Letter to a friend, with a poem at the end

Dear …

I thought of you just now. I am sitting in this renovated 13th-century Italian convent between Rome and Florence, a short walk up from the train station, and your face  drifted into view. There were a lot of people here for ten days but they all left on the train today. I suppose suddenly being alone was one reason I thought of you. There had been little time to really think. Now I am alone.

I wanted to tell you some things, just being truthful, not wanting anything specific or immediate from you, but not wanting to offend you either with my bald frankness, which I realize has sometimes seemed uncivilized or cruel. As you may know, I was raised by people who spoke sharply to each other as a rule, and to us kids, with the understanding that sharp words were intellectual love and honesty. We spoke to each other with such words and it was not seen as cruelty or even bad manners. It was a point of pride. We knew what we meant.

But my wife has taught me many things in the 20-odd years we have been married. I have come to see how being too honest too quickly can seem cruel. In the spirit of that honesty, though, I will say up front that I do want something from you. Of course we all want things from each other all the time. But sometimes wanting something can cast doubt on the sincerity of what we are saying: Why are you telling me this now? You must want something from me.

Let me do this in my way. I just want to be honest, more honest than I would be if we were face to face. I want to say that I thought of you and believe it or not I felt gratitude. The word “gratitude” is in trouble these days from reckless overuse. It hardly means anything. There is even a restaurant near where I live called “Cafe Gratitude.” But I do want to say I am grateful, meaning conscious of having received much from you.

It is hot here in Castiglion Fiorentino today, hotter than we expected it to be in June. Another workshop starts in two days. People will begin arriving tomorrow. So I have only a little time. This lack of time may be one reason I got to thinking about all the people, like you, whom I’ve been able to meet and write with over the last eight years. You know, we always say in these workshops, “Let’s reflect back what we remember, what sticks with us.” I remember many things about you but some of those things have blended into a composite picture.

Here is something I wrote in the workshop yesterday, on the last day, which I thought I would send to you, which in a personal way sums up where I’m at, what it’s like to be me today. I share this because I have seen, over the years, what happens when people keep coming to these workshops. We go deeper and we get better at being able to capture a moment, where we’re at.

We’re not all big amazing genius type writers and I don’t give a damn about that, frankly. I feel that writing in this way, in a group, has given my writing something else, a home separate from the world of publication. Writing that is published has one kind of home, a big, public home where many shoppers come and go, and people can pick it up and make judgments about it, or dismiss it or do whatever they want with it. Here, though, in the group, it is like we are writing in someone’s home, and everyone is more attuned to the personal implications of each piece, and how we are affected by what is said and not said.

So I have the world that I write for publicly, and this world, where I write things and share them immediately, like just-baked biscuits. They get consumed fresh and that is that and we move on. That’s what I give a damn about: the feeling of having a home for my creative practice.

There are probably reasons that I am more comfortable sharing in a group than publishing, or at least as comfortable, and maybe we will talk about them at another time. But for now, I wanted to share with you this, a just-written piece, not agonized over, not polished but fresh and perhaps revealing in ways that I am not aware of, but which I don’t mind … while I have a moment, before the next nine-day workshop begins:

 

Is this a turning point?
Am I at a turning point?
How the hell would I know?
I know my history.

I remember running as a kind of change.
The only way I knew to change was to run.
Every word seems full of other meanings.
Are we in the dark or have we found a fertile garden?
Everything is ripe with more meaning than is wanted.

I know that in the past I turned and ran. Rant.
Plots have turning points. Plots are also graves.
The turning point. Remember that movie? It was
About ballet. Oh well. A plot is a grave and a
Turn is a spin and a point is an infinitesimal idea.

I learned that in geometry. Are we getting off the subject?
Welcome to the stream I dip my toe in.

Wood smoke. Bird cries. This endless thing.
Looking for a turning point, a radius. I wish I
could be witty. Is this a turning point? I have always
run. Now I try to pivot.

So I say to the therapist that I later fired,
I hate my house. He says, you hate your house?
He didn’t say anything about the house as metaphor.

Can I take a different road? Can I live in Italy?
What I came to San Francisco for now is gone.

I’m thinking about a wire transfer. Is that part of the turning?
I love the words that things are made of: wire, and transfer,
The things that money are made of, the keystrokes, the clatter,
the random number generator and who tracks, who sees, the
random numbers generated? This intrigues me as I wonder
If I am turning.

Could I simplify? Wood smoke like visiting Grandma Ann.

Now all these feelings start to come up. Why do we say come up
And not arrive, or fall down? Why do they come up? Are they
Being held down? I guess so. Duh. That’s how we do it, that’s our
Metier, our special Nordic genius for drinking and shutting up.

