Here's my breakdown, complete with photos from my camera:
Wenesday: As we drove four hours out to Capitol Reef, I got to know John Bennion, professor at BYU and novelist. We talked about current projects we're working on. I told him the concept of my novel and he worked the idea into his workshop, so I better finish the manuscript soon and get it sold! John is a delightful guy, and it was a privilege working with him.
Here's the sunset splashed across the sky that evening:
We were introduced to the field station at 11pm, so I didn't get a really good look at it until the next morning:
The field station is set against a backdrop of wilderness, huge walls of rock, the scent of creosote, sage and juniper. Pictured above are the two dorm buildings. I stayed in the one on the left.
9/15 Thursday: Got up at 7am to make breakfast with my workshop group. Scrambled eggs, smoothies, bacon, dark bread, juice. John had us play two get-together games after breakfast. For one we wrote our first name (Lee), our place (w/Ty), and our totem animal (penguin) on a Post-It. We then were handed someone else's Post-It and had to wear it on our forehead and try to guess who we were by asking yes/no questions of people in the group.
10am: My workshop group is named Chinle (a rock formation) and today we work with Karin Anderson, professor at UVU and creative nonfiction writer. Mostly Karin reminds us how important each sentence is. She gives us a list of her favorite sentences. Karin's favorite phrase: "Attend to the sentence!" (Maybe it's not her favorite, but it's the one that sticks with me the most. I heard it a lot this summer.)
Wisdom from Karin: "I tend to forget what writing is. The strain to find the right words is epic. Thinking really hard burns calories. It's an exhausting process. Write against your instincts. Read authors you don't normally. Pay attention to things you do well and do them better. Believe in your palette, your colors, your array of words. It can't be perfect the first time. Write
the crap down."
She sends us away to work on a paragraph.
12pm: I sit on a wall and stared at the sandstone cliff. A little mouse jumps across the ground toward me, gone in an instant. I look forward to working on my novel. To eating. To seeing Ty.
2pm: Sit down for a 1 on 1 with Karin. We go through my braided essay page by page. She has suggestions for polishing sentences, adding another section or two. She is very generous. Lots of positive feedback. "It's almost there," she says. "Keep pushing it."
3:30pm: Lying down in my room, I close my eyes for a while after I read a chapter in The Monstrumologist. I dream briefly about The Never Ending Story. Glide through the clouds on Falcor's back. My roommate sleeps silently on her twin bed. It's hot outside.
4pm: John Bennion tells me he's read the selection from my manuscript I handed to him earlier for a consultation. "I'd like to read it again before we meet," he nods. "It's good."
5pm: I spend an hour and half making chili with a couple of members of Chinle under the direction of Scott Hatch, professor at UVU and brilliant poet. I dice peppers, chop cilantro, shuck garlic and sautee ginger. We add white beans, chicken, celery leaves, jalepenos, Sprite, lime.
Scott is excited about the chili. "One of the best ways to learn about writing is to cook. Cooking is an amalgam of so many things, pushing, pulling the ingredients, creating the best out of working and reworking the recipe. Intuition." I don't like cooking. We eat it with cheese and tortillas.
7:30pm: Filmmaker Eric Temple comes to share his insights on Edward Abbey. He tells us about Abbey, shows us a documentary that he made about Abbey. Abbey was a writer who spoke out against the destruction of the wilderness areas. "Ed wrote about himself and what he took in from the surroundings."
10pm: It takes me a long time to fall asleep. It's very dark here. The moon is bright amid a sweep of stars.
9/16 Friday: 5am - I skip the dawn hike. I hear later that most of it was vertical. No thanks.
10am: Hau takes us on a hike. He talks to us about Leave No Trace. He makes me think of an old Native American shaman, teaching us about connection to the earth. He shows us some wall art: petroglyphs and pictographs created by the Fremont Indians. One of the images looks very much like an alien face.
11:30am: Today Chinle works with John. He gives us a few tools to generate ideas for our projects. We ask our main character questions in regard to five elements of story: place, people, values/ideas, events and things. It's a great exercise. I'll use it on my novel.
He talks about Zen Buddhist compositional writers. Find an emotional center of a piece that manifests itself in an image or tableau. He calls it imaging. Take a piece of writing and find the imagistic center, then write towards that. He sends us away to write an image.
I write a scene that I'll use in my book.John meets with me 1 on 1 to discuss my manuscript. He tells me it's very good. That it will make a good book. He has suggestions for character development. His remarks are very encouraging.
1pm: I work the rest of the day on my manuscript. I get ten pages written while I sit in this little nook:
People come and go outside the window. At 8pm Emily says to me through the window, "Lee, there's a hummingbird out here." I keep writing until bedtime.
10pm: Hard to fall asleep again. I miss Ty.
9/17 Saturday: Chinle meets with Linda Shelton today, professor at UVU and expert in personal narrative. Highlights from Linda's workshop: Histories can help us add the details. Research is a spiral. Creative is a messy business. Details are powerful. Oral histories help complete human understanding. Word choice can definitely change the angle of vision.
1pm: Work all afternoon again on my manuscript. Get another five pages written. I ended up cutting ten pages that I wrote before the conference and I got back on the right track again. I sit in the window nook and watch the desert. The rock wall. The golden light drifting down.
6pm: Sit with Linda for an hour while she interviews me. I didn't realize that's what it was at first, but the personal narrative expert gets half my life story out of me. She tells me she's glad I was able to come to the conference. I agree with her. It's been wonderful.
8pm: David Williams comes to play for us. Black curly hair, a full beard, piercing eyes, slender in his unassuming clothes. Acoustic guitar and soulful vocals. He stands, a dark silhouette against the purple backdrop of the desert. His voice plays through the evening wind. Here is a video of Dave from YouTube. Imagine him, soft-spoken, lost in shadow, the moon high overhead.
He strums his guitar. His voice is lonely, cool.
We get in the van after he finishes his set.
I get home early Sunday morning. These flowers are waiting for me. Roses and lilies.
I'm glad to be home. I learned a lot. I feel blessed to have been chosen for the experience. Thank you Scott, John, Karin and Linda. Thank you Hau, for sharing the field station with us. Thank you Dave, for the inspiring music. Thank you Ty, for encouraging me always in my creative pursuits.