The Beauty of Low Expectations—

I can’t exactly say why I had such fuzzy, low expectations for this Mexico trip–but I did. I spent the week before my departure in bed in a fetal position…thinking I had something life threatening. Not exactly, but I did feel very puny.

I know this for sure…. I won’t fly in or out of San Antonio unless I am flying Air Tran for the cheap fare…San Antonio was complicated to me. But lessons learned and I am home now and trying to think creatively about my writing….after all I have been to a writers’ conference. Sloooooow down, Suz.

So, I had a maaaaarvelous time. I have discovered that when I come back from a trip, I am reluctant to write about it because that makes the experience seriously over. I need to take my computer with me so I can write as it happens….I am much more in tune with events that way…problem is that I don’t have time to write there because I am so enjoying each and every minute. Camie keeps thinking that I will lose my SMdA enchantment–but it never seems to go away. I just love it there.

With that thought in mind, I am going to try to dissect the magic. When I am there I don’t have all the home prompts laying around. I don’t see the laundry piled up in the closet; nor the drooping plants to water; nor the unfinished knitting; no cat vomit for Len to clean, etc. Instead, I am just totally in the moment waiting for the next amazing sunset, or the next ginger margarita, or the next chili relleno, or the next hysterical story. It is just all good. In San Miguel I am insulated –and from what I wonder, since I have an amazing life.

After a good night’s sleep after our bus ride, we were up to register for the Literary Conference…I think about this time Camie discovered that the first day was just registration and that only took about 10 minutes…I can’t say what I did with the rest of the day…I am sure a siesta was included and perhaps some earring reconnaissance. Really, I can hardly recall one day from another so I will just hit the hot spots.IMG_9674.jpg

HOT Spots:

There were several nice events on the grounds of the Hotel Real de Minas…a reception, lunches with napping blankets and pillows provided, big airy tents for the workshops, a book store where you could buy books, and only three vendors—However, I did manage to purchase a spooky looking journal that I will never write in because it has no lines. IMG_0100.jpg The full conference package included breakfast and lunch, all speakers and workshops, and a round table discussion with one of the keynote speakers. The people watching and chatting was worth the price–plus some.

Wellllllll, how to summarize the conference? Probably everyone I know learned all this literary hoopla in college…but I am a Home Ec and Art girl so the only old learning for me was about writing recipes for cookbooks. The other food writing focused on critiquing restaurants, food history, and food blogs. This is not the kind of writing I will pursue. It is difficult to score big in the critiquing department for The Shed and other Salado eateries—mostly coffee shops and Tex-Mex in gas stations.

I went to these workshops. There were two others that I didn’t make because of a required siesta.

• Just Add Water: Instant Experimentation in Creative Nonfiction (I did some writing exercises here but did not read aloud.)

• Fiction: The Life of Your Fictional Character: The Back Story (I did some writing exercises here and read aloud.)

• Write What You Eat: A Workshop for Food Lovers (I did some writing exercises here.)

• Pleasures of Reading: Chronicling Women’s Lives from Ms. Magazine to Post-Fifty Posse (by Levine, former editor of Ms. magazine for 40 years)

• Reading Literature About Mexico by Authors From Both Sides of the Border

• The Art of Memoir: Women Write Their Lives

• Righting Your Life by Writing Your Life (I did some pedestrian writing exercises here but did not read aloud.)

The workshops were very interesting—interesting, after I recovered from my anxiety that I might HAVE to read my writing exercises. This is the prissy me. In the first class, The Life of Your Fictional Character: The Back Story…for our writing exercise we were asked to write no more than 10 lines….I was chastised by two writers sitting next to me because I didn’t know how to shut off my keyboard clicking on my iPad. Imagine my distress! So I slunk to the back of the room, where a young, charitable woman assisted me. I wrote like a demon. The teacher asked for volunteer readers after discussing big plot – little characters. The readers would introduce themselves and tell their publishing experience. Then there were no more volunteers, so as a former administrator with an aversion to silence, I raised by hand. I told them right away, I was not a writer, rather a reader. Then I read my vignette:

Swan.

Swan. Were Swan’s parents ornithologists, or druggies, or what? I mean, who names a kid Swan? She was neither delicate, elegant, poised, or for that matter a good swimmer. Swan wasn’t the ugly duckling either. Of course, on Sundays she was frumpy. Swan wasn’t a churchgoer other than The Church of St. Mattress. So on this particular Sunday she wore her regulation tea-stained sweats and day-old pigtails. Her turquoise nail polish was often chipped. Swan needed a good scrubbing.

I think Swan could be a series–She falls in love with a ventriloquist’s dummy. Maybe not. Inspiration for this back-story came from me rewriting my conference name tag. I scratched out Catherine and hurriedly wrote Susan. Later that day, a conference worker was trying to talk to me and looked at my name tag, she then addressed me as Swan. I love that.