Shutting up and shutting down the
things that would come up or out; ever
think of that? We shut up but there is an object too that is then imprisoned.
=================

And then I’m sure there is more. But what I wanted to share with you was that. And I said I wanted something and yes, I do. I want these workshops, when we come back to San Francisco, to be big and full of joy. I want you to come. I want you to make time in your life for these workshops, so you will share these things with me. I want them to be big, like celebrations. I want you to feel free to dig deep and be respected. I want the house to be full of your spirit once again.

Thank you for rejecting me. I feel a whole lot better now!

 

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: RE: [Fence] Wading in Shallow Water with Architects
From: “Fence” <notifications@email.submittable.com>
Date: Tue, July 01, 2014 12:43 pm
To: “Cary Tennis” <cary@carytennis.com>

Dear Cary Tennis,

Thank you for sending us “Wading in Shallow Water with Architects.” We appreciated having the chance to read the work, but we feel that it is not for us.

Thanks again.

Sincerely,

Fence Editors

======

Thanks. OK. That’s cool. I can handle it. It’s not a big deal. It’s not like I’m going to go out and cut myself or anything. I just thought after all these years writing things I should start sending them out. Not that I thought you would publish it. Or anybody would. But just to, you know, like participate. Like because of a certain felt connection. Not that I care. Not really. Should I? Why would I? Why would I care if somebody published or did not publish a piece of writing I sent them? What difference would it make? Would it change anything? So why would I get upset — not that I am upset, mind you; I’m perfectly content — but why would I, just because I put some words into the computer and my the miracle of the Internet caused them to go somewhere and be read by someone else and then caused that person to make a decision, perhaps a quick but nonetheless sure and final decision, not to try to find a place in the magazine for those words. Why would that matter? Why would I get upset? Not, like I say, that I am getting upset. Just hypothetically. Because I’ve heard that some people do. Some people put such stock in these things, acceptance, recognition.

Those people must have low self-esteem. They must have made some poor choices in life. To base their well-being on something so fragile and out of their control as the acceptance or non-acceptance of a piece of writing by a literary journal, even a literary journal with which they feel a strange kind of simpatico, even a very strong yet strange sense of simpatico. A person like that, you’ve gotta figure, must be kind of messed up. Like maybe they had a childhood in which there was not a lot of physical affection and straight-ahead emotional support. Maybe. Just hypothesizing why anyone would put too much store in such a high-risk/low-reward endeavor as the publishing of small pieces of admittedly disordered and not altogether well-thought-out or well-structured literary prose, and you can put literary in quotes as I don’t think it really means all that much now. So, I just wanted you to know, you know, that like I said it doesn’t really affect me. Well, OK, now, it does affect me, right, or I wouldn’t be writing this? Right? OK, so it affects me. But not that much. Like I’m not going to jump off a bridge or anything just because Fence magazine didn’t choose to print this strange little thing I wrote. I mean, OK, I’m not going to drink either. But I might just make a big Fuck You pot of strong black assam tea and drink two cups really fast with sugar and then feel all nervous and hyper for an hour! Just to make a statement! Just to say, OK, yes, I was bullshitting you, and actually it does affect me. A little. Not a lot but a little. Now maybe that has to do with years of unresolved feelings and certain memories of abject failure and insult at the hands of teachers and other figures of authority. And maybe, OK, maybe unresolved feelings about the purpose of writing and of literature, and feelings toward the kind of people who get involved in it, who sometimes tend to be kind of, well, I’m not saying weaselly necessarily, or overly intellectual and self-involved, but let’s just say, OK, as long as we’re being honest here, that I don’t really want to hang out with you, either, OK? I mean if you think just because you didn’t accept my piece of work that makes you somehow better than me well you just have another think coming, ok, Buster? You get what I’m saying? Because you are no better than me. You may have more money and intelligence and a better education and come from more stable, interesting, well-adjusted and successful parents, and you may have better social network and be better adjusted to the demands of today’s workplace and maybe you have great sex often, too, and maybe people see you and instinctively like you and want to be your friend, and maybe you genuinely have a pretty amazing talent in the world of creative writing. OK. That could be. You probably dress well and have funny things to say that other people would have thought of eventually but you think of them right away. That’s possible. I’m not saying it’s not. But that still doesn’t make you better than me. Because I am just fine. I’m not bothered in the least. I am, to tell you the truth, just happy to be here and to be able to put together a little piece and send it to you. In fact, I’d say it was a fortuitous event just that I did it. I’m just proud that I took the time to put that little piece together and send it to you. And that I had the good taste to send it to you instead of some other inferior publication that other people might think is cool but which we both know is just a pale imitation of some avant-garde notion that has already expired from overuse. So I’m feeling pretty good about that, actually. Even to be rejected by you is better than being rejected by some of those other folks. In fact, more I think about it, it’s not just better, it’s kind of cool! In fact, it’s great. In fact, come to think of it, it’s a frigging miracle that I was even able to write that little piece that you so quickly and offhandedly rejected. But I wonder if you even read it. I mean I wonder if you read it carefully and thought about what went into it, and recognized the subtle patterns in the words. They aren’t obvious patterns. I’m not one of those obvious people you see sending stories full of plot and character and consequence and ideas and social insight. That’s not the kind of thing you like anyway. There were more like little murmurs of pattern in there. I thought you might pick up on that. But no, you were probably thinking about some girl you’re going out with who comes from a good family and has a place up in Maine for the summertime. That’s what you were thinking. And all about the boat her dad has and how it’s so nice up there in the summertime. Like you maybe just weren’t thinking straight. That’s OK. That doesn’t bother me in the least. Because I know a thing or two. I know how things work. So don’t worry about me. I’m fine. You have more things to worry about than me. I’m just one little person out here, one person among many. Why would that matter to you? Why would you get all concerned about me when you have this girlfriend with the place up in Maine, and all that great educational background and stuff? You wouldn’t. And who would blame you? Certainly not me. I’m OK. I’m fine. I’m not at all affected by this rejection. Well, OK, like I say, a little bit. But not enough for you to concern yourself with. You just go ahead with your rejecting all the other little submissions until you find one you like, which is probably by a friend of yours, or a student of one of your former teachers who somebody said was really brilliant, or you met at a party or owe a favor to. Not that the whole thing is rigged. Not at all.
So you don’t worry about me one bit, young man, or young lady. I can handle it. I’ve been rejected by people a whole lot cooler than you. I’ve been rejected by Paris Review and the New Yorker, so you can just stop standing there with that proud smirk on your face. I’ve been rejected by people you’ve never even heard of. So there.
Just go on about your day. Don’t give it a second thought. You know you’ve got things to do. It isn’t even worth thinking about , is it?
Except … and this is not really a big deal … but what if I was to kill myself because of this rejection? How would you feel then, you heartless literary magazine rejecter? How would you feel then, if you learned that it was right after receiving this particular rejection, out of all the hundreds that one receives (doesn’t one?), that I decided this is enough, the jig is up, it’s time to cash it in? Think about it. I’ll bet you do think about it, in fact. I’ll bet you think about it all too often. In fact, I’ll bet that’s what’s been troubling you, and that’s why you rejected this piece: Because you are dealing with a deep contradiction in your own soul. Of course! And that’s what happened. This piece of mine, which actually, OK, since I wrote it, must actually be brilliant even though nobody really recognizes that brilliance except me, this piece must have triggered some awful psychological breakdown in you, so that you were unable to think clearly and see its brilliance, and had, instead, like a person who is repressing some awful but unavoidable truth, you had to reject it.

