End of Clarion

La Jolla, CA, USA

Late sun

Sun over the Pacific, seen from cliffs above Black's Beach

San Diego, CA, USA

This is a personal blog, but it is not a personal blog. By which I mean that I write about events, but I do not often write about emotions. When I talk about things that touch my personal life, I tend to keep it deliberately detached and vague. Tonight however, I am feeling rather raw, so this may go to some unusual places.

The reason for all this unfiltered emotion is the end of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, where I have spent the last six weeks. While Clarion is focused on learning writing skills, it is – both inevitably, and by design – quite emotionally intense.

So I have spent the last few hours saying goodbye to a group of people who, over a brief period of six weeks, have become tremendously important to me. Friends? Colleagues? Peers? Soulmates? I’m not sure what the appropriate term is. However, for what it’s worth, I feel a strong and unusual bond with seventeen people (plus our six instructors) who, a mere six weeks ago, were complete strangers to me. And I’m sad that this is the last that I’ll see of them for probably quite a long time. To judge by the chatter on the social media channels that we share, I think all of us are feeling rather bereft tonight as we all go our separate ways.

Our group was very diverse. Not in the sense that someone’s skin was a particular color, or that someone was gay and someone else was straight, or that people were young, old, tall, short, male, female, and so on (although we were “diverse” along all those dimensions and more) but in the much more important sense of diversity of experience and thought and ways of seeing the world. This breadth and variety of vision is a big part of why there’s no one among them who I won’t be excited to see again, and why my biggest regret (aside from sadness that it’s over) is that I didn’t get to spend more time talking to each of them, sounding them out, seeing things through their eyes, and learning from what they know.

It’s not yet clear to me how attending Clarion will shape my writing. Our instructors gave us plenty of good advice: “Escalate!” (Andy Duncan). “Write through the body!” (Nalo Hopkinson). “Research is better than imagination.” (Bob Crais). “Write every day and stop in the middle of a sentence.” (Cory Doctorow). “Imagine it better!” (Karen Joy Fowler). “Write the ending. Then write another. And another.” (Kelly Link). And much more besides. But it will be a while before I know how everything I learned, whether from our instructors, or from my fellow students, or from the act of writing and critiquing other people’s work, will change the way that I write.

Nor can I sum up the whole thing in a few words (beyond saying that I’m intensely glad that I did it). Much of what made the Clarion experience special for me had a “You had to be there” quality to it. How can I properly describe the surreal (and sinister) sight of watching a line of two dozen teenage recruits from the Police Explorer Academy, wearing riot helmets and carrying batons, advancing across the parking lot to chants of “Back! Back! Back! Back!”? Or the amusement value of getting lightly drunk and taking turns reading aloud from Laurell K. Hamilton’s “Micah” (surely one of the worst books ever printed, a brutal crime against the written word)? Or the relief that comes from putting down the latest batch of stories to be read for an hour or two and going out to walk or run along the cliffs above Black’s Beach?

And the most “You had to be there” part of all was the people themselves. I can tell you that my fellow students were some of the most stimulating and rewarding and smart and affectionate and funny people I’ve ever met. I can tell you that our ‘anchor team’ of Karen Joy Fowler and Kelly Link were as wise and generous and gracious and knowledgeable as their colleagues who steered us through the first four weeks. But unless you’re lucky enough to know some of them, or to have gone through something like Clarion yourself, those will just be words on a page to you.

What I can say, however, is this.

I think I may have found My People. They are wild and strange and delightful and you will be hearing from them soon.