Here's the thing about going to a writing conference (or any other conference, I suppose): you have to talk to people. Lots of people. You have to socialize and you have to say where you're from all the time, a question I stumble on, because if I say I'm from Nebraska, people are always like, "Where? I didn't know anyone ever really lived there." Plus, I feel like it's an untruth; I only lived there for the first four years of my life. But I'm not from New Jersey either. I live there now, but it's not my place of origin and I'm still trying to accept the fact that I live in a state that's best known by the rest of the world through the reality show, Jersey Shore.
But here I am, at Yale University, a beautiful place in New Haven, established in 1701 (as we learned yesterday during the first town hall meeting) and I am assigned to sleep in Davenport College, in a dorm room on a twin bed under thin bedding that feel like butcher paper. Showers will be stalls in the shared bathrooms, another experience I never had, as I skipped the whole first year dorm experience in my college career.
And I'm meeting all of these amazing writers, who have written books upon books and won National Book Awards and know people at the New Yorker, and the thing I want to ask all of them is, "How did you do it? How did you write that book? Are you independently wealthy? Did you spend three hours a day writing it after a nine to five day in an office job? Did someone give you a lot of cash to take the time off? And then, when you did have the time, how did you keep yourself form incessantly playing Spider Solitaire or watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie?"
I think the secret to it is that they took themselves seriously enough to put the time in, and maybe they had six months to focus on just the writing. Nicholson Baker told us that he and his wife worked out their finances and figured he could have six months to write a book, and so he did it. And someone accepted it and then gave him money for more, and that's how that went. The other thing that came through from his talk is that you should use everything. Oh, yes, that's what I loved about what he said. Every bad thing that happens to you is really a good thing because you can use it in your fiction. Slice half your finger of with a brand new started knife? Remember how it looks, remember how it feels and fit it into a scene. Are you part of cubicle life? Write about it. There have been a few books lately that describe office life in these funny and revealing ways, so I should do the same. Write another book about life in the university. Except.... Except I don't feel compelled to write that particular book.
What's strange is that all of those people who write books--good books, books your remember and love--- on some level, they seem like another species to me, a group of really devoted and smart people, almost unreal. But here they are, in the same room, talking about their days. Human, leaving lipstick marks on their wine glasses. And so what that means is that they are not that different from me, if I would find a way to dedicate myself to writing in the same way (instead of writing a blog post? my internal, sneering critic asks).
I am here. I have shown up. I'm at the Yale version of Small World Café in Princeton. This place is called Blue State Coffee. They take both cash AND credit cards (take note. Small World).