This past week in Iowa, at points, has felt as hot as Hades. Which may explain why, this second time around, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival has reminded me a little of those charismatic tent revivals of my youth.
Not because it was the Festival’s business or even their intent to save souls or inspire folks to immerse themselves in the baptismal waters of the word. Nor was it — where these two acts, in previous meetings had not accomplished the ‘write’ trick — to pray folks out of their hard, unforgiving pews to walk down to the altar for a very public re-dedication to the word.
What this means, in part, is that I never once encountered anything akin to the eternal drone of words, heard from upon high, more effective than Sominex, — that when mixed with occasional outbursts of fervent hallelujahs — worked upon me like a buzzing alarm clock. Nor did I have need to entertain myself in meetings by passing down folded-up notes to friends — or occupying myself with rolled-up paper to swat flies and mosquitoes lighting on my sweaty skin — though it’s true our classroom’s air-conditioning was broken during the two hottest days of the week.
All this, of course, is a way of saying that the week in Iowa has been beyond the wonder of dreams. That I found better uses for paper and lived like a monk on retreat from the world, shying away from all forms of amusement except what rose out of the working of words. And that while no one set out to save me from my lazy and distracted self, maybe it happened anyway. Because — and God help me to articulate it — this morning I feel much like I did when I was seven and freshly “saved” — thanks to those lovely church ladies of summer vacation bible school — after I walked down the altar and walked away a little confused. I was at a loss for words when folks, then, asked me about it afterward. Then, I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t quite know what had happened, if anything — where now, I don’t know what to say because I don’t know what has happened, if anything.
So unlike Moses, while I leave a sacred place, I do so without trekking down any mountaintops with stone table of commandments in my hand. Instead, I tip-toe away quiet and with a fair share of humility. For just as I did the first time around, when I attended two years ago, I leave knowing what I don’t know.
Except that weather forecasters are predicting another round of scorching heat for today.
I just was thinking about you last night, wondering if you were still at “summer camp”. And oh, the heat. I’ve been hearing stories.
Knowing what we don’t know is so important. Just don’t forget how much you do know!
Well, thanks for wondering. And always for the encouragement. It will be good to get home and regulate new rhythms of everyday living — so that I can write AND live. I’ll check in with you when I arrive home.
Interesting that VBS can be used as a metaphor for your present writing experience. I trust you’ll go back home rewarded. Look forward to your posts on your Iowa training. And, just today, I’m thinking of another read-along… Sept. and Oct… 😉
Another read-along? I’m still thinking about MC.
Btw, I did end up taking MC to Iowa with me because of its familiarity — and on our fourth day in class, we did the most interesting exercise with “one of our favorite novels.”
My instructor, Amber Dermont, asked us to perform a “CSI” on our novels — which we did, by answering a list of novel structure questions like “how many pages?,” “how is the novel structured — books, chapters, letters/journal entries…and how many pages for each?” ‘What happens in the story at the literal middle of the book?” “How do the fist and final sentences of the novel speak to one another — and similarly, the first and final paragraphs?” “How is the main character introduced — dialog, narration, action, voice?” And on and on. The point was that if we liked the novel, we should dig into its structure to see if there was something about it we could borrow in shaping our own novels.
But, you know what? That most powerful opening line of MC, which reads, “I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time,” is powerful, in part, because it reveals so much with so few words.
“I was born” — 1st POV. — telling us its to be read as autobiography.
“in the city of Bombay” — telling us that this is a real story grounded in a real place.
And that bit of whimsy, “once upon a time?” That its also part fairy tale.
The exercise was so revealing and helpful, I plan to use in on every book I fall in love with from now on…. and there are many, many books the instructor gave me to read — I think I’ve got a dozen right now, that she felt were on point with the story I’m trying to tell.
Okay, I’ve said too much. But Arti, the longer I’m separated from Iowa, the better I can see it for the miracle it was. And I’m so lucky I was able to go!
wow… wish I were there. Inspiring to learn, just from your reply to my comment above, the key to decipher the first sentence and get so much information from it.
And since we’re on first sentences, and yes, I’m planning another slow read-along, a book with this famous first line:
‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’
Right… a read-along of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for Sept. and Oct., dividing the book in two parts, just posting twice, end of each month. The reason: to warm up for the new movie adaptation coming out in Nov. (here’s the link to the film.)
I heartily wish you can join me again… and Linda, are you there? This one’s for you too. 😉
Anna Karenina? Would you believe this one is on my “Just-back-from-Iowa” TBR list, compliments of….Amber Dermont! When Amber learned I was the only one in class that hadn’t read AK, she told me to do myself a favor and read it. Then she proceeded to quote me the first line, which of course, hooked my interest.
And here you are, offering another slow read-along opportunity that will help make me find room for it.! Arti, your timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Now to find a great translation! Count me in.
I’m here – I’ve got it on my list of things to be pondered!
Loved reading your “report”, Janell. I saw one thing that I already have a sense for – getting the first and last sentences, the first and last paragraphs, to speak to each other, play off one another, complete one another.
Now all I have to do is learn how to insert 10,000 words in between, instead of a thousand! LOL!
Yeah, thoughts on word count are daunting — especially on days where I eke out 100! Today I went back to my notes to find the the word count range for publishable novels — and it was just as I remembered — 80,000 to 120,000 for a 320 to 550 page novel. Linda, this class was amazing. I’m still sorting through what I brought home with me. Depending upon this year’s story progress, I can see myself repeating the class all over again, and coming home with just as much.
Okay, I’m going to bed now. With one of my recommended books. Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs.