Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pictures from an Institution

Three days into a writers' conference...patterns have begun to emerge, friendships formed, old friendships revisited, the surprising, strong writers becoming more surprising and strong as their voice and style begins to dominate this abomination of a hotel, a hotel that puts you in mind of a California cemetery...the major saving grace of the hotel is its dog-friendly atmosphere. Was ever a writers' conference so well attended by dogs? There are two Corgi, a Malamute, a golden, Catherine's small, shivering mixed breed, Ella, and of course Sally, who snores when she sleeps, thus appearing to make comments on some of the readings. Sally also scratches at carpeting, trying to tamp down a place for her to fall asleep whereupon she may snore. Many from the Peet's coffee regulars, taking volunteer jobs to help out, thus the ongoing lurch of surprise in Santa Barbara of seeing someone you know from one context in yet another context in this still relatively small town. Ned at the door of the main ballroom, Jim wandering about, looking official and un-painterly as he works the door to the book store. Nicole, postdoc in history, manning the table outside the bookstore, Willard, having retired from advertising, counting ticket sales outside the main auditorium, Mike Takeuchi, the sports writer from the News-Press, working the book store.

Sleep comes at a premium, tempers flare, manuscripts and email addresses are exchanged, Ray Bradbury gives yet another rousing speech, newer attendees on attenuated schedules, trying to fit in all the workshops and all the speakers...Leonard Tourney, gone emeritus at UCSB, moving off to retirement in Utah but instead picking up an adjunct professorship contract for three years and a renewable two, making all his friends uneasy when he professes this great affection for Utah, his new home...individuals you don't much care about, becoming even more so candidates for not liking, signing up to read their mss in your workshop, occasioning a sense of dread when they tamp thick manuscripts down on the tables that separate you from them...the realities of two days of workshopping setting in with good news and not so good news.

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