The Low Down on the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference (so far)…

The Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference is underway, and I’m feeling lucky that such an event happens right here in my home town.  World class authors come here, to me, making it just so easy (and affordable) to learn from them.  I get in my car, drive about fifteen miles, make myself comfortable in the conference room at Land’s End Resort, and people like Michael Cunningham, Dinty Moore, Bill Roorbach, Peggy Shumaker, Sherry Simpson, Nancy Lord and Rich Chiappone (to name just a few) offer workshops, answers to writing questions and expert advice.   It’s pretty cool.

Although I’ve been dabbling in writing for several years, I’m a newbie to the writing world.   The KBWC is a good way to get a sampling of what it’s all about.  Jennifer Pooley, a senior editor from HarperCollins imprint William Morrow is here, as is agent April Eberhardt.  It’s been nice to meet both of these very approachable women because they remind me that agents and editors are real people; something I’m guessing that most of you already knew.

Here are a few morsels I’ve gleaned from the offerings so far:

  • I use the word “I” way to much in my writing and I think I’m going to have to start looking for alternative ways to talk about myself so as to not bore the poor readers or sound like a narcissist.
  • Bill Roorbach says to call writing “work” and not “writing,” because the guilt-ridden side of us won’t let us skip out on work and it’s easy to decline social engagements when you say, “Sorry, I have to work.”
  • Dinty Moore’s workshop on miniature nonfiction validated my love for keeping things short and gave me some great ideas for future projects.
  • Michael Cunningham says it’s important to stay engaged with a piece of writing by visiting it every day, even if you don’t have much time.  He also says to “write smarter than you are.”
  • Listening to Peggy Shumaker read from her new book, “Gnawed Bones” reminded me that I love poetry, especially when it’s as accessible and beautiful as hers.
  • And Bill Roorbach says that gardening is writing.  I love that.

A Break

My last blog post was on April 22nd, two days after the oil platform Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.  At that point I was writing one or two essays a week for the History of Psychology class I was taking, and that particular blog post was a way for me to escape the pressures of my class for a couple of hours. I noticed the headline about the oil platform sinking and eleven crewmen missing on that day as I was researching school lunches but honestly my mind was on other things and I didn’t give it much thought.

I took a break from journaling and blogging late in the semester in order to finish the term paper for my class. And in my attempt to stay focused on the task at hand I didn’t pay much attention to the news, but on May 6th, the day I submitted my final project, I heard that the oil leak in the Gulf was spewing close to 25,000 barrels a day, a much bigger number than the 1000 barrels it had been estimated at in the beginning.  The burden of a semester’s worth of deadlines was gone and I could finally think about the trip to Colorado I was leaving for the next day, but that number, twenty-five thousand, stayed with me.

My sister and I flew out of Anchorage on Saturday, May 8th.   The route took us over Prince William Sound where twenty-one years before, the Exxon Valdez spilled 257,000 barrels of crude oil.   When that spill occurred I was three years out of high school, at a time in my life when keeping up with current events was the last thing on my mind.  But I had this dream of moving to Alaska and I watched the spill unfold on television with a heavy heart.  What I didn’t understand at the time was that the images of oiled sea birds and otters were only a small part of the story; the lost livelihoods, the damaged ecosystems, the profound hopelessness experienced by those affected, those are the stories that aren’t as easy to cover in a headline, or with a picture.

I spent my first day in Colorado, Mother’s Day, at my step-mom’s house.  Three of my five sisters were there along with four nieces and a nephew.  She prepared for us a delicious meal of shrimp scampi and just before we sat down to dinner we checked CNN and found out that BP’s first attempt to cap the spewing oil with a containment dome the day before had failed.  If I’ve done my math right, the Deepwater Horizon had already surpassed the Exxon Valdez in the number of barrels of oil leaked by Mother’s Day.  But unlike an oil tanker with a finite capacity, nobody knows how much oil can escape from a hole that is drilled 18,000 feet into the ocean floor.   Nobody knows how many fishing families will be put out of business, or how the Gulf of Mexico’s sustainable shrimp industry will fare, but it doesn’t look promising.

I didn’t follow the news much for the next ten days or so.  I knew the oil was still flowing into the ocean but thinking about it couldn’t change a thing, so I went about enjoying my time with my mom and my sisters.   It’s a powerless feeling to care about something and really not be able to do anything tangible to remedy the situation.

I returned from Colorado a little over three weeks ago.  Since then I’ve resumed my normal life, which is mellower in the summertime.   With the kids out of school I’m able to sleep a little later, and the extra daylight after I get off of work allows me to get outside and work in the garden in the evenings.  The peas and beets are beginning to sprout already, and potatoes and carrots will soon follow.  So far all of the green vegetables that we transplanted seem to be surviving, so maybe this will be a good gardening year.  Hopefully by the time I’m harvesting vegetables this fall the technology to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico will have been found and put into use.

I still check the headlines every day to see if there is any good news at all in the Gulf of Mexico.   I haven’t heard any yet and it’s been about fifty days since the initial explosion.  It’s a sobering thing to know that we can cause so much harm; that the advantages of our technology can at times be outweighed by the damage it can unleash.  I feel it’s a problem that must be recognized and considered with each advance that is made, but out of self-preservation I can’t let myself get overwhelmed by things that go so far beyond my own control.  I can’t stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico but I can tend my garden, my family and my soul.  I can get back to writing and I guess that’s better than doing nothing.