There's a first time for everything

So I've decided to jump in and make my own blog. I don't see this as something that anyone else is necessarily interested in reading, but it might just keep me a bit honest and allow me to capture a few thoughts for future reference.

I spent yesterday and today at the Hartford National Writers Workshop. The principal sponsor is the Hartford Courant with additional sponsorship by the Poynter Institute. Not surprising, about half the content was aimed toward journalism, with the rest of the workshops talking about other kinds of writing. It was a seasonal weekend: it was cool and rainy the whole time. My friend, Bonnie, who had invited me to attend based upon her experience at the workshop last year neglected to tell me that all the general sessions were being held in a tent.

The tent was heated, which was helpful, since I was dressed in light layers anticipating sitting in a stuffy hotel ballroom squished among hundreds of other participants. I never asked what the attendance was, but I estimate it around 350-400.

As I marveled that a tent could be heated to be significantly more comfortable than the damp 50 degree weather, the first speaker, Nuala O'Faolain (columnist for The Irish Times in Dublin and memoir, "Are You Somebody?") was introduced. She gave a wonderful, wise and witty account of how she came to writer her memoir and how it changed her life, both for better and for worse. For me, that alone was probably worth the $95 admission.

Bonnie and I stayed in the big tent for the next session while half the audience bolted for the ballroom and the other breakout. We heard Robert Olen Butler present, "The Fundamentals of the Creative Process." This presentation was for the literary fiction crowd. Butler spent what felt like the first half of his presentation attempting to explain why he, alone, in the universe of creative writing teachers (he teaches a phd program in Florida) teaches the only thing of significance in writing fiction. Rita, sitting two chairs away, vibrated with such annoyance, that I expected her to either politely get up and storm out of the tent, or scream, "Either tell us something meaningful or shut the fuck up, you arrogant blowhard!" Eventually, he wandered his way into the familiar territory of art versus craft and how writers created their art. Art is the sensual expression of the human condition. It requires intense focus and self examination; for the writer to enter a place within herself and see it for what it is, truthfully, without filters. I don't disagree with Butler's premise, although I use somewhat different terms to describe it (I speak of following one's passion). Some of his supporting arguments and explanations were a tad flakey. But it was art-speak, and one expects that of art-speak. Rita did sit through the whole lecture. Like me, she felt that Butler did have some useful things to say, just that his method of delivery was not to our taste. (She might have put that more strongly.)

Our next general session in the tent was "Conversation with a Legend" with David Halberstam in the tent. The rain, a mere drizzle in the morning, was steady and cold. Bonnie insisted that I borrow a rain coat that she kept in the car for emergencies. Reluctantly, I did. It was probably a pretty nice jacket, sort of a rubbery plastic that felt slightly sticky on the outside and was well-loaded with beach sand on the inside. Still, it was water-proof, and a good wind breaker. We sat down and joined in the conversation with the folks in the rows in front about whether the air blowing through the heating ducts could be made warmer. I noticed that I was beginning to smell like dog poo. I quietly took off the jacket, folded it and placed it under my chair. The odor went away. I hoped that my aqua sweater was merely sandy.

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camidon's picture

We've all had experience

We've all had experience with flaky or arrogant speakers. What I've come to realize is they are really no different than us. Some writers are good speakers, others are not! Nonetheless, their success allows them to speak at these events whether they are good or not. I often wonder how I would speak at such an event--then I think of the thousands of cave tours and campfire programs I've given and I have no worries. Plus, it's not like it's going to happen any time soon.

One author not to miss: Laurie Halse Anderson. She's a Teen fiction writer, but Hallelujah she is a roll up the sleeves, down to earth, explitive rich woman. She just tells it how it is and demands struggling writers never give up. Virginia Ewer Wolfe was also fantastic. (Teen/middle-grade author).

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Life is a lot like caving: Most of the time you grope around in the dark.