This past weekend I went to Denver and took part in a one-day workshop with Lidia Yuknavitch. I also reunited with some Midwestern friends I met last fall, which was lovely.
The workshop itself was interesting. I was thrilled to sit in a room with Lidia again, to have her tell me what to do on the page again. I was excited and intimidated to meet all the wonderful writers who attended, many of whom have just published a first book or are about to. But my experience did not match up with what seems to have been the preponderance of the experiences of the other attendees.
Sadly, the prompts did not speak to me significantly. I could see and hear from the others that the prompts worked extremely well for them, but I got little of use. Structurally, I got TONS of useful stuff, because the way Lidia teaches revision and self-mining, the way she insists on letting the work lead you instead of the other way around, is utterly refreshing, a potent reminder that writing is not done only in one way. If you are stuck, she will get you to put words on the page, guaranteed. But the prompts themselves brought me material that was distracted or irrelevant or just not up to par. Or even stuff that I've never thought it necessary to write about.
I actually consider this good news. I mentioned last week that I'm in the early stages of two stories, a polyphonic one and a scary one. They're really all I can think about in terms of writing (aside from the secret project, which is in the reader/feedback phase and thus I'm dying a thousand deaths and trying really hard not to think of it every second of every day). My mind is pointed quite specifically at those two stories, so introducing more ideas into that space led me to crappy, distracted work rather than work that had long needed dislodging.
See what I'm saying? It was a great workshop, but I was at the wrong moment for it.
However, I'm crazy glad that it worked for everybody else. There were a lot of writers in liminal spaces in that room, women who were between books, or ready to begin but uncertain as to how; people who were changing their professional ideas of themselves; ideas that did need dislodging. I was one of fifteen and thus it wasn't that important how I, individually, coped with the prompts.
Reading has been a weird journey lately. I was reading the second of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels at the same time as all the other reading for my classes, and then I finished it (more on that in a post to come soon), and now I am stuck with schoolwork only, right at the moment when I'm reading one of the hardest and most interesting books I've ever read: Cyclonopedia, by Reza Negarestani. It reads like a book of literary theory composed by a professor who has completely lost his marbles. It's taking me - I did the math - six times longer to read this book than it normally takes me to read books. But it's having an effect I wouldn't trade in for all the Georgette Heyer novels in the world. It's madness, but it's mind-expanding; tedious, but not tiresome. It makes me feel like there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of not just in my, but in any philosophy.
I owe so many emails to so many beloveds. But after a highly social weekend, I basically wanted to forget that other humans existed for a little while. After Matt picked me up at the airport, I crawled in my bed with the iPad and a bag of trail mix and my notebook and Cyclonopedia, and I didn't come out until dark. It was the greatest.