I wasn’t planning on blogging at the Catamaran Writers Conference taking place at the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach.
But I can’t help it! I feel compelled to share with you today’s highlights as well as let you know that I didn’t melt into a puddle due to my extreme social anxiety.
Ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007, I’ve battled terrible social anxiety merely going to the coffee shop or market, so imagine what I felt when I showed up at a conference of 100 writers, all perfect strangers. Yikes!
After Craig, the girls & Miss Lucy dropped me off, I was scared. Ten minutes before our arrival, we drove past Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). I stayed at CHOMP five horrendous times, and today my PTSD from those experiences was triggered. I drove on that road so many times to admit myself for suicide-related reasons and also for a ton of outpatient ECT.
At the Stevenson School entrance, I busied myself with the logistics of checking in and finding my room. The weather was my favorite kind: clear, warm and sunny. Thankfully my thoughts moved away from CHOMP as I got caught up with how incredibly beautiful this campus is. The school is sa-weet! It reminded me of my alma mater UC Santa Cruz, but it’s fancier.
Here’s a picture of my dorm:
At 4:00 p.m. the day’s events began with an orientation. That was fine because I didn’t have to schmooze and I only needed to pay attention to the speakers. But after that introduction, the schmoozing began in full force. I took a few drops of the homeopathic anxiety reducer Rescue Remedy; it does help (at the very least on a placebo level) but it’s subtle.
The first reception began. (Yes, the first one.) It was fine and I had some good talks getting to know a few of my classmates. The next agenda item was meeting with our teacher Frances Lefkowitz, but unfortunately she was running late and couldn’t make it. Luckily for us, one of my classmates, Rayne Wolfe, was Lefkowitz’s self-proclaimed “biggest fan” but she wasn’t a mere groupie. She knows Lefkowitz and conference staff assigned her the task of filling in. She gave a fabulous testimonial about her teacher and was hilarious, so she won me over in about 10 seconds. I was already impressed with her submission and intimidating background. (Wolfe’s book, Toxic Mom Toolkit, has garnered the kinds of 5-star reviews writers yearn for and has sold like hotcakes around the world.) Oh, and she worked as a longtime journalist for the New York Times and more! Check out Rayne’s blog – she’s also giving her take on this conference and I love it. Then our six-member class did a brief round of introductions. It was so cool to meet such passionate writers whose heartfelt submissions I’ve analyzed over the past month.
Dinner followed and it was all good – portobello mushrooms, broccoli, rice, baked tomatoes – so healthy, yes? (But thank God, they had chocolate cake, people!) Then came another reception, also enjoyable, another shot of Rescue Remedy and finally a poetry reading by the two acclaimed instructors Ellen Bass and Jericho Brown.
Yesterday I wondered how the hell I’d get through Day One, let alone the rest of the conference. I was so freaked out knowing I’d have to make small talk with a variety of strangers – it had been a long time since I was in this kind of situation. To add to the fun, as a person who sweats like an Olympic Athlete when anxious, I oooozed wide circles on either side of my tank top and at the breastbone area. It was almost funny, except for that it wasn’t!
It’s difficult to make a seamless transition from sweating to poetry, but here goes: some of you know I’m not a poetry fan. Wow – after I typed that sentence, a bolt of lightning tried to strike me.
I’ve published a couple poems but I didn’t consider them to be Real Poems, if that makes any sense. I wrote them just to give it a try. I was going to pass on tonight’s poetry readings, but at the last minute I decided to give them a chance.
The building used for this reading was a stunning chapel. It had an enormous window overlooking the trees and sky, and unique architecture. It was an uber-cool chapel.
Jericho Brown gave the first reading, and his delivery alone was absolutely incredible. His poems had palpable power, although it was hard for me to follow them because I was exhausted and I have a “poetry block”. I also had a full bladder and I was too lazy to leave the room, which I don’t suggest if you’re going to a poetry reading. He’s a brilliant scholar/teacher/author and has all kinds of impressive credentials you can read on his website.
Ellen Bass followed Jericho, and she remarked that he was a hard act to follow. Now, she lives in my town and she’s famous there. She has sold millions of books and co-wrote the international bestseller/classic The Courage to Heal.
I had never seen her in person nor read any of her poems. To my surprise, I really enjoyed her poems as most of them (but definitely not all) were quite funny and easy for me to follow. She was charming and had a great rapport with Jericho, who told us that he considered her to be his “Aunt Ellen” and that one of her poems helped him “believe in God”. (He didn’t say which one – I need to find that out.)
After the intense reading, I walked back to my dorm wiped out but I was happy. Then I realized something icky. Ellen Bass was the contest judge who rejected my poem that I entered for the Felton Friends of the Library Contest!
I wrote this rather scathing blog post about Ellen Bass. While it was quite a let-down to have a muckety muck writer reject my writing, I’ve come to terms with it. I won’t pull her chair out from under her at dinner or anything mean and immature like that. She won me over tonight.
So that was my day. I’ll be writing about the next huge challenge I face here: getting my writing critiqued by seven writers. I’ll probably sweat a small pool around my feet when that happens, but it’s for the greater good of my book.
Thanks for reading this!
lots of love,
p.s. I wouldn’t be here if not for the encouragement of bestselling author, friend, and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) of Santa Cruz County’s Vice President, my fellow Board Member Wendy K. Williamson!