faces, and you spend your days trying to figure out who you are, what matters to you most and how you can get that on the page. At this camp, that's done by writing, reading, listening to smart people, and talking about how to hone your craft.

I have a long to-do list when I return to the regular world. Send out my work more, send writing assignments to Sergio and Molly, get in contact with Kirsten about reading for Origins, find a way to be more active in my literary community, check out those books at the library written by the writers I love as well as those written by the writers they love (following their literary history) memorize a poem every month, read more poetry, work on 750 word humor pieces, find my tribe where I live. Long term goals include beginning a novel for next year's conference, revising and sending out my existing stories as a collection, and specifically, I want to get a piece in Narrative, something on NPR, a story in Tin House, to develop a relationship with a small press that I love, and become Amy Bloom.

I'm so glad I did this, and the fear now is that it will all evaporate, starting on Tuesday afternoon when I get home and need to walk the dog, want to start watching The Wire (that guy gave a talk about writing for the show), begin sifting through my work emails, and again become immersed in the day to day distractions that pull me away from the writing. But I do know that it doesn't happen accidentally--I am the only one who can make the time, I am the one who gets in my own way, and so there are no excuses for not writing.