September 28, 2008

On the Road

When Rhett Iseman Trull, the gracious editor of Cave Wall, first said "You really ought to give a reading in Greensboro," I was charmed but not committed. Converting an enthusiastic notion to an actual booking is like herding cats...usually. But Rhett is a force unto herself. Next thing I knew Terry Kennedy had found space for me in the University of North Carolina-Greensboro reading series, Rhett was dangling the temptation of home-hosting and quality cat-time with not one but three kitties, and I was packing my bags for the five-and-a-half-hour drive to Greensboro.

The driving gods were smiling on Thursday morning. I've always loved road trips and it was a straight shot, listening to Iron & Wine and snacking on Late July Organic Peanut Butter Crackers. It's frightening to schedule a reading knowing you won't have guaranteed downtime (much less a night's sleep) after the drive. But Rhett and I had lunch (with coffee, oh sweet strong coffee) and a bit of conversation beforehand. Another peril of readings is often no time to talk to the very people you wanted to talk to most, so this stretch--and another Friday morning, over orange juice, envelope-stuffing, and the comic-extension of Buffy the Vampire Slayer--was a welcome respite.

The reading was in the UNCG art museum, in a second-floor gallery of Peter Takal's drawings. On our walk in the skies were swirling ominously, with a vicious wind. I walked in to see forty empty seats and did the math: impending storm + dinner hour - reception (no food or drink allowed in the museum) = we are never going to fill all these seats. But lo and behold, by the time I stood up the room was packed. Not sure it's any tribute to me; thanks to Terry for really getting the word out, and to Rhett for an incredible introduction. I was particularly thrilled to have faculty members from UNCG's MFA program--including Jim Clark, Jennifer Grotz, Michael Parker (who I met a few years ago, during a residency at Virginia Center for Creative Arts), and Allison Seay--in the audience. It's a measure of a program's vitality when professors come out on a night they don't have to, and I truly appreciated the welcome.

Afterwards, a few of us went out for sushi; half price off on hot sake when it's raining, you can't beat that. Usually I'm a purist--salmon sashimi, mackeral nigiri--but that night I got one of those outlandish speciality rolls, a "caterpillar" of eel, avocado, and gobo (mountain carrot), with two eyes of octopus tentacles. We told some literary tales (turns out Greensboro and Charlottesville share some resident characters) before adjourning to the Old Town Draught House. Greasy fries. Wheat beer. And deep, deep sleep.

The driving gods were scowling on Friday morning. Never a good sign when the first thing you do is hit a squirrel. Then get so rattled that you go south on 85 for a half-hour. Then get stuck in not one but five stretches where the rain is so heavy, the splatter from truck tires so thick, that you have to lean over the steering wheel like a grandma and go fifteen miles below the speed limit. After six hours I made it to DC, and then...went straight back into the office.

Ah well. A little pain to define the pleasure. Please, if you have not already done so--check out Cave Wall. The world needs more editors like Rhett, and as writers we need to show our love for someone who is willing to stick her neck out and make poetry things happen.

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