Wearing viciously skinny red pants and an over-sized tan blazer, the author stands at the podium and as he orates passionately about Don Quixote, I notice that a large piece of hair is standing straight up at the back of his head. Expertly applied hair product can't restrain this rogue and it bounces up and down as he gestures and leans forward against the wooden podium. My eye keeps going back and back to that loose hank, flopping and jostling like a wind sock.
I really should be paying more attention to what he's saying. I am taking the occasional note, but I'm also trying to figure out what his relationship is with the young woman that accompanied him to this event. She is pretty, and walks with the overly self aware grace of the young, in her red Asian print skirt and clunky old fashioned leather shoes. Daughter, he just mentioned his daughter. That makes sense. Though much less scandalous than the theory I had concocted. My jump to gossipy conclusions might be the exact reason that I need to attend this writers workshop. I might be a little melodramatic for my own good.
In an effort to motivate myself and kick start my writing habit again, I signed up for the New Letters Writers Weekend through the University of Missouri Kansas City. I heard about it on NPR and immediately thought, I want to do that. Then I hesitated. I was intimidated. I don't really consider myself a writer. I used to write a lot of bad fiction in high school and college. I've taken the requisite sensitive depressed girl creative writing classes. I was an English Lit major. I write this blog. But a real writer? A writer is not me. I write grants for work. But that is technical writing. It takes a level of skill and finesse that I'm still learning. It's not the type of creative literature that I love to read and dream about writing myself. But I talked myself into doing it anyway. I decided that no one will demand to see proof of my great American novel before they'll let me in the door. As long as my check clears, I'm in. And if I heard a friend say the kind of lame, self defeating nonsense that I let run on a loop in my head then I would tell her she was ridiculous and to send in her damn registration already. So I faxed in my credit card number, and bingo, I'm spending the weekend studying how to be a better writer.
One of the best things about the workshop was that it was held at the Diastole, which is the former residence of a doctor and his wife who donated their building to UMKC. It is filled with their art, books and pieces they collected throughout their lives. A rambling contemporary white house with three floors, countless little rooms, niches and libraries scattered throughout, and UMKC added some additional space and a small amphitheater to meet their event needs. I could have spent hours just wandering around and peering into corners and staring at the art. Or as my dad said, "Yeah, it's weird."
The workshop started Friday night with a reception and key note speaker, the hummus, $10 bottles of red wine and mini quiches one would expect were in attendance, along with a motley gathering of writers. Writers tend to be introverted observers, but gather them in a room and set them loose on the topic of themselves, their writing and the craft of writing, and you can't shut most of them up. I was quietly inspecting a bright glossy piece of art on the periphery of the group, working up the necessary courage to go introduce myself to the random strangers scattered about the room.
I chose one stranger and got started. Of course I chose the woman standing next to me who looked even more out of place than I felt, with her bedazzled jeans, low cut pink tank top, four inch snakeskin stripper heels, and a passion for writing historical novels (code for romance novels.) I started to feel more comfortable. She was friendly and I felt like a snobbish intellectual douche, because the minute I saw her in the room I felt more at ease. She stood out and in her standing out I felt more at home. I judged her immediately and felt guilty about that. Then once we chatted a bit I immediately realized, never mind, I was right. And also crap, now we are going to be stuck together all weekend. She sat next to me once the keynote speaker began, and giggled during the speech. Excessively. Things that weren't intended to be funny, the awkward kind of tinkly laugh, the laugh of the uncomfortable, the laugh of the in-over-my-head, the laugh of a woman wearing snake skin covered stripper shoes to a writer's conference. She arrived late on Saturday, came in carrying two huge floral bags and a shiny jeweled purse, like she was going on a backpacking trip across Europe. She looked at me sadly when she realized I hadn't saved a seat for her. Then she staked out a spot on the stairs behind the speaker and stretched herself out, spreading her luggage out all around her like a nest. She fell asleep a couple of times, her cell phone rang twice, and by noon she had repacked her bags and snuck out the side door, never to return. I think the science fiction gentlemen missed her most of all.
Barbie may not have enjoyed the conference, but I loved it. I took copious nerdy notes. I filled up my little notebook with advice and quotes, reading recommendations, literary jokes, deep observations, and the occasional story idea. I chatted with other writers and met some decidedly quirky folks, like the man who writes afterlife-fiction. Huh? Two souls fall in love in the afterlife? How does that work? Where's the conflict and the drama? Where are their bodies? Odd. But fascinating. And by the end of the weekend I felt like a real writer. Sunday I set up a work space in our guest room. Complete with laptop, an old desk from the Plaza library that we salvaged at a garage sale a few years ago, whose best feature, other than its plain broad surface, are all the scratches and marks left by students, and I plopped it right in front of the window. I'm doing some writing everyday. I started a short story yesterday. I don't know what's going to happen next but that's the best part, no one does.