Unicorns in the Desert
So, the thing is, there were unicorns there.
No, not the kind with sparkly horns and magical rainbow-surfing skills. The real kind.
Last week, I got back from the A Room of her Own Writing Retreat in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. I’m pretty sure the founders of the conference, Mary Johnson and Darlene Chandler-Bassett, chose to host the conference there because it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. Like, this beautiful:
So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that unicorns would hang out there, right? But here’s what I mean by “unicorns.” You know how no one with a philosophy degree ever finds a use for it? At dinner one night, I was talking to another writer who admitted she’d majored in philosophy. “Did that turn out to be useful?” I joked, fully expecting her to laugh and tell about her mother’s despair at the endless string of fast-food jobs philosophy degrees usually auger. “Well, I guess so,” she said to my surprise. “I’m teaching philosophy at XXX College now.”
Seriously? These people do not exist. A total unicorn.
A day later, on a drive back from the Ojo Caliente hot mineral springs spa (yeah, we totally took a day off from the writing — mud baths, too!), one of the poets in my car protested that “poets can make money! I did it.” I asked her to explain, and she spilled the details of her recent win of a major national poetry competition, the prize being publication of her debut chapbook AND a wad of money. Sweet. And also, a unicorn.
So, you know how your mom told you to for-Gods’-sake go to law school and not that Creative Writing program that was just a money pit and who ever gets a job as a writer anyway?*
Yeah, turns out? This conference was full of exceptions to the norm.
And the readings — every night, the unicorns read from their work. And it was glorious. First off, I took this picture from my outside seat on the second night:
And the words they read… I was stunned. I’ve never been in a group that was so talented, such a large gathering (about 80 of us) who all had something to say , and had found a way to say it that transformed the listener. Poetry that brought tears to my eyes, short fiction that made me laugh so hard I thought I’d pee, excerpts of novels that made me grab my pen and write down the name of the book so I wouldn’t miss it.
Okay, I’m gushing.
Anyway, it was a glorious week. Readings and a keynote address from Marilynne Robinson (who is pretty much a unicorn herself, with her Pulitzer prize and all) set the tone, and Mary Johnson’s surprise Oprah-like book giveaway to the entire assembly (perhaps brought on by the news that Oprah magazine is planning to do a piece on her forthcoming memoir!) wrapped it up nicely.
I’ve never been to any of those other conferences – Breadloaf and the like — but this one was amazing, and I’m so glad I went. Oh, and I also got ten thousand words written on my new, tragically beautiful WIP!
So, Writer Friends, how was your summer vacation?
* Okay, to be fair, my mother never said that to me. But I knew a lot of other writers whose moms did. My mom was mostly happy I wasn’t going to law school. I think.