Last week I had the extraordinary opportunity to go to Fishtrap, which means I had a week of writing, swimming, dreaming, reading, watching fawns, sleeping in my tent, watching the stars spin outside the lodge, making new friends, drinking whiskey out of a chipped coffee mug while listening to a poet play the piano, hiking and of course, thinking.
I started to feel a little burned out at the end of the school year--or not burned out, exactly, but a little like a wrung out sponge. That's normal, I think, at the end of intense efforts, and in fact it's a feeling I've felt before and written about before. The old wrung out sponge brain. I was worried about going to Fishtrap in that frame of mind. I knew what I was hoping for: to have a little bit of fun writing, to get re-energized and excited about some new projects before I launch into a hard summer of work, to connect with other writers, to feel a sense of community. Truthfully, I got so much of that and maybe even more. I'm brimming over with ideas for new pieces, I wrote a poem that broke my own heart, I tried a few new forms (episodic essays might be my new favorite thing), I met so many wonderful people, I went swimming nearly every day, I heard work from writers I admired and rubbed elbows with a few of them at dinner, I read Lonesome Dove and I wrote, wrote, wrote. It was beautiful. It was perfect. I'm already looking forward to next year.
There's a kind of magic that happens when like-minded people come together, this spontaneous feeling of connection and community. I felt connected, among my people, understood by friends I had just met. It's what I imagine camp was like for kids who really liked camp (I wasn't a huge camp kid, truth be told. So much social anxiety in one small body), all the fun of participating in activities you liked with people who also like the things you like. It was grown-up writer camp, where instead of playing capture the flag and singing before dinner we read books in quiet companionship and thought deeply about the nature of our work.
I sometimes wonder what writing is worth, and if I should pursue it. It's rare for me to question it, because I feel deep in my bones the power of words and how we wield them. But I was also reminded this past week to be purposeful, to be careful, to advocate for the world and places I believe in. Because narrative is important, but it's also a tool. It's a tool to be taken seriously, so I've been thinking with renewed energy about how I best want to use my gifts. To entertain, to share, to connect, of course. But what else?
On the second night of Fishtrap, I stayed up late working on a piece for workshop the next day in the cozy loft of the lodge, with a few other writers. It was dark when I left, and the stars were out in a great bowl of blue, edged by a spiky ring of pine tree tops. I stopped crossing the big lawn, in the dark part, and found the Big Dipper. Cygnus. The very beginning of Orion. Aries, my own constellation. There they were, my old friends. Here I was, in one of the most beautiful places on earth, with all my new friends. Tears sprang to my eyes, unusual for me--but it isn't often you're so full of gratitude you nearly choke on it.
It was a really good week.