How do I even write about what happened in Plumas County, California a couple of weeks back? It was part writing retreat, part public reading, part family road trip, but more than anything it felt like a reunion: most of us had never met in person before, but after having been in session after session of Ariel Gore’s School for Wayward Writers, reading each other’s work, commenting, shooting the shit online … well, in this day of online connections you probably know how it goes. When we met in person it already felt like we were old-time friends.
I’m still amazed that we actually made this happen. Seven of us writers, a couple of spouses, and a posse of kids all gathered at the mountain home of Margaret Elysia Garcia — crashing the spare room, camping outside, or house-sitting down the road. The highlight of the weekend was a reading at the Taylorsville Tavern, where our posse came close to outnumbering the locals who ventured in to hear us tell our tales.
I started the evening off by reading my middle-school David Bowie letter/story along with a couple of unpublished pieces. Kate Dreyfus gave us a selection of poems that touched on the funny and the profound, sometimes at the same time. Bonnie Ditlevsen, editor of Penduline Press, read a steamy tale — “It’s fiction!”, she reminded us more than once — from the upcoming People’s Apocalypse anthology (edited by our Wayward cohorts Ariel Gore and Jenny Forrester). Michelle Gonzales read two fantastic selections from her memoir, Pretty Bold for a Mexican Girl: Growing Up Chicana In a Hick Town. Our hostess Margaret Elysia Garcia read pieces that danced the line between memoir and poetry, one of which featured a hilarious imitation of her mom’s outgoing answering machine message with morbid-sounding Emily Dickinson lines read in a listing drone. Rebeca Dunn-Krahn told a tale of knives, fishes, and deception that had us all at the edges of our seats. And Jenny Forrester, the only one who I’d heard read her work before, capped off the evening with a couple of riveting fiction pieces and a soulful story of visiting the small town of her youth — how it’s changed, how it’s stayed the same, how it’s beautiful and dangerous and impossible and inevitable all at the same time.
All in all it was a wonderful weekend. Yes, there were forest fires and ash in the sky and inter-kid squabbles and minor episodes of stage fright and power outages and searingly hot temperatures. But there were also homemade tortillas and thirteen-word horror stories and jugs of gazpacho and new kid friendships and a hidden watering hole and a bagful of ice cold popsicles that kept us all from melting in the heat. Some of us brought food and some of us cooked and some of us mixed gin-and-organic-tonics and one of us snuck money to the waitress to treat us all to breakfast. We all made it home safe and we’re even talking about trying to do something similar next year. Maybe even with a few more writer friends joining in from their wayward places. Will we pull it off again? Who knows. But I’m so grateful that we did it this time.
On the drive home I was thinking about the day I first signed up for Ariel’s class. I loved her books and had thought about doing it a few times before, and for whatever reason this time I took the plunge. Doing so turned out to be a great decision; it changed the way I write and the way I think about my writing. But it’s also funny to look back at a seemingly-simple choice, one that could have gone either way, and see how things came from it that I couldn’t possibly have foreseen. I took this trip and met these people, all because I signed up for a class a couple years back. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
I’m really glad it did.