Monday, March 26, 2007

Moose, mounties and Molson, eh?

On my recent trip to St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada I saw no real ones anyway, no mounties...the border guards looked more like security guards than anything ranger Ricklike, and drank Guinness instead of Molson in honor of St. Patrick and my Irish heritage of course. But it was a memorable trip sans stereotypes for the most part. The people there were so warm and welcoming and well...just simple and real. Yet I met oodles (yes---I said oodles---deal with it) of intellectual types who were not in the least bit snotty which was refreshing. People who could hold their own in talking about and deconstructing great literature, film, art...yet who were completely down to earth and without traces of ego or pretension.

Being in a seaside resort town in the dead of winter is somewhat surreal but very peaceful. I feel like I got a lot of work done at the writer's retreat and I think I made a lot of progress on my book....fingers crossed...But more importantly than a respite from the fast-paced (to the point of being frenetic), New England Puritan work ethic...where most of us are Human 'Do'ings rather than Human 'Be'ings, it was just a completely different way of life. A place where people look you in the eye and nod, smile or even say 'hello' when passing. Sometimes all three! I really enjoyed the sense of community of sharing meals and fireside chats with the other writers and director of the program, Don. He's one of those gentle, genuine, generous (the three g's) souls who is very encouraging but also tells the hard truths about the writing life and how its call must be answered...Life must be structured around 'the work' and not vice versa. He would know. With five books published by major New York publishing houses, two Oprah appearances, a Today Show appearance, a Pulitzer Prize nomination, a film made from one of his novels, an academic career teaching at prestigious places like Colgate and Colby...this humble, brilliant man is definitely on his game. I felt blessed to have daily two-hour sessions with him and to read his sweet notes on my manuscript..."You write like an angel!" will sustain me through many a hard time and the rejections that every writer faces.

My fellow writers were amazing, too. Zach the California dude hailing from Hollywood (and looking the part) was hilarious with his voices, impressions and his backhanded, yet sincere compliments, "I was relieved to see your writing didn't suck." and "Your book has the potential to be the best of its kind if you don't pussy out." We had some fun sojourns to the liquor store where he gazed lustily at a hundred and seventeen dollar (Canadian) bottle of single malt scotch. He came into my room my first night there and read me his beautiful story "The Crossing Guard" which could easily grace the pages of Harper's or the New Yorker...

Jesse was the most in'sight'ful editor I've ever met. He has a natural talent for 'seeing' what the rest of us who have the gift of eyesight miss. Whenever he quoted some part of my manuscript back to me and said...'you know on page 159 where you talk about such and such' I was both impressed and a little intimidated that maybe he had read (I think Don read it to him aloud at first and then he got it as an email and he may have some sort of translation/voice software---I never asked because it didn't seem important) the manuscript more carefully than I had! His input and our chats about esoterica were food for the soul...Being around him was a blast----even listening to his theories about how the comet will hit one day (dark humor is something I've always related to) and how he doesn't want to be in a bunker somewhere with canned spam but right in its path...was entertaining.

Tessa, a lovely Asian student kept to her room a lot but seemed very sweet and we all celebrated her birthday one night which was cool. There were others in the cast of characters of my Canadian adventure...So many experiences and amazing synchronicities that of course now escape me as I try to recall them at will. I do remember writing in the guestbook as I was leaving that my favorite teacup was the one with the sailboat on it and the chip at the rim. In that chip, in our imperfections and vulnerabilities is where good writing LIVES. I was reminded of this. I was reminded to be brave and kind but to tell the truth above all.

Suffice it to say---in all of my travels, and on all of my trips...whenever it was time to come home...I was ready and get back to friends and family, my own bed, to pick up the threads and rhythms of daily life in familiar surroundings.

This time, however, when it was time to come back and when I crossed the border into my own country...I couldn't help but feel like I was leaving home. There may not have been moose, there may not have been Molson or mounties...but there was something there that was so much more powerful. A charmed time, more than a vacation, more than a Canadian Camelot. Felt so blessed. It was magical, eh?



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