I’m just back from the Iota Short Prose Conference on Campobello Island, where I was a student rather than a teacher.
Mike flew with me and Whitney from O’Hare, rented a car at the Bangor Airport and drove us to our destination: the easternmost point in the United States.
We settled right in to our quiet little inn in Lubec, Maine. Without the racket of air-conditioners in the way, we’d wake up each morning to the happy sounds of birds and enjoy a cup of coffee downstairs before heading outside so Mike could drive Whitney and me a couple miles to Canada.
Those morning drives would start with a cheery, “Hello! Bonjour! Passports?” from the lady at the customs booth, then into Canada we’d go. Mike described the scene as we’d cross the water — often foggy, always beautiful — and I’d open my window to take in the mixed scent of sea and pine. After kissing me goodbye at the conference cottage, Mike would spend his days at lighthouses, on beaches, whale-watching, or visiting historic Roosevelt sites.
And me? I’d spend my day with writers at Campobello Roosevelt International Park, the site of the workshop. Some of my fellow Iota attendees were Canadian, and some were from the United States. One had come all the way from Jerusalem. one thing we all had in common? We all were accomplished writers. Some of us had published books, some taught English and creative writing at the college level, some wrote weekly columns for local newspapers, many had blogs. Sessions were led by authors Abigail Thomas and Debra Marquart. Their presentations and sessions were rich and pushed me out of my comfort zone — in a good way.
Abigail (I call her Abby now) is the author of New York Times bestseller A Three Dog Life. She fell in love with Whitney, the first service dog to ever attend an Iota Conference. And while she thanked me politely for signing a copy of Writing Out Loud for her, she couldn’t fool me: the thing Abby was really excited about was getting my Seeing Eye dog’s pawtograph (I stamped Whitney’s paw-print inside the front cover of Abby’s copy of Writing Out Loud).
Debra Marquart (Deb to me now, of course) is the author of a memoir, too. The Horizontal World is available from the Library of Congress talking book program free of charge to people who are blind, and I read it right before we arrived. Deb teaches at Iowa State University and must have had experience there with students who have disabilities — she thought to send her printed handouts to me online. I read them before class using my talking computer.
I used my talking computer to write my asignments in class as well. My laptop came in handy when it was my turn to read those assignments out loud, too: headset on, I’d listen quietly to my piece while simultaneously repeating the words I was hearing out loud for my classmates. That was, perhaps, the best thing about the entire conference for me: for a wonderful four days, I felt like I was in my own students’ shoes. Sitting around a circle, reading my own assignment out loud, hearing others read theirs, it helped me understand why the memoir classes I lead mean so much to the writers who sign up here in Chicago. My dozen or so fellow classmates and I developed trust and empathy — a community, really — through our writing. I’ll be using that trick –listening to my computer via headphones and reciting what I’m hering out loud — at my appearance at The Book Cellar in Chicago this Wednesday, too.
But back to Maine: the food wasn’t bad, either. Mike was invited to join us at the Iota Conference farewell dinner. Whole lobsters, literally fresh from the sea that day, for everyone! Mike and I were on our own for dinner on the other nights of the conference, and we feasted on lobster rolls, fresh haddock, salmon — you get the picture.
If you’re a writer who needs a shot of energy, I highly recommend Iota. And if you need a change of pace, scenery, and state of mind, I highly recommend Lubec and Campobello. For more, see my and Mike’s recent blog posts.
PS: If you’re curious about the in-class assignments I wrote and read out loud during the Abigail Thomas workshop at Iota, sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be publishing one of the impromptu essays I wrote at the writing workshop in my Writing Out Loud newsletter tomorrow.