You know those people who travel to conferences and readings and colonies and bring their digital camera so you can actually see snapshots of the action, the fellows, each evening's spread of reception food?
Nope. Not that cool. Not that technologically proficient.
I'm back in the Stirling Coffeeshop, where a discussion of whether the quality of the "jasmine" tea is too sweet has now inspired a spontaneous singalong of a I can show you the world--shining shimmering splendid-- from the Aladdin soundtrack, which inspired the one male employee of the coffeeshop to run screaming from the room. Other than the staff, I'm the only one here. The discussion, since beginning my composition of this paragraph, has moved onto Heath Ledger. It's a few minutes to nine--the evening's big reading (which I confess, I've skipped) must be drawing to a close. Which means The Writers will soon arrive. "I see one," cries out one barista. "Batten down the hatches."
I've been thinking about The Writers. How we come to town--whether it's a colony or a conference--and move about in packs of three or five. Critiquing the coffee, the architecture, the cruddy cellphone reception, the salad bar. Openly debating whether the Sewanee mascot is, in fact, the Fighting Angels. Pointing out the $6 "cocktail sets" they sell at the Monteagle Liquor store: a ziploc bag containing a can of coke and two airplane bottles or Captain Morgan's Rum.
It's tricky. I think we all realize that to those who overhear us, we sound like snarky cityfolk. At our worst, we're mocking our hosts. But in our defense, we're a bunch of writers of different geographic identities, genres, and professional experience, thrown together for two weeks of critique. There's a lot of ego at stake, a lot of potential landmines. So we take refuge in talking about the stipulated things in common: our newfound environment. And we crack jokes because, well, people crack jokes when nervous. Still, I feel a periodic twinge.
Coming out of my dorm each morning, there's two roads. One is a peculiar route--full of elbows and discontiguous sidewalks--but it contains all the essential pitstops for the conference: our Humphreys home, the Women's Center where readings are held, the Sewanee Inn where meals are served. Coming up and down that route, you know any person encountered is most likely a writer.
The other road is a straight, well-paved shot to University Avenue that passes the coffeeshop, the library, the sociology and biology classrooms, the music conference...all of which could not, refreshingly, care less about us.