My husband and son drop me off at the Red Roof Inn parking lot, honking as they drive away. My sister-cousin arrives to pick me up honking too. I wonder what the Red Roof Inn front desk person is telling herself. I am way too old for it to be a divorced family switch spot. Two parents that can’t even see each other, never mind converse, they leave the kid in the parking lot? Fingers crossed the weather holds, and no one is late.
Why you ask am I at Writers Camp? I have a full time job, it is true. Also true it is not as a writer. So? Truth is I am a terrible meditator. Words creep into my head like fruit flies on a peeled apple left on the summer kitchen counter. Even with guided this, or the soothing voice of Andy the guy from the UK who made a great app, I have no switch to throw to get beyond myself. So I write. Otherwise it’s the Jets and the Sharks rumbling in there all day long. What a racket.
It sure does let you know a lot about a person real quick when you are in such close quarters writing, reading, pouring yourself out. Hot and humid as it is – Fall behaving like it forgot itself in the parking lot too – words cling; stories stick with sweat to our skins.
But why I ask our writing camp counselor. Why does the universality thing matter? You’re always saying, “Ahhh. So universal.” Like it’s feedback. If any of us could go to any book store and buy any book that tells any of our stories at any time, what is the point? My teen WTF is live and at large as I say this with my adolescent rolling eyes.
She says: because it is a map. And besides all anyone wants to know is that they are seen. When you hear someone else’s story, and it’s yours, you are seen. There’s no longer shame. You are not alone. Your compassion for them becomes your compassion for you.
Huh. I start to watch my fellow writers – looking for the map. There is a woman whose laugh corners me. I feel a kinship if I could just get over her humor tick. Reminds me of awkward family moments when silence would have been richer connection than sarcastic irony. The intuitive-healer-lady has a Channel bag. The empty nester blended rum drinks, running away from home wanting to be a lesbian but turning out to be straight despite the butch haircut. One’s timing landed her at the exact point in the road as the oncoming truck. Took the hit to the brain and has diagnosed herself with “mouseitis –quiet as a mouse.” The baker has flour behind her ear; doesn’t wear a wedding ring; has children and her mother is her rock. The newly minted widow’s phone beeps, and I want to strangle her, though I could be her because technology defies my reasoning too. With the curly hair – he had a crazy, raging mother, shaming to paining – recognized. Got it. The beautiful one lived to the brink of attack, rescued by the former-track-star-teacher with narrow hips blaring obscenities: What the f*ck is going on here?
But I am not sure this is why I came to camp – to know all this beyond my control. I wanted to be honed and sharpened. But instead, like the divorcee next to the hyper-critical-mother said, it’s like we’re all “trapped in a state of trauma.” And that was a session I hadn’t planned on attending. Universality took me down. My fall softened by warm bread right from the oven, at the end of each day. A buffer-bumper-pillow: soft, crusty, melted butter with jam, a salve for the spot where we left it all on the page.
©Gabriella Strecker, 2016