You had to reject it! You had to! Of course you had to. I understand now. I understand everything! Everything is forgiven, poor man!

Well. I guess that settles that. So I don’t hate you or want to come to your office and shove you up against the desk and slap your face. Why would I want such a thing? Who would even have such thoughts? Certainly not me. No, I’m fine. This is my little lot in life and I accept it. In fact, like I said, I’m kind of glad. In fact, it’s a frigging miracle. A miracle!
A miracle, I say! It’s a miracle! Thank you! Thank you for rejecting my piece! Thank you! It’s a miracle!

I don't mind! Why would I mind? It's fine! Everything's fine! Reject me! Go ahead and reject me! There's always tomorrow! The future is bright! Don't give it another thought. Just go about your day like nothing happened. I'm OK. Really. I'm fine! It's a miracle!

I don’t mind! Why would I mind? It’s fine! Everything’s fine! Reject me! Go ahead and reject me! There’s always tomorrow! The future is bright! Don’t give it another thought. Just go about your day like nothing happened. I’m OK. Really. I’m fine! It’s a miracle!

Caring for the writing self

I have learned a lot in the last seven years about caring for the writing self and the creative soul. Some of the things I have learned have helped other people, too.

Doing the Amherst Writers and Artists method has become a way of life. Many people I have met while doing this have become dear friends whose occasional appearances are now cherished events in the week.

The role of teacher is one I take reluctantly. I never liked teachers much; I was kind of rebellious I guess, and independent, resistant to being led. Yet I believe fervently in the effectiveness of people coming together to write and read aloud in a structured way. The part of being a teacher that I take reluctantly is the authority part, the part that implies that you should do things my way.

Many of us have been conditioned in childhood to denigrate our creative selves. I was lucky not to have this conditioning from my parents. My parents valued my creative spirit, so I am not damaged in that way, and I can therefore share with others a fresh delight in creative exploration.

