Wednesday, July 13, 2011

from the corner of Birdsong and Windy River

Dear friends,

Happy summer to you!

My writing desk faces north over the Eagle Hill River, where I see the clam-diggers are parked on the point this morning. I’m situated on the second floor, with large maples shading me to the east, with vistas to the north and west.

The marshes flourish, grasses of chartreuse-green along the river, a bright contrast to the deep green of our lawn and the trees. Sometimes the birdsong threatens to overtake me—beginning at 3:30 a.m. rising in slow crescendo through six a.m. Then we adapt to the ongoing symphony, and even the cat sits to watch the mourning doves on the porch rail. At the end of the day, I know I should get to bed early since the birds will wake me repeatedly, but I love the night sounds, too, and I wait for the summer heat to relent a little. The house is uniquely unsuited to air conditioning—odd windows, few doors. But we are uniquely situated to catch any breeze.

Breeze, birdsong, spectacular views: am I painting a picture, here? I don’t know if I need a larger writing desk in my corner perch in the master bedroom, or if I need to go hide in the basement to get some work done—like Annie Dillard covering the window of her cinderblock writing cell. So far, I’ve indulged myself in the beautiful world with only a little self-discipline for my writing. This past year has been so very hard (the move, the loss of hope about buying a house, the long wait to hear about my adjunct teaching position). I am soaking up the beautiful world like a balm, reading books to feed my writing life, helping kids adapt to our new neighborhood and our new town.

I pulled together a ragged story for The Glen East Workshops in early June, where I studied with Scott Russell Sanders and a room full of talented writers for a week. In a writing workshop, each writer brings 20 pages, and we discuss each story around the table: what works? What prevents the story from working as well as it could? Watching SRS draw out insights and form mini-lectures from the content of these stories—that was well worth the investment of time and money to attend these workshops. My stack of notes will help me root out any traces of self-indulgence, and to clarify some confusing sections of my story. I highly recommend Sanders’ A Private History of Awe, and you can find some of his shorter works on the website of Orion magazine.

While staying at The Glen Workshops, I roomed with Andi Schrader, a woman who is dear to me from a dozen different points in my life. We lived in a dorm, ate in a cafeteria with endlessly fascinating conversationalists. Throughout the week, I drank in the readings and lectures by SRS, by Brett Lott, by Gregory Orr and Sara Zarr. And by the end of the week, I was enjoying the artwork Andi created in her calligraphy class with TimBotts, and the galleries of art created by the fiber arts and figure drawing classes. I haven’t even touched on my phenomenal classmates—this post would go on forever—but I’ll say that Justin McRoberts was in the room, and AmyTimberlake, and Jan Vallone was nice enough to give me a copy of her memoir.

In the past, I’ve been lucky to attend four Glen West workshops in Santa Fe, in conjunction with my masters program, and it’s a delight to be a part of the very first Glen East. It does me good to take my writing vocation seriously, along with other writers who me seriously, too. I will continue to mull how “the Glen” --the community of people working hard in the arts, wrestling with questions of faith—makes my life sane and rich and solid. I’m not sure words can frame this yet. And I'm still asking myself how my picture of The Glen is shaped by people I didn't see this time: I missed the SPU MFA crowd, and the Overstreets, and the Huppert-Volcks and the Guslers. And Mary and Nancy and Ann and Allison. I send unending thanks to IMAGE for hosting the Glens, all of them.

During the rest of my summer, I will teach conversational English for three weeks. Then I travel to Eureka Springs, Arkansas to accept The Duncan Eat/Write Fellowship for 2011—my award is two weeks of writing time in a private studio, and I’ll tell you more about that, soon. When I return, I’ll be preparing for my professor-life and I’ll be traveling a bit more with my family.  A full summer.

I need a second cup of coffee, friends— the breeze is sweet and cool, and I’m so glad to emerge from the heat wave. Scott went to work hours ago. Kids will continue to be draped across their beds for another hour or so, and I must dig into my journal with a pen. I’m hitting send, and not editing. You have a good summer, too.