Earlier this year, I applied for the 2020 Novel Writing Workshop with Kij Johnson and Barbara Webb, and I got in. I got the news that I got in right about the same time Covid-19 was shutting down a lot of normal life in this state. Washington, btw, if you aren’t sure where I live.
We weren’t sure if it was still going to happen, and after a few weeks of watching the news, the instructors decided to not have the workshop this year, and instead pre-approve anyone who made the cut for the classes that will be held in 2021. I’m glad that they made that call, because I lost my job about a week after learning I made the cut, and I wasn’t sure how I’d afford two weeks off and a ticket to Kansas on my new budget.
I wait too long to celebrate good news. But at it’s core, making it into the workshop is good news. I love Kij’s writing, and I’ve heard great things about her as an instructor. And at this point, I am having a very hard time making words stick to the screen. Maybe I need a year before I can write a novel. I haven’t written a new short story in… I can’t remember.
My cousin died a few days ago. Michelle. She was so much cooler than me. When my husband and I traveled through California, we stayed with her and her partner at their then home in the country just outside Petaluma. It was this really rad geodesic dome, where Stephen grew forty kinds of peppers and Michelle kept jars of heirloom veg in the basement, along with a strain of very old yeast from what sounded like a very intensive bread baking class. The bees that pollinated the area were among her 40,000 pets- there were boxes of hives at the end of the driveway. Michelle also kept the apple trees that Stephen planted to a reasonable 4, because she wasn’t going to sell apples at the farmers market if he went and planted an orchard. It was easy to feel at home with them even though we didn’t stay long and that was the first time either of them had met my husband.
About 20 years ago, after Michelle had a double lung transplant, she and Stephen backpacked across Europe. I don’t remember if it was a website that she set up, or just emails that she sent to my mom that I got to read– I was still very new to the internet– but I got to follow her travelogue. She was so impressively adventurous.
I miss her. I can’t possibly put into words how much, but I can’t say nothing either. She was amazing, and I miss her.
I’m so sorry for your loss. It sounds like Michelle lived a wonderful, beautiful, full life. And knowing you and your writing, I bet she inspired very magical pieces of it, so it makes sense you’re having some trouble sticking words to the screen right now.
At the risk of sounding condescending, I’m so proud of you and your acceptance into Kij’s workshop. To quote myself, “That’s fucking awesome! You absolutely deserve it!” Sidebar though: while I’m not glad or thankful for Covid and all the weirdness we’re going through right now, I am thankful that the workshop was put on hold for a bit because that gives you some time to grieve, to put the pain and sadness into a better, more manageable place where you can culture it. Like your cousin’s strain of yeast. Old yeast makes the best kind of bread (and beer, must not forget beer, very important). In time your cousin and the memories you have of her and her beautiful, inspiring life will start to color your stories again and they will also be beautiful and inspiring.
(Hm, I just might have used your cousin’s memories in tandem with an analogy about beer. I hope she would think that’s cool and not offensive? She sounds like she might like it though, so I’m keeping it.)
I know you’re going to come out of this workshop an even better writer than you already are, and I’m sure the experience will be one of the best writing experiences you’ve ever had—or will have. I am excited to see how the trials of this year will level you up, and I’m excited to read the amazing things you’re going to write!
All the love and best from me. ❤
Thank you for all your kind words, friend