Writing camp starts today at Harvester Island, the Fields’ family’s commercial salmon fishing operation. Leslie calls it the “Kingdom of Clean Enough.” We haven’t tested her theory yet. We’ll ease into the morning with lattés, foot massages, and soft music to nurture our sensibilities into the right zone and Zen. (Oh wait, that’s not the workshop I signed up for?)
On Harvester Island, it’s a black coffee, sit-up-straight-in-your-chair kind of kickoff. We begin with fear. A group of still-mostly-strangers unpack the obstacles and fears that pockmark our writing paths.
Our stories aren’t important enough. (Wrong, they are. Yours are, too.)
People might get mad at us. (They might. The trick is to heal, tell the truth, and don’t get sued.)
Clydette Powell, a child neurologist and public health specialist, who during the week will delight me with phrases like “three standard deviations from the norm,” offers up one of her fears: “I’m afraid I’ll walk through the forest of trees of people’s lives and not drop to my knees and capture the moment.”
I’m for sure not going to be the smartest in the room, so I mutter that I’m mostly afraid of not being able to shower for a week. I’m okay throwing down the gauntlet for class clown. Now I have their attention so I tell them what I’ve already told you: Maybe my writing needs to stop showering, too.
Another writer offers: “Maybe this is collectively what we all share: Getting to the heart of what breaks our hearts.”
“Our best writing comes from lack and absence,” Leslie says.
It’s quiet again.
Our co-instructor, author and professor Bret Lott says the writing life is like always having homework. “You have to love it. You have to find out how the story ends. You have to love ‘this word or that one?’ There’s a functioning obsessive-compulsive piece to being a writer.” I make a note not to tell Greg.
“We can’t go through life with that level of attention,” Leslie continues, “but we can give that kind of attention to scenes.”
And that tees up our homework. We will pick one scene from our lives. We’ll start putting it on the page tomorrow. The Type As want to know if they can start writing. The class clowns want to know if it’s time for lunch.
“Just one scene,” Leslie says, emphatic. “No writing yet.”
With that, it’s off for a day of adventure at sea in skiffs. We chase the exhaled blows of 120,000-pound fin whales—nevermind that we’d saddle up next to mammoth mammals that could flip our boats with the flick of a fin, but we’re afraid to put little drops of ink on a page. Writers never have made much sense. The whale pod moves on and we do, too. Our skiff captains drop us off in a nearby bay for an hour of beachcombing. I walk and talk with Clydette and Dorah. We find what looks to be a clear jellyfish washed ashore, but Clydette is puzzled because it seems to lack tentacles.
“Maybe it’s a shipwrecked silicone breast implant,” I say.
Clydette laughs, nudging whatever it is into the water. We find a second.
“See?” I say triumphantly. “There’s its partner. My theory is plausible.”
We find a third. Dorah says my theory is shot.
Clydette tells me about her university organic chemistry lab project in which she harvested fresh jellyfish from the Chesapeake Bay. She was doing thin layer chromatography on desiccated jellyfish to determine levels of cholesterol and lipids, exploring possible medical utility. Of course I would wisecrack about breast implants in the presence of a jellyfish expert. These situations find me.
We laugh and keep walking.
I tell Clydette (the one standing with Captain Duncan—Leslie’s husband and my chief rival for class clown—in the skiff photo above) that the skiffs are the reason I nearly pulled the plug on this trip three weeks ago.
Skiff | skif | n. 1 a shallow, flat-bottomed open boat with sharp bow and square stern 2 A mythical, massive unnavigable sailing vessel built up in Laurie’s mind as an obstacle that her surgically repaired neck and knee cannot maneuver.
Irony sets in. We’ve spent the morning talking about fear.
Clydette tells me she’s glad I came.
Friendships are forming.
P.S. The two salmon in the bucket below have just been pulled from the Fields’ fishing nets that day. They’re super significant and an answer to prayer, actually. I’ll tell you about them tomorrow.
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