This weekend I went to my first ever writing conference, down at the main campground for my Yearly Meeting.
You know, I really love traveling. I don't even really need to be getting somewhere, and I am kind of disappointed when I arrive. I just like the moving. It know that reveals something deep and psychological in me, and probably comes from a rather tweaked upbringing, but I am filled with excitement when I'm on my way to a new thing- as long as it involves movement to a new area.
Unfortunately I learned something rather astonishing happened while I was in Africa. It used to be that Greyhound traveled to every small town in America. If you were poor, and didn't have a car, you had Greyhound to fall back on. Evidently, in 2004 they decided that was too expensive a proposition, and have severely curtailed their service. The result is that Greyhound will take about eight hours to travel a four hour journey to get me within two hours of Twin Rocks- and I have to make my way on my own from there. Suddenly, America is now the hardest country in the world to travel in, without a car. That might be hyperbole, but not by much. Europe has an excellent rail system. The rest of the world, like Morocco, lets you get into crammed taxis, spending the equivalent of $30 to travel four hours (such as from Casablanca to Marraksh). The U.S. has neither of these alternatives- and safety of course is a consideration in the latter. While I feel for the economic straits Greyhound evidently was in, their removal of service to small town America means those of us without our own transportation are up a creek- without a boat.
So I rented a car. Initially I tried Budget, but they didn't seem to know that Kent and Bellevue are not streets but towns, and therefore not anywhere near where my reservation was supposed to be...so that left me with Enterprise, near where I was working for the week in Renton. A good ship, to be sure, but also putting me back some, with gas, to about $180.
A five and a half hour drive through Friday evening traffic put me in Northern Oregon, curving through fog shrouded night on roads too gloomy to see, trying to make it in before midnight by slowing into the curve and accelerating at the right moment to catch the centripetal force. (Later on the return trip, in the day, I got to see the cliffs I'd been speeding past two nights before.)
I've only been to Twin Rocks once before, but it is a beautiful site, and I have to say, much preferable to me than the other Yearly Meeting conference site in Northern Washington. I stayed in a room larger than the place I live in now (I know, not too hard to do), and had some opportunity to wander through the old growth forest that seems to have sprouted in the midst of the retreat center. The dead tree sprouting new shoots at the top of this post was just outside our conference center. Everywhere was the smell of mist and rain and new life; in every direction giant trees and green. There is a bad stench to the word decay, but here the decay was part of that cycle that speaks of newness and hope and rejuvenation. Many of the trees showed some evidence of falling apart and rot, but there was no sadness in this- in this advance decay, they were fulfilling their assigned role to bring forth new life. In me, the forest also rejuvenated my spirit throughout the weekend.
Oh- there was a conference too. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was put on by Barkley Press, the publishing company for our Yearly Meeting, for whom I've been writing a daily journal for the last two weeks. I went to be inspired and to be held accountable to work on a book idea I've had for the last decade, but never acted on. Unfortunately, I won't be revealing the book idea- let the reader understand. But I actually got a number of pages begun on it, and very positive feedback on the first few paragraphs. I'm hoping to continue to find time to work on it.
I paid extra to meet with an editor while there- not to begin publishing, but simply to get ideas and guidelines. He told me that, of all the people he was meeting with that day, I was the one to whom he really didn't know what to say. It's not as bad as it sounds- he's mainly a non-fiction editor, and my ideas were only begun. But also my book idea is within the genre of alternative history, and yet in some ways a new genre- and with multiple heresies. So he was encouraging that it would take a lot of work, but if it was put together well, it could do well.
He also mentioned that my proposal to him read like someone who came from a different culture, for which English was not the primary language. Again, not as bad as it sounds- while I do come from a non-American culture, he wasn't referring to the beginnings of the actual text (which he liked) but rather the outline of the proposal, which admittedly was hurriedly done as I found out about these opportunities at the last moment. But it was gratifying to hear a friend say that, had he heard the same thing when he met with the editor, he probably would have cried.
