I barely know where I am anymore. Not just in the existential sense, but also in terms of geography. It's been months since I lived anywhere "permanently" and it's wearing on me. This means I will not be tying my precious belongings up in a bandana at the end of a pole and living the hobo life after all. I spent the weekend in Louisville for my father's wedding. As my older brother pointed out, it's strange to attend the wedding of one's parents. We missed the first one, after all. But this was a good occasion, seeing my father happy again after the unbelievable bleakness following my mother's sudden death three years ago. And his new wife Marilyn is a lovely woman. I was, however, meant to be in Iowa for a weekend workshop on finishing fiction with Bret Anthony Johnston, an author whose collection of short stories, Corpus Christi, I really enjoy and recommend heartily. I was sorry to have missed that, but we rose instead early this morning and made the seven-and-change hour drive from Louisville to Iowa City.
It is, by nature, a somewhat bleak drive, miles and miles of indistinguishable flat land. And there's really only so many times you can glance at a corn field and chant, "Knee high by the fourth of July!" In fact, the number of times is precisely four. After that, it gets sad and a little creepy.
For much of the drive, gloomy dark skies and grey curtains of rain loomed ahead of us in the distance. The weekend in Louisville was emotional, on many levels, which challenged the already-fragile state I'm feeling as the stress of moving and leaving St. Louis builds. It seemed to me that the threatening skies were ominous and perhaps even personal. Thank goodness for Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins.
We arrived in Iowa City with enough time for an attempted nap before the orientation session and first class meeting. I was lead-headed and feeling funky and late to orientation, meaning I skipped the free meal and grabbed a seat at a table of strangers who had already introduced themselves and bonded over Caesar salad and iced tea.
I tried, half-heartedly, to make some small talk and to glance at the name tags hung around everyone's neck. But I felt depleted of energy and didn't have it in me to make momentary friends with people I'd never see again. Call me a spoil sport if you like.
Depending on your perspective, you may find it disheartening or encouraging to glance around the room on the first night of your Iowa Summer Writing Festival workshop and notice that the mean age is around 60. I have nothing against retired engineers expressing a lifetime of stifled prose or a housewife with overplucked eyebrows coddling her closet mystery writer. For some reason, it just struck me as more depressing than anything. Did I mention my mood?
After orientation, we had our first meeting of Elements of Scene & Dialogue with our teacher, Sands Hall. Even with my grumpiness, I was able to muster up some excitement for the topic, which seems like the perfect next step to build on what I learned in last semester's screenwriting class. And the class is a diverse group of varying age levels, expertise and goals, although it seems the serial mystery writers outnumber the rest of us. Maybe they outnumber us everywhere.
Class was out by about 9:15 and I met Chris, who had been entertaining himself at The Java House, a local coffee shop. The storms we had weathered on the way into town had left us with an unseasonably cool evening, 65 degrees or so. Last year, the heat in Iowa City was nearly unbearable, a relentless sun beating down the entire time.
It's interesting to see Iowa City compared to Ann Arbor, another college town, instead of St. Louis, which was my perspective last year. Granted, it is a Sunday night in summer, but the streets seemed practically abandoned here.
With one notable exception -- a film crew had cordoned off a street block behind the Capitol building, while shooting something called "Final Season." A pretty-boy PA in a baseball cap and a tan so deep his face looked dirty defensively barred us from setting foot in the area washed white with gigantic flood lights. It's okay. We weren't actually going that way, anyway. God love him for being thorough at his job.
Tomorrow, Chris heads off for a rather whirlwind Sharesleuth.com investigative trip, hitting New York, DC and Delaware in three days. I'll stay here and apply myself to improving my craft, reading and writing and remembering why I love this stuff in the first place.