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You could be anyone

Oh you guys, the Indiana University Writers Conference was so awesome.

I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome it was. Everyone was awesome. Awesome. It’s an overused word, but I mean it in the truest sense: I am full of awe.

Every day, I took a tiny little cranky elevator down to the Writer Camp headquarters and then sat in a classroom where we talked about the process and wrote some words and then wrote some more words and then Lynda Barry would make us laugh and then we’d all evacuate when the screenwriting lady came in, and I’d go sit in the cafeteria and try to find something edible (true fact: nothing served at the Indiana Memorial Union is actually edible unless it’s a naked scotcheroo pile (You know how delicious scotcheroos are? How normal people make the scotcheroo filling and then press it into a pan and cover it up with melted chocolate chips? Yeah, well, the geniuses at the University of Indiana skipped that there step and just dumped the filling into a pile to be served as an “no bake cookie” or whatever they called it but I’m here to tell you: it was a pile of scotcheroo guts and it was delicious and totally worth catching the diabetes) or a gingerbread man with red hot eyes (apparently these are famous or something because everyone was talking about them. I don’t know why the scotcheroo piles aren’t famous but the gingerbread men WERE pretty good) and read tons of short stories and write cogent and thoughtful critiques (at least I tried) and then eventually wandered across the campus, through oh my god unbelievable heat and humidity (look, I spent most of May in Las Vegas and I’m telling you, this was some egregious heat) into a scarcely cool classroom building to discuss character intent with a bunch of other word nerds. And it was bliss.

Bliss with scotcheroo pile cookie things.

This conference totally made up for the last two conferences I went to, the one where Amy Hempel couldn’t be arsed to show up and the other one where everyone seemed like they spent more time talking about writing than actually writing. I’ll admit: I’m in danger of falling into that camp and I recognize that those people are INSUFFERABLE to be around. You know who is awesome to be around? Lynda Barry. No lie. I have a crush. I’m not even joking that I’m placing her up on a pedestal next to Mr. Rogers.

I may have cried on her a little bit on the second to last day, but then she made up for it for being a dirty rotten cheat at drinking games that night. Oh yeah, I may have gone out drinking with Dan Chaon and Lynda Barry. Just a little bit.

I also made new writing friends. They are awesome and made me happy and also, gave me hope for writing conferences of the future (also, weirdly a lot of my new writing friends are blonde! And beautiful. Writers are pretty sometimes. It’s true!) Fantastic stories in my fiction workshop! Ones that didn’t start with alarm clocks going off. Brilliant discussions and also, writer dinners at weird ethnic places, filled with laughing and gossip and then readings EVERY blessed night. This is pretty much my idea of heaven, right there. Plus, free wine (although I rarely had any because it was so fucking hot that I drove the 11 blocks to the reading every night. Also, the readings happened right in the middle of the two block Bermuda Triangle where Lauren Spierer disappeared and everyone was kind of freaked out about walking alone at night.)

I have but one regret and it is that I was not able to get my phone out fast enough to record Dan Chaon saying “Wendy Wimmer is beautiful.”* And then when I DID have it out, he refused to say it again. He’s wily, that Dan Chaon. Brilliant and more than a little wily.

There were so many fantastic moments, like when Lynda* mooned me or when I recognized a fellow bloggers work being cited in the blogging session being referred to as a Mommy blogger (and is, in fact, a dude and would likely be very upset or conversely turned on by the confusion) or skipping the Mexican Mennonite movie to go watch XMen at the local cinema like a fucking bad ass (and finding out later that it was probably the smartest decision I made all week) or trying a voodoo spell to help the ancient hotel room’s thermostat dip below 73 degrees or when Dan* walked into workshop, sat down and said “Wendy… darlin… Mommy’s not feeling so good right now”.  There are too many choice moments to pick from and I couldn’t possibly do any of them justice to describe them, especially when the only words that float into my brain are “Again! Again! Again!”

But perhaps it is this one that was the truest to the reason I went.

One night before dinner, I was waiting for my writing posse to check out a Turkish restaurant for dinner and Dan Chaon was reading the newspaper, probably waiting for HIS posse, so he called me over to chat while we waited.

At one point, after telling him about how I defended his honor during my master’s thesis committee, I said “Ok, so I’m here to learn how to write a novel… so, how do you do that?” and I googled my eyes at him, because even though my last blog post promised that I wouldn’t get too tongue-tied around Mr. Chaon, I still acted like a class one dork half of the time (Note to famous writers: I’m actually quite reserved and normal, despite appearances(I’m probably lying right now)) and he shrugged and said “You just do it.”

And then I whined about outlines and snowflake methods and might have said “I don’t know how to DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO IIIIIITTTTTTTTTT” like I was eight and someone just asked me to do something I resented like picking up dog vomit or running a marathon or climbing the wall on an obstacle course — or all of those things combined.

He waved me off and said “Nah, forget all of that stuff. Just write it. Just dive in from chapter one page one. You can fix it later.”

It’s some powerful faith, for those of us who are so worried about mucking things up with our clumsiness that we are frozen. Those ideas inside our head are so perfect right now, just as they are, and we’re absolutely certain that we’re just going to fuck everything up. But apparently the trick is in just closing your eyes and diving in.

So here we go.

*SO much better than France!