Like everyone else, I do have a shadow side related to my creative work. But it mainly comes out when I cannot be as free and creative as I was meant to be.

The AWA workshop is the ideal setting for me to help others reach their creative potential. One thing I know from long experience is that artistic success and accomplishment take unexpected forms and involve unexpected difficulties. One aspect of creative endeavor we can control is the regularity and quality of our practice. We cannot control our level of genius or our talent but we can control our level of commitment, and we can consciously acquire knowledge about techniques and markets. We can choose what books to read. We can read books that acquaint us with current forms and techniques. We can to some extent control the amount of time we give to the endeavor, and we can find ways to build it into our lives. We can make conscious sacrifices that give more time to creative work.

This is why I keep doing the AWA method, because it is one conscious choice I can make to continually feed the creative spirit. Each time we come together to write, it strengthens us a little more. However uncertain the future may appear, however distant we may feel from having a completed book and an agent and a publishing deal and a movie option and syndication and residuals and book tours and awards and wide publication and fame, however distant these things may seem, we can always make day-to-day choices that keep our creative practice alive. We can always keep writing. And we can enjoy it.

That is why I keep providing these workshops and urge people to attend. Because the creative spark, the spirit, needs to be fed.

Another part of the creative journey is the practical realm: gaining recognition, acceptance, publication, monetary rewards, etc. Learning about this is like learning about any set of institutions and practices; it is a little like learning about how to get into a school, or how to get a job. There is an application process. So we have to ask, What are the requirements? Who are these people who work in publishing for a living and how does one, in essence, get a job with them? When we publish something we enter into a kind of employment. We don’t like to think of creative endeavors in this way, perhaps, but when we offer our work for sale we are economic actors. It may be called “cultural” activity but it is in fact economic. At the fringes of the literary economy are magazines supported by grants of money from funding organizations, universities, philanthropists and so forth, which take only minimal ir any advertising and keep their shelf prices low. But it is all economic activity. It is all the trading of labor and materials. The rewards are sometimes emotional, having to do with status and self-worth. But these too are economic drivers.

It is important to understand this in order to protect the creative spirit. For if we fail to get published we must understand it is probably because we did not gauge the economics of it; we did not understand that we were in a role of selling our work, and selling our work means tailoring it to the market. Certain segments of that market may be hungry for extremely unusual, idiosyncratic, nearly unintelligible work that seems to come from a primitive or intensely intellectual source; a small number of people hunger for work that is wild and  strange and disjointed; they hunger for surrealism or dadaism or impenetrable intellectual prose; they do constitute a market but it is a small market because they are rare, unusual people. The masses tend to enjoy writing of a more pedestrian sort. I tend to be of the more rare sort who likes extremely strange work but paradoxically I want to write for a large audience so I try to write in forms that are widely accessible.

If we are to nuture and protect our creative selves we must be practical and realize that not everything we produce is going to be met with love and approval; a lot of what we produce will have to be adjusted for a market if it is going to be published. So another purpose of the workshops is to strengthen artistic self-esteem so that we do not fall apart when we realize we have to revise or rethink our work for a particular market, so that we know we are keeping our creative spirits alive and fresh even though we need to go through cycles of revision and critique for the market.

The workshops keep it fun, and enliven our sense of self-worth, and keep it separate from the sometimes slow, grinding and unpleasant tasks necessary to get our work published.

That’s also why I am always trying to learn about literary agents, publishing and markets. I want my work to be read; I want to be a part of the conversation. I don’t just write for myself. Writing helps me stay psychologically healthy but I don’t write for therapy. I write to be a part of the larger world, to connect. So if you are trying to find an agent, or get your work published in small magazines, or make a living as a freelancer, I am interested in hearing from you. This is the world that I know and love. I have mostly made my living by writing, and that world makes sense to me — more sense than the other main repository of writers, which is the educational world. I have mostly done journalism and am coming late to the world of literary book publishing, which does seem to be more closely allied with universities and less with what I consider the more street-level activities of journalism, activism and performance.

Anyway, there are many ways to feed the creative spirit and my workshops are just one way. I hope you will find as many ways as you can to feed this vital part of your self. I am doing my small part to keep the world a creative, vibrant, interesting place for us all. I hope to see you often and to always lend a helping hand to help you find new avenues of expression.
— Cary T.

Do you have a project you need to finish? Is it driving you nuts?

FinishedCropWouldn’t you feel great if you finally got it done?

Finishing School is a way to get things done when nothing else has worked.

It doesn’t matter what the thing is. Finishing isn’t about the mechanics of the task. It’s about the process, or method, of finishing. It’s very simple. It is easy to learn.

