Monday, August 24, 2009


In her book Bird by Bird Anne Lamott writes about discussing publication with students in her writing classes:
...I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived.
All this is true. By the time each of my essays was published I was several months or even years removed from the day-to-day of wrestling with its structure and diction and imagery. The journals arrived and I felt happy to see them but a little distant. It's like running into old work friends from a particularly all-consuming job long after we've all moved on to other companies: the fondness remains, but the intensity has drained away. I find this leaves me with a much clearer view of my essays' sins and virtues, but no desire to revisit them. Actually, I feel positively grateful not to have to work on them anymore.

Acceptance, however, is another matter entirely. The thrill of a total stranger—someone not related to me by blood or marriage or friendship or the fact that she is in my writing group and has read fifteen drafts of an essay and wants nothing so much as to never to see it again—saying she likes my writing enough to publish it does not pall. I've gotten form letter acceptances and I've received personal emails that refer to my "fine work" or say they are "charmed" by a humorous essay. And every time, while I don't think the world has validated my parking ticket, I do feel like I got a gold star pasted on my forehead for the afternoon. It's not a durable or lasting thrill, and it doesn't help at all with the next day's work. But as an occasional shot of encouragement in what is a sometimes a lonely activity, it's more than enough.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Games Dogs Play

One of the most fun things about having dogs is that they love to play.

Even on their own, dogs play inventive games. Ed, who provides Lily Beth's doggie day-stay, told us about a game the dogs had made up on their own one day this spring. All the dogs would dig a big pit in Ed's yard, and then one dog would get in it. The other dogs would jump over the pit and as they did the dog inside would jump out and try to bite them. They played this over and over. Ed says the game is called "Dog in the Hole."

But dogs like to play with people, too, and the process of figuring out what the game is—something fun for both players—is a collaborative one. Our dog tries one action, sees how we respond, and then reinforces that response positively or negatively by continuing to play or walking away. We do the same, and together we shape each other's behavior into patterns that come to have recognizable rules and variations. The play is fun, but I think the cross-species communication that goes on in developing and elaborating the game is the best part of all.

Ben and Lily Beth have come up with something we call "The Game," which is a combination of fetch and keep-away. When Ben gets home from work, LB greets him at the door with one of her stuffed toys in her mouth. They go out to the front yard and Lily Beth gives Ben the toy, he throws it for her, and then he chases her around the yard to try to get it back. Sometimes Ben gets tired of it first, sometimes LB does, but it's become one of those routines that demarcate the transition between work and home, and I think they both look forward to it.

I have finally figured out how to use the video setting on our digital camera. The intent of the video below was to capture this routine for posterity, but, alas, we're having a heat wave and neither Ben nor LB was at the top of their Game.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Kind of Writers!

As I mentioned, there are some really terrific writers in my workshop, and it's a great group of people. My one worry was that my fellow writers would be Deeply Serious and my desire to eat food that is bad for me and find the Fresh Produce store would reveal me to be the self-absorbed philistine and glutton that I am.

"No, no," my fellow writers said. "That's the other writing workshops."

Many of them are already familiar from previous visits with the town where our workshop is held. Thanks to them I now know where to get:
  • excellent fried seafood and fabulous onion rings
  • foot-long hotdogs
  • the best gelato in town
  • heavenly made-to-order pasta dishes
  • a nice salad when one really needs vegetables.
I've also stocked up on pastel oxford shirts and insanely comfortably cotton pants.

Best of all, though, I've made some new writer friends.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Nunnery

I'm staying at an inn just a block away from the center that offers my workshop. My room is known as "The Nunnery," and perhaps you can see why:

Most of the room (which is perhaps 6' x 12') is actually in the photo, and you can sort of see the dormer that angles over the bed. But it's cozy and comfortable, the owners are delightful, and if I have to go out into the hall to get to my bathroom, it's a small price to pay for a not-crazy-expensive room in a seaside town in August. The Nunnery got its name from a previous inhabitant and workshop attendee, a former nun, who noted that it was about the same size as her room at the convent.

I'm doing too much writing in my little room, which is making it harder and harder to sleep there. I guess that's why the writing lab at the workshop is open 24 hours a day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Life at Writing Camp

So, the writing workshop is awesome, and actually a lot more like camp than I expected—a pretty satisfying mix of structured activities and free time.

There's coffee and fruit and pastries at 8:30 and then I'm in class from 9:00 AM to noon each day.

"What?" asked Ben, when he heard I only had three hours of class a day. "I thought it would be like boot camp: 'Drop and give me a metaphor, maggots.' 'I want a literary allusion and I want it now!' 'You call that irony?'"

"Three hours a day is a lot," I said.

"I sort of imagined a Rocky-like montage," he said. "You know, pictures of you all sharpening your pencils, then a shot of you all writing in your little notebooks. Except the music is a customized version of Survivor's 'Eye of the Tiger,' like that Starbuck's commercial."

It's not quite like that, but it's still pretty intense. I have the afternoon to write and prepare for the next day's class, and then there are readings and artist talks every evening. My instructor is great, and my classmates are interesting people and really good writers. I'm determined to make the most of my time here.

The only bad news—and it's really only bad news for the Cow Skulls—is that I haven't managed to find a new topic, so be prepared for more of the same. Sooner or later I will write my way out.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Off to "Camp"

I've arrived for my orientation session at the writing workshop I'm attending this week. Since I signed up in March I've been referring to it as "Writing Camp" in an unsuccessful attempt to feel less intimidated.

As I stood by the car getting ready to leave this afternoon—worrying about my clothes (trying too hard? not trying hard enough?) and worrying a lot more about the fact that I haven't written a word in the last two weeks—I said goodbye to Ben.

"I'm nervous," I said.

"What are you nervous about? It'll be fun."

"What if nobody likes me?"

"Then you'll have something to write about!"