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February 28th

Creative Writing San Francisco

Sun, 02/28/2010 - 9:53am


Aloha from Hawaii. I’m writing this to you from the Penthouse floor of the Moana Surfrider on Ohau. Sirens are blaring both in and outside of the hotel. A tsunami warning after the horrible earthquake in Chili.

I’m on an annual getaway with a bunch of friends. A trip I didn’t think I’d be able to afford this year until the prospect of budget cuts leaving me teaching 0-2 classes per week turned into the reality of teaching 9 classes per week. A trip in years past I loved to take turned, in the midst of the busiest and most-charged period of my life, into a trip I felt like I needed to take.

One of my friends in the hotel biz hooked me up with a luxurious room I’d never be able to afford at its normal rate—or even its near-normal rate. I still must work, but working from the beach after doing yoga and then reading in a bed with 400 thread-count sheets feels much more doable than driving from class to class on a motorcycle in the rain. My hotel-biz-friend is the same friend who has us waiting out the tsunami in the penthouse. My room (on the third floor) was evacuated to a public place in the hotel across the street.

Life is so strange.

I also just finished reading TRUTH AND BEAUTY by Ann Patchett. It’s about all the subjects I find endlessly fascinating: family, friendship, writing, the creative process, self-destruction, loss, addiction, and survival.  This book really digs into dumb luck of survival--the randomness and even brutality of it—-she explores what often, and mistakenly, gets reduced down to "the triumph of the human spirit." It details her enormously complicated and compelling relationship to the late writer Lucy Grealy, who’s AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FACE I assigned along with TRUTH AND BEAUTY for my Uses of Personal Experience course at SF State.

Reading the two books back-to-back is, to say the least, an intense experience. The writing achieves, along with the emotional effects, a keen and clear illumination of the life of the working writer. While both women’s careers were full of the requisite struggles, they both also achieved phenomenal success and recognition. There’s a lot to be learned from how the two women handled their success. Everyone always says that it’s the process not the product, but I don’t think it’s that simple.

The Douglass Street Lab, I can hardly believe, is going into its sixth of eight weeks. This session’s group, more newcomers than regulars, more people I’ve met for the first time than people I’ve known before, is producing some of the most charged work I’ve seen. I love the freedom The Lab offers, not ruled by the necessary rules of a university or grant funding. It brings me much joy.

There’s so much more I want to write about. Somehow I want to tie-in the feeling I got reading TRUTH AND BEAUTY, how the narration of Patchett’s memoir maintained its steadily-increasing tension even though the reader knows in advance what will happen—and what it’s like to be waiting for the tsunami to hit from the 21st floor from a penthouse suite—and what it’s like to be waiting to hear if I’ll ever get my first book deal now that my agent has sent out my manuscript to the first round of editors. But I just can’t.
Instead I’m going to press send on this email and then go to then hop the safety railing of the hotel-room’s patio, put of sunscreen and wigs. My friends are going to take silly photos of each other with the ocean in the background and then see if this turns into The Time There Was A Tsunami Warning and We Took Stupid Pictures.