In Preparation For A Master’s (There’s A First For Everything)

Yesterday I finished Owning it All, a collection of essays by William Kittredge. Now I imagine myself sitting in the dining hall having dinner with him at the first residency for my Master’s, which starts in eight weeks.

Note to self: Do not bring your John Deer tractor hat to residency. William Kittredge writes about people who haven’t ridden tractors but like look of the label.

His writing is rolling, like the wheat and barley fields of the big-ag southeastern Oregon lands from whence he came. I backpacked there in the Steens Mountains as a teenager. I remember shouldering my way to the back of the hiker’s line in desperation, trying to protect myself from the ticks. The hikers in front inevitably got more than those of us in back, and I had already burned two of them off of my soft, pale belly just two days into the trip. And trust me, these suckers were stubborn – olive oil, peanut butter, all those old wive’s tales – not a single trick worked. Then I got the lighter.

Now onward to Judy Blunt, author of Breaking Clean. She says she remembers when her grandma chopped three fingers off with a mowing blade and kept on until the job was done – then deal with the blood. Montana woman, raised tough, sold told too early, broke free and clean to a life of kids and domesticity and acid-wash jeans and well, haven’t finished the book yet.

Eight weeks. Eight weeks to residency. What are the other writers doing? Do they hide behind linoleum counters and play barista by day – then forage through words at night, nocturnal in their creativity? Do they wash babies in the bathtub and cook mac-a-nonies and chocolate milk and make poetry out of haiku sentences from their toddlers who are still learning to talk?

Eight weeks. Eight weeks and twenty-one authors on faculty. It will not be possible to even read one book by each. Narrowing down my choices is easy – the local library system (which spreads across three county lines and ribbons of mountain highway) only has a so many of them anyway.

I make a pact with myself about freelancing: no new submissions until the grant is done and the book is edited. (Ok, except maybe that one essay I want to submit to the NYTimes education section.)

In the meantime: Continue work with the Lost County Writers. Prepare workshop manuscript for residency. Keep up my commitment with Cam for our “72 Days” series of email poems (good old college writing buddies, gotta love ‘em).

In other words: Keep my plate as clean as possible. No mixing peas with carrots. No heavy starches. Just heart and bone and effort, all of it, boiling down to the steamy homemade broth of my love affair with words.

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