I go to Vic’s house near BigCity, NC to avoid having to leave the Black Mountains at 4:00am in order to catch my early flight. The extra hour of sleep will come in handy once I arrive in Portland, suddenly whisked into Pacific Coast Time.

My bag explodes into a pile of tupperwares, underwear, moonshine, jewelry, and tank tops in the middle of her dining room floor. Amazingly enough, I got it all into one bag including three week’s worth of Chinese teas, my backpacking pots and pans, and all the clothes needed for the inevitable rain and sun that a Portland summer dictates. Finding my pajamas in order to go to sleep tonight, however, is immediately a difficult task – hence the explosion of the bag.

“Look,” I say to Vic holding up an armload of new stuff. “I went school supply shopping! I even got an entire pack of my favorite Unibal pens.” We discuss briefly the pros and cons of various pens – a topic that any writers can never tire of. Now that Unibal figured out how to make their pens stop exploding on planes, they’re back in the number one seat on my list. Vic shows me a southern fountain pen and even her Cross pen that she keeps in a special case.

“Do you need anything else?” she asks.

“No. It’s just the binder,” I lament, “buying the binder was the hardest part.”

“Why?” Willy, her Buddhist truck-driver husband asks in his gentle voice.

“Somehow the binder became a symbol for my identity. Do I bring a used one, which is more thrifty and consistent with my values? Do I purchase a nice leather one, initiating myself into the world of the professional? But then that would look strange as I pulled it out of my AmeriCorps backpack that is all covered in patches and dirty from digging trail up in the Adirondacks.”

“What you need is a binder that captures all of that,” Willy says, framing his view of my face with his hands. “Something that gets at all that you-ness there in one punch.”

“Well what I got is a black plastic one. Pretty standard. But it has a clear slip cover so I can add something to it later if I change my mind. God, I don’t even know how to act. What will I be like? I’m probably going to shut down for the first two days and be totally quiet and nervous.”

I go on, and on and on and on, and Vic and Willy listen kindly, understanding my nervousness, not letting my judge myself. Later, Vic shows me how to do eyeliner, “for just in case” and explains the importance of lip color – something I never pulled off even in high school.

“My roommate emailed me and she has published two books,” I say, squinting into the bathroom light, surprised at the pinkness of my reflection in the mirror. “And she’s eating scones for breakfast – not cooking. I told her I was packing a frying pan 3,000 miles in my carry on. God this is going to be so luxurious, so confusing, so stimulating.”

“And they’ll love you,” Vic smiles. “You can do it!”

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