Monthly Archives: July 2012

Five Hundred Writers in Search of an Agent

There we were, five hundred attendees at a conference wearing “Character” tags around our necks and carrying totes emblazoned with the same word. A clown convention, you ask? No, nothing other than the 57th annual PNWA’s Writers Conference, which just concluded this week. Of course I don’t know of a writer who isn’t, in some way, a character.

You could cut through much of this Seattle summer in UGGS and a down parka. Throughout the conference, it was day after day of forecasts reading “a high of 67.˚” And nature even threw in a little rain. Everyone from all the baking and broiling states had to love it.

Writers attend a writers conference for a host of reasons: to hone our craft, to get out of the house and find our tribe, but the biggest catch of all has to be landing an agent. From the moment the registration desks opened, there were power pitch sign-ups and opportunities to practice one’s pitch with fellow attendees. Scheduled into Power Pitch Blocks A-F over the course of the next few days, we were just out of the gate and everything was building to the pitch: the 3 minute opportunity to capture the imagination of an agent. Each writer would have a few stabs at it, as many agents and editors as one writer could see inside a designated block of time. Entering the big top for Power Pitch A, I didn’t know how this would work.

The agents and editors were seated at one impossibly long table with a perpendicular row of chairs before each one. This is where the expectant writers sat, moving up one chair at a time, until it was our time to pitch. And if I think the pressure was on us, I can only imagine what it must have been to be the agent or editor—much like the target in a carnival booth. Receiving one pitch after another, after another….

I fit in four pitches and had requests from each agent to send material. Exhausted and elated, the conference ended. Now home to deliver. To anyone out there who wants to be a writer, I hope you have a lifetime as it may take it. Perseverance, passion, and a bit of carnival-like luck.

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Tracing Our Life Stories

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the very first time.” T. S. Eliot

Summery children’s voices through open windows. Wagons, scooters, and strollers–all the apparatus of play. A brother and sister squeeze into a pint-sized motorized car on a sidewalk which is well off the road. The littlest fellow across the street sports an electric bike. He had to have that, I suppose, as his dad rides a motorcycle–to Amazon everyday, where he’s a manager in cloud computing. An Amazon server was recently effected by thunderstorms in the area, but it’s all back up and running, the boy on the electric bike, the man on the motorcycle, and all the companies reliant on Amazon’s cloud service.

One evening in book group we realized that all of us are originally from the East Coast. Our individual paths, however, took us all over the map as we actively shaped our life stories into the tales we can tell today. Though some folks take a more direct route to where they are going or draw no map at all, they are probably not people I know. The people I know tend to be complex, which has me thinking there are a lot of labyrinths walking around amongst us.

I am careful not to call us mazes. A maze is a more crazed path with built-in trickery: dead ends, roundabouts, and decisions to be made at every turn. It’s doable, but usually with difficulty. Lucky are the labyrinth meanderers amongst us! Endlessly winding and understanding that there is only one path and it is your path and you are following it, going forward. Following a labyrinth course, and seeing one’s life as such, is a right-brain activity. It quiets the mind. There is but one choice and that is to follow it, however indirect or circuitous. “A labyrinth is a place you go to get found,” notes writer Sally Quinn, who commissioned to have a 50′ labyrinth built for her walking/meditation purposes in a clearing by the woods at her home in Maryland.

Well, maybe our paths have not been altogether labyrinthian either. Labyrinths are whole and circular with a center. Where you go in is where you come out, and its paths turn and gently fold alongside themselves much like brain matter. I drew my life journey by placing a piece of tracing paper over a map, starting of course with where I began, where I was born. From there, a line drawing of a mythical creature began to evolve and put down legs–if only to spring from. In it I see a deer in flight, a kangaroo, or wallaby, bounding off hind legs. Or possibly an ostrich or emu, sprinting off and landing here, in The Pacific Northwest. The Southern points on my map (St. Thomas, San Diego, and Tucson) were primarily for pushing off, as I know now that I had to go there to get here.

I have been living out West for half my life and my mother in New England still expects I will “move back home.” I am at home, or rather, where I am meant to be on my life’s journey. Whatever the animal/bird pictograph that is my life’s line drawing, it was always heading here. How many times in the woods I’ve remarked, “If I were a deer I’d live here!” And as bald eagles glide at tremendous height over the Puget Sound, “If I were a bird this is where I’d come to live!”

Maybe my mother knows something I don’t. That family plot down by The Connecticut River reserved by my grandparents so long ago for all the clan…. I haven’t decided. I may get lost in the woods yet or fall into the sea, but that plot, I suppose, would make this life story all the more labyrinthine.

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Goodbye to a Market

Warning: I’m in a dirty rotten supermarket sort of mood.