If you have tried scheduling, will power, time management, getting up earlier, taking off a day, enlisting the help of experts, doing copious research, asking your friends for help, starting over, and a million other things, and this one thing still isn’t done, then try Finishing School. Because obviously those other methods didn’t work.

And don’t give up! Come to Finishing School and let us help you get it done.

This method will work. If it doesn’t, just tell me and I’ll give you your money back. I’ll be glad to give you your money back because I’ll be learning something from you. It’ll be useful research-type information. Nobody has asked for their money back yet but eventually someone will, and when that happens I will congratulate them and thank them, because that will help us improve the method.

But for now, people come to finishing school and they finish whatever it is. And you can too.

What are you putting off? Is it a lifelong dream? Is it a project around the house? Does it involve the prospect of an unpleasant conversation? The risk of rejection or disappointment?

Whatever. The main thing is that it’s something that needs to be done and it’s not done so it’s bugging you. But you’re finally ready to do something about it.

Good for you.

sign up.

Or if you’re not quite sure, email me at cary@carytennis.com and tell me about your situation.

Writing workshops with Cary Tennis

The Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method helps people write. It’s that simple.

•It helps beginners and it helps professionals.
•Plus it’s fun!

How does it work? Well, I’ve been leading AWA workshops for over seven years and what I’ve seen in those seven years is people coming in who may have written a lot in the past and got stuck, or are currently writing but troubled with anxiety or blocks, or people who have never written a lot but always thought they’d like to. And what happens as we write together in a group and then read aloud, commenting only on what we remember and what sticks with us, is that people loosen up and begin to write more fluidly and with ease. That’s what I’ve observed.

How does it do that? Well, I’d suggest you read Writing Alone and With Others, the book by Pat Schneider, who created this method. I read it in 2007 and then took a week-long workshop with Pat Schneider in Berkeley, California, and subsequently became a certified workshop leader. I use her method because it works. It is best experienced rather than explained. Join us for a session and see if it doesn’t open up new creative vistas for you as it has for me and many others.

Sign up for our Writing Workshop and see what it can do for you!

 


 

 

Why the Creative Getaway is so great

Yesterday in my intro to the column I mentioned “how we need to fill the January getaway,” and that apparently set off some worries, like, it won’t be cancelled, will it?

Of course not. The Creative Getaway Jan. 17-20, 2014 at Marconi Conference Center is definitely happening. It’s just that some people who were hoping to make it found they couldn’t come, so there are some open slots.

Norma said to me, What will we do if there are only 5 people? And I said, Well, they’ll get a very good workshop! They’ll get a lot of attention and will have a lot of time to write! And what if there was only one person? Then we might lose money! It would never occur to me to cancel.

And then I thought, why is that? Why would it never even occur to me to cancel? Am I not thinking enough about the bottom line? And I realized: I’ve never been motivated by money — even when doing business. Business is just a way to make great things happen.

As I thought about it, I realized that’s what it comes down: I don’t do things for money. I do things for their social utility, or for their beauty, or for love. And then I try to figure out how to make the money work. Usually if something is socially useful or beautiful or if there is love involved the money part can be made to work.

It’s so funny what you think of as business expertise — the other night I was at a dinner in San Francisco with some experienced, cosmopolitan people from the world of business journalism — much more sophisticated in the world than I am — a speechwriter for the head of the Federal Reserve, a business editor for a major metropolitan daily newspaper and now for the Wall Street Journal, that kind of person.

You should have seen them trying to figure out the check.

Heck, I can do the arithmetic. But that’s not what the getaway is about. The getaway, if I may be so bold, is really a spiritual and aesthetic experience.

So why is Marconi so special?

Come to think of it, what happens at Marconi fulfills all three of my values mentioned above: It is socially useful, it is beautiful, and it is done with love. That’s why we do it.

It is also a response, a critical response, to contemporary American culture. It is a brief respite from life in America. Most of the time it is like we live in pressure cookers. We run around taking care of business and then we sleep. Underneath all this frenetic activity, our best and highest thoughts, our creative dreams, and our deep pains — the stuff of our souls, basically — simmer, shut off, made to wait. As what is delayed or put aside for later or repressed continues to press against us, at times will become a shadow, threatening and perverse. And that is how we live in America day to day: overworked, insecure, unloved, delaying the best parts of ourselves, hindered in our dreams. And yes, I say, unloved in a way. Unloved for that creative part: the part that dreams.

I feel this. I feel it intensely. But because of the unusual, countercultural way I grew up, because I always assumed I would be an artist, an outsider, mostly broke, because it never occurred to me that I might have a comfortable and secure life, because I never worried about that so much, I take material deprivations with good cheer, feeling essentially taken care of and lucky to live amidst so much luxury and splendor in the U.S. I always go for the risky but true aspiration, the dream that is underneath the daily grind. That seems the natural path. But it is a different path.