So back to the story and slap my Mama! They applauded and gave me only compliments—“You are a writer! We can see your character. Fun, and Now you need a big plot to match your big character.” Man alive, I was downright giddy. I felt like Erma Bombeck! AND, after class the teacher and a stranger came to visit with me. The stranger asked if I would be her long distance writing partner. She is a California girl. A hippie, I think. The teacher told me to keep writing.

The keynote speakers were amazing—Calvin Trillin, Yann Martel, Laura Esquivel, Kathi Diamant, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz. I’m sorry I missed hearing Ellen Bass. Her talk, Like a Beggar: Poems about Sex, Death, and the Human Comedy sounded interesting, but if it isn’t a limerick I don’t enjoy poetry. I expected they would talk about their books….all but one did NOT…rather… each spoke of some personal passion. Scintillating.

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The conference organizers also offered a Fiesta, receptions, and a variety of excursions. Next year I will go on the bus trip to Atonilco. The Fiesta was really good—catered using awesome street food; donkeys traipsing around with tequila shots in baskets; margaritas and cerveza stands; entertainment- Ballet Folklorico de Mexico; Aztec dancers, and a torch singer. I went by myself and had a great time.

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IIMG_0118.jpgIMG_9701.jpg   really enjoyed the author’s roundtable with Yann Martel, author of The Life of Pi. Because I purchased the “Whole Enchilada” package, I was able to join 5 others for an interactive 2-hour chat with this author. Wow, I loved it. Camie likes saying that Yann and I were buddies—we did have good chemistry.

Shazaaaaaam. It is pouring outside! Oh God, pleeeeeease let it rain all day.

OK. I want to go on and on and on about the conference but I don’t know that I can capture it all. The learning was grrrrrreat. Not because I know it to be TOP Quality—because I can’t swear to that…because I am such a neophyte, if even that. I am a reader who learned more about the craft…I have a better appreciation for what it takes to write a book. I learned that publishers hardly do a thing any more. They expect an author to come with a fully developed platform and distribution. There were four professional agents there where authors could pitch their manuscript. Only one out of hundreds was accepted. Self-publishing has changed everything.

I learned about Transactional Analysis approach to writing. Write like a child—inspired, playful, fun, and joyful….I write like this. The adult does the research and the parent does the tough love editing. These latter two are not for me. Luckily I write for me only. So scrap those superfluous (Ooops, an alliteration and that is bad too.) articles, commas, dashes, clichés, adjectives and adverbs. Dig deep. Wretched shame revelations are the ticket….Do not try to disguise your disgusting shame into a novel. No, spill your guts. There was a writing exercise in this workshop and I was stunned! Participants cheerfully raised their hands to purge publically. NOT ME. I wrote about having friends that I don’t necessarily like and who don’t like me. That should draw some attention in my small life. But big shame, no way I am writing any of that. Mattie Lee Edmundson told me never to write anything you didn’t want read in court. That made an impression on me. I mean this, participants liked doing this…sort of literary self-flagellation. The workshop teacher was one of two editors who just published Dancing at the Shame Prom! They invited 25 of their best, writer friends to write an essay about a never-before-told secret. Talk about brave. Naturally, I bought the book and I am hoping for some miserable shame. This will make me feel better about having friends I don’t like.

My writing/reading partner in the Shame workshop was memorable. She wore a beautiful lavender Harem outfit …She introduced herself her name is Chipper. This is not new; she has always been Chipper. She wasn’t saying much so I shared my minor shame of having friends who I don’t like and who don’t like me. Man that opened her up. She was fascinating and smart as a whip, I think! She told me all about ‘upgrading and downsizing your friend list.’ Wow.

Camie and I had such good laughs about this shame idea. I said I didn’t have any good sharable shame…but suggested I would collect essays under the title In Quest of Shame. We really had fun with that. Her first submission for my consideration, “I Let Dusty Hump Cat

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Stevens.” Dusty is her schnauzer and Cat Stevens is her old cat. We laughed till I cried. I hope CAT STEVENS doesn’t sue.

It was as good as a Moonie Conference…curious. I saw every color of hair, gorgeous women, outrageous costumes (Yes, Sally, this is my observation!), lots of extremes-facelifts, mostly non-descript men, and all kinds of trademarks…and only a few tattoos. One woman was so plain in her dress and grooming but she wore the same tiara every day. IMG_9728.jpg She read her writing exercise about aromas…about a penis! I nearly fainted…My Mother would have taken a whip to me if she knew I listened to that. Now this is not to say that all were on the edge but enough to fuel my creativity. I was just plain stimulated.

OK, this IS NOT good writing but I want some of my ideas down on paper or up in the clouds. I know this now. I am deeply shallow and mostly happy about it. I need to do different things to keep my fires going…where to next?

I HOPE THE TEXT ISN’T TOO SMALL.
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