Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking, Day 1

I arrived at Bard last night for the IWT, aka “teacher camp,” after a lovely two-hour drive north from NYC with my friend Marla. This is my first visit to upstate New York and it’s absolutely gorgeous; Bard’s campus is gorgeous, too.

After I got settled in in my dorm room I wandered down a forested path to the opening reception, where I chatted with some other teachers (mostly from New York, some from New Jersey, one who’s headed to a boarding school in Jordan) and ate some tasty snacks (wine, cheese, grapes). Then dining-hall dinner!

I was a bit nervous coming in that everyone else in the writing retreat would be working on Serious Writing, aka Literary Fiction, and might look down their noses at my YA scifi nonsense, and that feeling wasn’t getting any better despite a)me knowing not to mind if they did, their loss, and b)people being super nice. Super nice they may have been, but they were also all dressed like Serious People (except for one woman in an awesome leopard-print skirt and motorcycle boots, and it turned out she was an instructor!).

So I go to my seminar’s first meeting; there are eight other participants, and Nancy Kline Piore is leading the group. I’m the only one who’s a first-timer. We do some free-writing and read aloud and everything is very serious, some of it VERY serious and heavy (all great! Just… heavy), and then as we’re going around the room to talk about what we’re working on, everybody’s stuff is Very Serious.

Sarah is a poet who wants to write about a scrapbook she inherited but is wrestling with how to do it. She’s been trying since she was nineteen (and she’s almost forty, she says) and she’s lost and struggling. Andrea is writing about three generations of her Ukrainian family and grappling with how to include her voice, because she doesn’t feel worthy of the story but she’s the one who survived, so she has to tell it in her voice. Anne’s father is from the South, and she moved back there to try to sort out the complex legacy he left her, and she’s not sure if it’s memoir or fiction but she knows she needs to find a way to share it. John’s a self-described prodigal son who’s still not home, caught in the contradiction of Colorado’s two worlds, conservative/religious and progressive/environmental…

We last three (one person hasn’t arrived yet) have started to chuckle nervously and everybody’s joking around about how our group has collective low self-esteem about their writing, haha (as if all writers don’t, haha).

And then it’s my turn. Nancy, trying to lighten the mood, asks me if I’m also struggling to feel worthy of my tale, and I say, “Well, I’m working on a young adult novel and it’s got laser blasters, so it’s silly enough that I feel pretty okay about it.”

Everyone laughs, and seems interested, so even though I’m way out in left field like I thought I would be I don’t think I’ll have to play there alone. Peter’s writing fiction (although he doesn’t really give much detail) and Jennifer has several short pieces of memoir outlined, two of which are about death (her mother, her husband) but she still seems cheerful and confident about them.

Walking home past the library with the sky not quite all the way dark, I met some other people who are in my dorm and got to hear some more people being shocked/impressed that I left my eleven-week-old baby behind for this (sorry Sarge), gathering some more data for the over/under bet that Cameron and I have going, about how many people will imply that I should fear for Sarge’s safety since I left him ALONE with only his FATHER to care for him (so far 1 of 3).

Then I slept for six and a half hours IN A ROW and I might even go back to sleep now… our writing group meets two hours a day and the rest of the time we’re supposed to be WRITING (so, uh, maybe not just napping like crazy…)

So, in a little bit, I’ll gather my supplies and head out into the woods to see what kinds of lovely buildings rise up among the trees for me to camp out and write in.

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