That path is what Marconi is about: It is about taking this chance, for just a few days, to live in the realm of the creative, the possible, and the true.

What we do at Marconi is provide a setting in which one can put one’s inchoate dreams first. When that happens energy is released. People make plans and change their lives.

Last year was amazing. Seven women — yes, it was economically perilous, like this one because there were only seven participants; I think we made a profit of $24 but that is the nature of the thing. Sometimes we do well; sometimes we make $24. But what made it socially useful, beautiful and full of love was how the seven women (and yes, it happened to be all women, but it is not by any means always women) bonded and shared their stories, which were amazing and inspiring and at times full of pain and doubt and longing. I won’t go into details but I am looking forward to the return of some of them, to try and shepherd along the stories that began to take shape last year. But not all seven can make it. One, on the strength of her experience last year, entered an MFA program in poetry and is taking up seriously her calling, so she is otherwise engaged this year. She’s very talented. But she found the courage to pursue it at Marconi, in our workshops and in our private conversations. She was clearly a person deeply literate, steeped in the American tradition of poetry. But it was sitting in McCargo Hall, with the freedom to improvise and let her voice rise naturally, like that voice of the baby in Sylvia Plath’s poem “Morning Song” — “And now you try/Your handful of notes;/The clear vowels rise like balloons.” So we’re happy that she is able to do that. People go back to their lives changed in fundamental ways, renewed, ready to be more authentic and to take some chances, awakened to the fragility and brevity of life and determined to be more alive.

People come and they bond with each other and then go on to do things in their lives with more passion and clarity. Like one of our “people of the week,” Amy Souza. Like Bill Kerr, who is organizing writers workshops in Baltimore to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans speak their war-torn truths to power. Like Brian Herrera, who dazzled us with his voice and his performances and is now teaching drama at Princeton. Like Mary Burnham, who found her voice and style and is writing books about wine. Like Lisa Eldridge and Kathy Doran and Gil Schwartz and Gil Gallagher and many, many others. Something starts at Marconi and it echoes and ripples outward into the culture and that is why we do it.

Meanwhile, in the weeks running up to it, I belly-ache. I kvetch. I pace and worry and pace. So what if we make only $24 or even if we lose money? That’s not why we do it. We do it because it is one of the few things in this world that is socially useful, beautiful to behold, and full of love.

It is also a really enjoyable time for me personally. The people at the front desk who run Marconi — Margaret, Julie, Venta and James — are really sweet, kind and likable people, and we love to see them whenever we come up. And the food is outstanding. It is really, really good to eat.

Here’s one other interesting thing about Marconi, which I just realized it has in common with Burning Man: Basically, you don’t spend any money there. Everything is already paid for. It’s subtle, but I think there is something about being liberated from paying for things that releases one more strand of worry, one more little link to the everyday grind. We just go and eat breakfast and then write. Then we eat lunch and write. Then we eat dinner and gather to read and tell jokes or perform or sing, or just crawl into bed in the great, serene, quiet darkness of Tomales Bay, West Marin, the Point Reyes Peninsula a dark finger jutting north into the Pacific.

View from Marconi Conference Center of Tomales Bay

View from Marconi Conference Center of Tomales Bay

There might be a better place than Marconi to do these things, but for the price I haven’t seen it. And we looked around. I mean, when we started out in 2008 we looked around. And we looked around again last year when we thought we might not be getting the best deal, or that people might be tired of Marconi. We looked at retreat centers in Napa and up the coast and down the coast; we looked at a number of well-known and well-regarded centers. But nothing beat Marconi. We just love it. The serenity of the location. I mean, you just have to go there and walk about in the morning and you get it. Or at night, walk up Tower Hill — where the first trans-Pacific wireless receiving station stood in the early 20th century (yes, it’s named for that Marconi), and look up at the sky, or down at the few lights twinkling on the bay.

It is always memorable. So that’s why we do it. There’s no better way to start a new year, in my opinion.

And it’s easy. Whatever needs to be done payment-wise, we’ll do. We’re revamping our Internet store but meanwhile, if you want to go, and you’re not sure about the payment options or how to proceed, or how to get there from the airport, just email info@carytennis.com, or just phone. We’ll work it out. We can run your card, or we can take a check. There are no real barriers.

See you there.

CT

After 12 years writing the column, I lose the job and wonder what’s next

Dear Reader,

Well, I’m in Monterey this morning, here to help some writers. Also here to write on my own.

When I was writing the Since You Asked column for Salon.com, which I did for nearly 12 years, every day I wrote it I wanted to be proud. It was an extraordinary opportunity for a writer, for someone who really doesn’t know how to do much else and so has had to find jobs writing and editing and weather the uncertainties and deprivations of such jobs. Having had writing jobs and lost writing jobs I knew also that it would eventually end. That had been my experience and my observation, that writing jobs end. They live at the most 15 or so years, like dogs. So I was ready for it to end.

