I’m back from my Tucson adventure

IMG_20180315_113328079_HDR[1]I have just returned from driving to the Tucson Festival of Books and the associated master workshop in poetry. Three thousand miles. Eight days of driving. Three days of Tucson, Arizona. I know. That’s nuts. I wanted an adventure. I got one. I wanted to see the territory between here and there, not just fly over it. I have seen it.

I’m flailing in an avalanche of receipts, dirty clothes, unmowed lawns, uncleaned rooms, undone chores, books, written notes, typed notes, recorded notes, and memories I don’t want to lose as I sink into the overflow.

I want to hold on to that first sight of desert cactus, the winter-green hills of California where the cattle grazed, the llama watching freeway traffic, the woman at the Canyonville, Oregon gas station who was eating German chocolate cake at 8 a.m. and who called me “Sweetie,” the new writer friends with whom I ate, drank, laughed, and learned, the big hugs from cousins Adrienne and John in Tucson, the excitement when I found the street in Burbank, California, where my late husband Fred grew up, watching the cowfolk in Coalinga, the quirky antique shop at Chiriaco Summit, the incredible banana chocolate chip muffin from Mimi’s in Casa Grande, eating Denny’s chocolate lava cake and talking to my dad while sitting by the pool on a warm night in Blythe, California on my birthday. And so much more.

IMG_20180311_153719123[1]I don’t need to hold on to the traffic in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Stockton; the rain, wind, snow, and fog; the disappointment of the Royal Sun Best Western Hotel in Tucson and the hurt in my feet when the walk to the book festival proved far longer than these old feet could handle in tennis shoes; the really terrible shrimp-bacon-creamed avocado flatbread I ate for dinner one night; the Mexican restaurant run by Chinese people; the tight schedule that made it impossible to turn off I-5 to visit my father or my brother or my cousins; having to leave Annie in “doggie jail,” or the worrisome amount of money I spent. Nope. Let those go.

The Tucson Festival of Books was huge and amazing. I entered a raffle and won a $50 Amazon gift certificate. I bought a few books. I used up two pens and wore out the batteries on my voice recorder. The poetry workshop blew my mind.

IMG_20180308_151037105[1]Was it worth it? I won’t be driving that far on such a tight schedule again. Having to go 400 miles a day in order to arrive at the festival on time and get home in time to play the piano for Saturday Mass took some of the joy out of it. Much better to take time to explore the side roads, see the family, and sit still for a while.

Annie is overjoyed to have me home. My bed feels so much better than every other bed I slept in. The pellet stove is still a pain. The trees look the same. Everything looks the same, but I’m not the same. I think that’s a good thing.

Last night on the phone, my dad, who is 95, asked how old I was. When I told him, he exclaimed, “66! How the hell did you get to be so old?” He counseled that the way to stay healthy into old age is to keep active. If you sit in a chair and do nothing, you die. I agree. Where shall I go next?

 

 

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Tucson Festival a Writer’s Dream

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Books, books, book. Miles and miles of books. That was the Tucson Festival of Books, held at the University of Arizona campus March 12 and 13. Sun so bright we grabbed hand lotion and free visors at a dermatology booth. I never saw so many booths dedicated to books and authors. It was like a state fair that was all books instead of cows, quilts, corn dogs, and food processors. Oh, there were booths for community organizations and lots of food you could eat in a big tent where a woman with boots and a cowboy hat and frilly dress sang Patsy Cline songs and yodeled. But it was mostly books. Readings here, talks there, services for authors and books to buy everywhere. Nothing I’ve seen in Oregon is that big.

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Workshop leaders David Gessner, Luis Alberto Urrea, Bryn Chancellor, Joshua Mohr, and Lynn Cullen

I was in Arizona last week because an essay I entered in a contest won me a place in the master’s workshop attached to the festival. Two full days of lectures, workshops and readings, of bonding with my little nonfiction group and our leader, author David Gessner. It was held in a place on campus called the Poetry Center. A poetry center? Yes. A whole library full of poetry books and books about poetry and poets, a breezeway where we ate the most delicious sandwiches at lunchtime, a comfortable auditorium where we heard readings and talks, and classrooms where we hashed over each others’ manuscripts.

The University of Arizona Poetry Center, housed in the Helen S. Schaefer Building, includes a rare book room, a children’s program called Poetry Joeys, a collection of recordings made by visiting poets, and a Poet’s Cottage where visiting writers can stay. The center hosts readings and lectures, poetry discussions, workshops, and more. When I walked into that place, I thought, “If I could work here, I would gladly live in Tucson.” I’m not moving, but wow. I found a place where everybody speaks my language.

Most people I meet don’t “get” poetry. If it doesn’t rhyme, it isn’t poetry, right? Read poetry for fun? Are you crazy? You’re a poet? What does that mean? Bookstores and libraries rarely allot more than a shelf or two to poetry, but there is so much more.

Why is my MFA in creative nonfiction if I’m so fond of poetry? I wrote poetry first, but a girl has to make a living. I think essays and poetry live on the same spectrum of storytelling. Some essays are poetic and some poems feel like little essays. They’re all magic to me.

IMG_20160316_121740352It wasn’t all words this trip. I was blessed to be able to stay at the home of my late husband’s cousin Adrienne and her husband John, both delightful people I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time. They volunteer at the symphony store in the lobby at the Tucson Music Hall. The night I arrived, they took me with them. I helped sell CDs and music-related items such as earrings shaped like treble clefs and mugs, bags, scarfs, etc. We also got to hear the music, which included the Tucson Symphony and guest artists The Mambo Kings. Fun! The day after the workshop, Adrienne and I toured the marvelous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which was loaded with cactus, critters and kids on spring break. And in the warm evenings, we dined in the patio and had great talks.

Then it was time to come home. It was 80 degrees in Tucson. When the captain on the plane announced that it was 43 degrees in Portland, Oregon, people groaned. The Oregonians laughed. Back to hoodies and raincoats with new books to read while the rain pours down outside.