I was gone for awhile, on the mountain, they say, although those of us on this side of the continent (even those of us in the flat parts) tend to call such soft and rolling land hilly. Not mountainous. So, I was in the hills. Of Vermont.
Everything was very old, except the people. Many of the people were young and filled with what I believe is called verve. Even the old people had young people verve. I’m pretty sure no one was themselves and everyone was exactly who they are.
I’m talking about the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, by the way.
We ate at determined times and we ate what we were fed. I liked a duck dish. The tacos made me laugh. Those deemed to have incredible talent and potential waited on us and I could not help but note how much they all sweated. They were nice people. All of them. But I was jealous. They’d been chosen. I was just allowed to watch them work.
Somewhere between the inn and the Frost cabin, I realized why so few of my stories ever end in any satisfactory way. I was carrying this little green fruit that I’d been told was a crab apple and I was talking and talking, as I do, even when sober, which I was since you couldn’t get a drink until 5:30 or so. It’s about tension, I said. The story ends at the point that particular story cannot contain any more tension, at the point right after it breaks, or right when you know it inevitably will. There is no end until the tension reaches that point. This sounds rudimentary as I write it. There was more to it. There was revelation.
I credit Charles Baxter. He gave a lecture on plot that made people cry. No shit. That happened.
I wore sweaters some days. It was 100+ degrees back home and I was in sweaters and listening to the rain. You want to talk feeling displaced? You want to talk falling out of time? I could feel the thousands who had come before me. Hope. Laughter. In a corner of the barn a piano sat mostly unplayed. They used to jam on it, I was told. They used to fill that barn with their singing.
No one knew where we were. Even those who could find us on a map.
Everyone carried satchels of books. I just spent two-hundred dollars at the bookstore, people would say. And we thought this is how the world should be.
On the last night, there was a dance. There’d been a dance previously but the last dance is always the best dance. And so we drank and flung ourselves around. I smacked into Charles Baxter who laughed. I banged my fists on the floor with the guy who’d began as my roommate but is now a wonderful friend. I consumed a healthy amount of wine and, when the music ended, I was still spinning.
Coming down that hill (that mountain) on the final morning, I thought I might be ill. I blamed it on the wine. But it was probably something else.