But every day until it ended I wanted it to be something I could be proud of. So I never slacked. I never dashed anything off. It may have seemed at times that I did but when the column was sloppy or not well thought out it was just because I reached the limits of my own personal ability. Because I knew it would end and I wanted to serve in that strange army with whatever strange distinction I could muster.

So when I left Salon, when that job ended, I thought at first that the noble and fine thing to do would be to end it. I did not want it to have a sloppy, drawn-out death of half-starts. So if I were to continue, I would have to give it the same effort as before. This I continue to hold to. So if I cannot give it the same attention and care and desperate effort as before, I do not think I should do it.

This raises a problem, because the one reason I was able to throw myself into it every day was that I knew it was paying the bills. I knew that as long as it was a salaried occupation, I could give it everything and be exhausted and unable to do much else for the rest of the day, and that was OK because the nut had been secured.

The nut is now not secured. So when I write the column I must somehow again reach that fevered certainty that what I am doing is vital.

I am going to try to reach that condition by placing “Donate” buttons at the end of the column. I will see if that works. I figure on some days, if the column reaches a person, truly reaches them, changes their life for the moment, as I have been told these columns occasionally do, then it would not be unreasonable to say that such a column might be worth $25, or $50, or more. Not every day of course, but I would like to present that option, that when a column truly moves someone, they can express that, and by doing so, they can keep me writing it. And of course it would also be possible to donate $1, or $5, or nothing. The column would be free. The donation would be like an expression, a statement: Yes, Cary, I want you to keep doing this. Do that again. Here’s some vital inducement to do that again.

Because I really am going to have to figure out how to make a living.

So for today, because I do not feel I can give it everything I have, because I am in Monterey and have to go to breakfast and see if I can be of service to some other writers, because the day is uncertain and I am in a strange hotel, because I never want to rush it or short-change it or cut corners, I do not think I am going to write a column today. Besides, I have to figure out how to work those “Donate” buttons.

Thanks for being there.

CT

p.s. Oh, one other thing. I find that I miss the daily writing for an audience. I have never acquired the habit of blogging about whatever, because that seemed pointless and self-indulgent and also because I had the column as a perfect outlet for my daily writing obsession. But now that I don’t have the column, and I can’t afford, mentally, spiritually and economically, to write the column every day, I may just adopt the habit of blogging every day about just whatever. It would at least give me the illusion of being in touch with others. And the bar would be a bit lower, so that if I had nothing of any consequence to say, I could still meander a bit, like a morning walk with friends, not saying much of anything, just mumbling, but being there.

Anyway, that’s it for today, from me, for real this time, down here in Monterey in the fog, by the beautiful, beautiful sea.

Acclamations, accolades, encomiums, commendations, panegyrics and nice things people say

Even from as far away as Australia, I could feel the relaxed, open atmosphere he created among us and found it surprisingly easy to get writing.

Alice Allan, Melbourne, Australia

I was writing descriptions without events, like jokes without punch-lines. The workshops led me to try more active, engaging and complex storytelling. I gave up some fixed ideas about what kinds of writing I do and what kinds of writing are worth doing. After a while a novel erupted.

Anonymous

I avoid workshops because of the damage they can do to writers. Cary’s workshops are nothing but helpful, quietly and subtly leading writers to do their best in an open and welcoming environment.

Randy Osborne, Author of Big Pinch World, Made of This, and a forthcoming memoir

It was a cozy place with all of us talking across borders. I felt charged, and my imagination took me to various lands. I could be myself.  I had thought I was a certain kind of a writer and then suddenly I wrote about a Pterodactyl and I was like “Whoa… who wrote that?”

 — Geetanjali Dighe, Mumbai

I hadn’t done any real creative writing in years. If only I could find a workshop where my writing wouldn’t get ripped to shreds and I wouldn’t feel like a loser idiot. Cary’s approach is flexible and supportive. The prompts take the work in interesting and unexpected directions.

Lorri Leon, Pacifica, California

Nobody waits with a red pencil, nobody judges. The comments are limited to what rings true, what strikes your imagination. After a while I noticed I was writing to feel that ring of truth for myself.

Leslie Ingham, Palo Alto

We write together. We’re all in the same boat. Now I’m a writer, because here I am, writing. I wouldn’t take a class from anyone else.  I wouldn’t let anyone else see inside my head.

Judy Evans, Los Angeles

The rules protect the often fragile and sensitive nature of writing.  Cary is the ultimate host and leader. I’ve been in writing workshops for over twenty years. This one, by far, is the best. Norma almost always bakes amazing snacks, and the dogs provide a little levity. I would urge anyone to attend a series of these workshops and feel your soul begin to expand.

