Monday, July 10, 2006

Creative Writing Cross-Country Tour

I've rocked out in a convertible for over 5,000 miles (with and without a radio). I've gotten the peace sign from helmetless packs of Hells Angels, two farmers on rusted-out tractors, and a little girl hanging out of a minivan. I've seen corn fields, horse trailers full of pooping chickens, and fifteen cent toll booths. I've seen red mountains, blue mountains, green mountains, and mountains made of nothing but dirt. I crossed the Mississippi River to Arcade Fire and got nauteus at the Spam Museum. I tasted Amish cheese while trying to make conversation (not the chattiest folks), and ate tens of fast food salads in towns that were experimenting with their health nut side.

I survived the Vegas-like billboards of South Dakota. Some favorites: Dick's Auto "Something like New!", Reptile Museum, Don't do METH (spray painted in a succession of messages along with METH KILLS, Don't let METH hook you (with a spray-painted fishing hook), Corn-ceptual Art, fifty or so WALL DRUG signs (yes I stopped in Wall, South Dakota because by then it was like God made my car exit). Another billboard about a Cowboy Orchestra topped my list. I listened to a lot of music, and sang to things I won't admit even exist in my iPod collection. I heard a line in a Dar Williams song (my college roommate and I listened to her in college) "There's something I've finally faced-I finally think I've come from some place." It's from Road Buddy. I don't know what it means to her, but I know what it means to me.

While I've been absent from all of you-my friends and family-my life has changed. In the way you remember a good birthday party, your first car, or the night you got your first kiss. (Which I'm still waiting for in case you're reading, Dad.) I spent focused time with my writing, and completed the first five chapters of my novel. I also fine-tuned my collection of essays, which are also called "It's Just the Anti-Depressant Talking." They include about fifteen essays and short stories about my family, laundry day, the ex-file, fourth of july, and various highlights of my past working history, including road construction, bartending, working as an artist and advertising copywriter. I received encouragement from writers, professors and authors who mentored me through the difficult patches in my work and whose advice taught me great things about my craft.

So now that I have turned up (I write to you from Seattle, Washington) and you haven't seen me on the backside of milk cartons, I want to give you the rich details of the summer that has so radically changed me. I don't know where to start, but I'll let my enthusiasm take the lead.

If I start with my month of creative bliss in Iowa City, I could tell you that I discovered the writing mecca of America. Is it the publishing capitol of the universe like New York City, San Francisco, or Denver (yes, Denver!) Is it brimming with crowded sidewalks, homeless, twenty neighborhoods with their own personality and fifty things to do every night with the hail of a I couldn't figure out exactly why I fell so completely in love with Iowa City until I got a phone call from my friend Todd. He was high off a Jay-Z and Beyonce meeting and responded, upon hearing he had reached me in the Midwest, "Isn't there, like, nothing to do out there?" Which is exactly why I'm getting so much done. It's a monastery for writers. There are no distractions. It is beautiful, friendly, embracing of new people.

As most of you know, I was granted a fellowship to hang with Iowa Writer's in Iowa City. I didn't realize, until I arrived, that most students only came for a week or weekend. My grant paid for three full weeks and two weekend courses. I drank this in, certain I was thirsty for this since I attended Centrum in Port Townsend as a sixteen year old. In high school, I was the school poet, and somewhere between the lure of the New York City advertising world and their one-bedroom rents, I went into advertising. Essentially making the greater society feel inadequate by dictating the what they wanted to hear, eat, see, drive, drink, wear, and do. The creative briefs fought my sensibilites, and sometimes to get through I told myself: It's just what I do, not who I am. It's only a job.

But, in advertising, you have no life, so what you do morphs into who you are. Those products talk to you in your sleep, offering you more creative ways to make them the most popular box on the shelf. Although there are a great many things I learned, and love about advertising, I am fortunate to have chosen the artist's path out. Since clearing the mind-space, I have more room and time for what I love: writing and art. Real writing, not junk mail or billboards or TV commercials that ruin the meanings of beautiful songs.

While in Iowa City, I got deep into my characters, and their lives, instead of my own. I was exposed to people who were serious writers, and took me serious in my pursuits. But it wasn't all punching out the pages. I discovered my new favorite flavor of ice cream (Hello Dolly @ Whitey's), that wide open spaces make me somewhat claustrophobic (if something happened, without a metropolis, what would happen?), and probably most fun, my Camp Crush, Adam from Indiana.

Adam and I were inseparable in Iowa City, at our elevenses lectures (lectures @ 11am by authors and professors), lunches, readings, and all of the events. We drove around in my convertible, read our new work (he's works in poetry and creative non-fiction), hung out on big round hay bails in fields-until seemingly drunk farmers with flashlights came running us off.

After completing in Iowa City, I had just over a week between my next writing scholarship, at Centrum Writer's Conference in Port Townsend, Washington. So I visited Indiana and we went to Chicago, taking the L to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs vs. The White Sox, a cross-town rivalry. The convertible got caught in some unexpected rain, which created a frenzied panic for us, and anyone watching.

At the game, I saw serious fans write out scores, beer men yelling and throwing silver cans into the crowd. I watched fans openly shit-talk the other teams and near fist fights errupt. It was like having great seats to a baseball game AND boxing match.

On the way home, we stopped at a Fireworks Warehouse, which was set up like a neighborhood grocery store. Adam and I filled up our basket (yes, basket) with fountian fireworks, ladyfingers, bottle rockets, and the bigger stuff, like Wide Open, and a 12 mortar blast. Some of the fireworks had names like Kentucky Kaboom and Tenessee TNT. A favorite: Big Mutha Trucka. I was too afraid of that one to be curious about what it did. We blasted our bottlerockets (from the convertible) before setting them off in Adam's friend's yard. We blew up miniature model cars, blowing off doors, hoods and the windows out one M-80 at a time, with the precision and seriousness of scientists conducting an experiment that would cure cancer.

After I left my San Francisco heart in Indiana, headed through Illinois, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and finally Washington. My radio went out in Spokane, Washington, exhausted from the radio interceptions from conservative christian preachers, my obsessive songlist on repeat, and no doubt, my awful singing voice. I've also travelled this summer through California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa.

I can't wait to return to Iowa City. It's my top M.F.A creative writing choice. I have to remind myself: It's statistically more difficult to get accepted into the Iowa Writer's Workshop than Harvard Medical School. A piece of information that only makes me want to work harder for the acceptance letter when it arrives...depending on where I'm living, and if they can find me, that is.

I arrived in Bellingham, Washington yesterday around nine in the morning. I was jetlagged from fast food and time zone changes. I gave my Dad and sister a hug, and headed straight for my old room to crash. I never thought a twin bed with a separated bunk bed frame and flower sheets could be so comfortable.

I start my scholarship in Port Townsend, Washington (off the strait of Juan de Fuca) tomorrow afternoon. I'm visiting my cousins (Rachel and Josh) tonight and staying with Josh's family in Bainbridge Island. Then I'll be boarding the ferry and heading off to my next creative writing adventure. Stay tuned.

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