There was plenty of insightful wisdom dispelled about how to go about writing and publishing. I was reminded of my words, and the importance of writing tightly. Writing prompts actually directly helped me figure out how to write the beginnings of the book. At the Open Mike (not a dissection of our host Michael, as interesting as that might have been) I shared my poem on Wine, which I've previously posted here, the inspiration being the dearth of availability of this fine beverage while I lived in Morocco. By far the finest work I heard read was a short humorous story by a guy named Ben about talking broccoli- sort of a Pan's Labyrinth meets VegiTales- with all the macabre imagination that can inspire. Ben spoke through parable of how, though we are God's possessions, we expect Him to bend over backwards for us, giving us everything we don't need.
And I got some good feedback on one of the skits I wrote- on the perspective of the good son in the Parable of the Lost Son. It was rather funny, for a number of comments were to the effect that it was very believable and sounded like I was there. That particular skit was actually one of the easiest I ever wrote, as I simply had to contemplate my own feelings as an eldest child within my family.
It was great being at a writing conference, but specifically at a Christian writing conference. At all times there was the focus back on the Source, that we write not for money or fame, but to influence and to speak of Jesus. Worship at one point was extraordinary, as we sang snippets of Sinead's song Thank You for Hearing Me, which you're currently listening to at the moment. (Unless you hit the stop button when the ad came on.) I hadn't realized that she was now a Priest in a breakaway church from the Roman Catholics, and had had a renewal of faith, but much of her music is now inspirational and focused on God. I found this song in particular gripping at an earthy level.
In the contemplation towards the end of the conference I found another high point of the retreat. Twin Rocks is named after two rocks sticking out of the ocean, which is just across Highway 101 from the campground. But all weekend I hadn't had the opportunity to get out there, till the last moment. I crossed the covered bridge that you need a keycode to get through, and stepped on to a rain-splashed, windy, cold beach. Seattle's Puget Sound has the right taste, but it is a pale imitation of the real thing. Casablanca had waves, but the number of people and trash detracted from a real experience with the ocean- and it was a goodly ways off from where I lived. Coming on to that beach was being embraced by a lover again, one I hadn't seen in too many years. I could hear her calling me to come into her, to be one with her, to drink her in. Truly, there is no place more wonderful than the intersection of land and sea.
I sat and considered our Mother, from whence we come and shall all one day return, communing with all of creation. In front of me was a small stream, struggling to follow the command to return, but resisted by the waves of the same source. Every few minutes, when just the right combination of waves was set up, I saw something I had never seen before outside the lab. The waves would come in, one after the other, into the narrow streambed, building up in height as they were forced through the narrower aperture. The flow of water was towards the sea, yet the waves forced themselves up the river in an unnatural manner. I'm not sure how to describe it, except that it looked as if an invisible hand was making the water flow up the river in waves. The seagulls bobbing on the stream would be upset as the waves came in, and in a flurry of feathers and wings attempted to simultaneously clean themselves and unsuccessfully rid themselves of the water.
I was sad to depart from such a complete place. The end of the journey was filled with the novelty of the mundane. I filled up gas for the second time when back in Seattle, but this time not Full-Serve as it is in Oregon. I realized as I went to the pump that it was the first time I'd pumped gas in over 4 years, and I'd forgotten a little bit about the ritual for sliding your card and flipping the lever.
The car was dropped off tonight, and I felt a great loss. This had nothing to do with God or being one with nature. There is a certain freedom one has with a car. I remember it when I used to own one. You feel like you could drive and drive forever, if you wanted. You'll never do it, of course, but you could. I could take that rental car, and just keep on going, and never return- until the police caught up with me. Perhaps there is a bit of the Babel in all of us that comes out in a car, for for a moment, we are invincible. But all good things...the car was dropped off, and I had to take the long walk, and the long wait, back to the buses.