A sad thing happened this week in our Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle: the dear little Metropolitan Market closed its doors. Let me say, Metropolitan Market was one of the reasons we moved here. We drew an area about six blocks around “The Ave” and confined our house hunt to that. The idea was to live where we would always walk to town, whatever the weather, and no matter how old we may grow to be. We had found our village in the city. “Why drive, when you can walk?” is our motto, and Metropolitan Market was central to our lifestyle.

Now I don’t know what is coming in, but I do know that recent development in town would have it that every block look the same. Metropolitan Market was different, mid-century architecture, impeccably kept, the staff most personable, produce you could trust to be organic (vs. the supermarket trick, or so I’ve heard, of replacing an empty organic bin with the other variety), and the foods they made, the soups, cioppino, sushi, Dungeness crab cakes, and bakery goods, splendid enough to go on the finest dining table. It was where we all placed our order for fresh turkeys every November, and could find quality kitchenware, chocolates, magazines, and even literary journals. Outside, a plant stand to rivel any street corner in Paris. Come to think about it, Metropolitan Market was our only local nursery too. Now I really am depressed.

Plus I have just come back from a very crowded Safeway where the music is sick, the loudspeakers are loud, the prepared food is fried and the like—although nobody eats like that except maybe the construction workers on their breaks (the ones who are tearing the town down). I don’t know who is employed at Safeway or where they come from, and as for the floral department, their way with plants is to dye phalaenopsis orchids blue.

I simply have to find a way around supermarkets. Something I can walk to, such as the bucolic farmers market on Thursdays. Come winter, move downtown and shop Pikes Market? Everything that is anything is so much further now and it’s time to go from carrying totes to using that cart I bought. A rainproof canvas shopping cart, bright red so cars can see me on gray days. I haven’t taken it out yet because I have some things to work out. My cart questions: do I push it or pull it? Do I push/pull it down the aisles and put the groceries I want to buy into my cart, and take them all out at the register, or will I look like I am shoplifting and be apprehended? Or should I fold up my cart and put it in the grocery’s shopping cart when I arrive?

Didn’t I know this would happen? A long time ago, after my first marriage fell apart, I lived in NYC for a year. I wish I could tell you it was marvelous: The Met! Lincoln Center! Central Park! But it wasn’t. Not that year. I was half crazy with a broken heart, and Central Park wasn’t even considered safe in the daytime. I don’t know if you could call it a phobia exactly, but I developed an irrational fear of bag ladies that year. Not a loathing, more of a trembling. An apprehension that it could happen to me. I knew that there had to be a story behind each and every one of these ladies, and my best guess was that some man had left her in the lurch. I am not sure if I ever got over this fear per se, but I up and moved to California. And now, here I am, thirty-something years later, further up the coast, and about to take up a cart myself. Didn’t I know it?

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What’s Going On

We’ve been floating around in the Puget Sound for a few days, tying up at one idyllic island after another. Today we’re at Orcas Island. In a couple days we will move over to San Juan Island. My parents are out boating with us for ten days, and our daughters joined us for the weekend until they flew off on a seaplane to begin getting back to The Bay Area, back to work. The sun was gracious enough to stay out for the days when we were three generations on board one modest boat, so we could sit on deck. Now the four of us are huddled in the cabin, in the rain, reading books.

This was the first time since leaving the mainland we dragged out our laptops and checked in with the world. I wish we hadn’t. Pouring rain might be boring, but knowing the U.S. has sent a flotilla of war vessels to the Persian Gulf has my blood boiling. We have a veteran of WWII on board, and to my mind and his, the U.S. has not involved itself in a war worth fighting since. To me it’s all been the same damn thing since Vietnam. To my dad, since World War II.

Not long ago in downtown Seattle I saw signs carried in a demonstration that caused that déjà vu feeling where the sidewalk beneath starts to melt or break up. Crossing Pike or Pine, I felt as though I had traveled in time. I was sure I had carried these signs before. Startling familiar, the diagonal red, white, and blue, the same graphics of the NO IRAQ WAR signs. For a moment it looked like the same war, the same mistake, was coming around again. Until I got closer. Everything on the sign was identical but the Q had been changed to an N and NO IRAN WAR was the message now. I am going to need one of these signs bad.

Out here it’s the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Over there it’s the Strait of Hormuz.

My dad suggests that I not make too much of it (which no doubt I already have). Try not to worry, these maneuvers happen and sometimes have to be made. It’s a giant game of calling someone’s bluff, I guess. Let’s hope it works. The stakes keep getting higher.

In the meantime the sun has come back out in the Pacific Northwest and the skies are scrubbed to the cleanest, brightest blue possible. The last wisps of fog rise rapidly off evergreen hillsides, the sea glistens deep and black, and bleached white clouds show us the way. We slip into the dingy and are off—leaving our land cares on land. It always works.

We’ll be back, and may celebrate the 4th afterall.

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