Julia Penrose, Half Moon Bay, California

The structure is creative and supportive; I like it so much that I’ve been back every week. Writing is part of my life now. I look forward to those two hours of group writing each week, both to spark my own creativity and to hear the amazing things others write.

 — Molly Mudick, Phoenix, Arizona

We write in warm surrounds of vibrant voices from far away places in an intimate cyber-circle. We write of things, ideas and stories that lure and propel. Cary guides us to ways of knowing each other and remembering ourselves. It’s where I breathe deeply and write.

Treva Stose, Annapolis, Maryland

“A writer is someone who writes.” Hearing that line every week and reading my writing aloud, without fear, made it come true. I write. I am a writer. I want to be a surfer… A surfer is someone who surfs. I’ve been surfing since May 2010. I dance harder and smile while I’m moving and twisting my body, because that is what dancers do. I am a dancer. I took pieces of wood from the basement and painted them and hung them on a fence. It’s my gallery. Open studio is tonight. Or tomorrow. Or whenever anyone passes by. … I am an artist.

— Shannon Weber, San Francisco

Links and Exercises for Writers–Books, Blogs, Lists, Etc.

Here are some of the links I mentioned in the Santa Barbara Novel Mentor workshop in February 2013, about dialog, pitches, queries and beginnings of novels.

dialog

Writing Dialog by Tom Chiarella. I lent this book to somebody and have to get it back. It’s a good book. Useful. Interesting.

12 Exercises for improving dialog by John Hewitt. Some of these are pretty good. You can’t go wrong trying things out. The more you do, the more you learn.

And how can you go wrong with dialog advice from Stephen J. Cannell, right?

Also … That dialog exercise we did in the workshop together, that came indirectly from Robert Olen Butler. I liked doing that. I liked the suppressed tension that many of our writings had. And then if you recall I thought, now let’s raise the stakes, and so suggested that we write a dialog between two characters, one of whom asks the other, “What do you want more than anything else in the world … and what are you not willing to do to get it?” That last bit, expressed in the negative, is hard to grasp at first but it’s basically saying, “Would you stop at nothing?”

pitches

Here is former agent Nathan Bransford on the one-sentence pitch.

This from writer Hilari Bell on writing a pitch I find useful because it takes us through several iterations of a hypothetical pitch. Plus, she has a whole bunch more interesting tips here.

Now, of course, this is all in addition to all the things that Michael Neff has to say and all the resources that are on the Algonkian site.

queries

I thought this query letter madlib idea from Nathan Bransford was funny. And maybe it could be useful. As long as what you build on it sounds reasonably like it was written by a human.

openings

I love this long list of novel openings, as well as these 5 ways it can go wrong, both from DarcyPattison.com.

I guess it couldn’t hurt to read this list from the American Book Review of 100 best opening lines, but somehow it leave me flat. I think because there’s no analysis. We don’t really know if those are the best opening lines or they just happen to be the opening lines of some really great novels. Worth thinking about: Would they be in there if the novels that came after them sucked? For instance a couple of them might stop an agent cold. Like No. 65, “You better not never tell nobody but God,” from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982). Or Saul Bellow’s No. 69, “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.” If it wasn’t a famous and great novel by a famous and great novelist, would it get recommended as a great first line? I dunno. I’m just saying. Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964). And there are among them, of course, lines I like a whole lot, like: 67. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. —Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963) and 75. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. —Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929). And here is an appropriately doubting and irreverent take on those same 100 first lines.

OK, so that’s it for now. I just promised at the Santa Barbara conference that I’d get back to you on those links and stuff. You could look forever on the Web for such stuff. I’m not saying all of it is great. I also have some favorite books about writing. Maybe I’ll put some of that together too.

Best

Cary T.

 

 

 

 

Thank you for the Yelps!

I just checked out our Yelp reviews today and I am honored and grateful for all the really thoughtful, funny and kind reviews we received. Here are a few of my favorite outtakes:

“I still don’t understand exactly how it works, but every Wednesday evening, when I’m tired from the day, not feeling particular creative or even enthusiastic, I sit down to write with Cary and the group and somehow – I don’t know how – within 2 hours we have all created the most unique, incredible, original work.”

“Everyone who comes through the door is treated as a writer, and all voices, levels of experience and styles are welcomed.”

“Cary helped me get my very first story published in a real magazine! He’s the best.”

“if he asked I might give him a kidney. The man is a brilliant muse.”

“If I were a poodle, nothing would make me prouder than to take care of Cary and Norma.”

Here’s the link if you’d like to read the actual reviews. Thanks again. We couldn’t keep this going without such generous and talented people in our lives.