I block my calendar, flick on my screensaver. There’s a stairway at the back of my building that allows me to escape my coworkers fairly unnoticed. Harvard Square has a number of secret hiding spots. I set the timer on my phone and grab bites of lunch between typing. Weekends, too, I shut the blinds and insert the earplugs. I don’t want to see neighbors in their Bermuda shorts and hear their laughter or the clap-clap of beer bottle-filled shopping carts being pushed down to the recycling center – even those souls I envy on sunny days as I sit down in the small space of time I have to write.
When I took my first GrubStreet class in 2008, I declared that I needed to test my stories with an audience. That’s not a lie. For two weeks or ten, I feel a little less alone. I meet others who feel the pain of getting up early to write, then sit at a desk all day and write boring passive voice emails when we’d rather be writing the gorgeous exposition or action sequences that stream in our heads.
It’s why I go to conferences. For two weeks, I audit the lives of others and imagine what it must be like to speak that special MFA language instead of ones regarding plastic molding presses and software teams. I jot down a list of all the books and essays that are recommended in workshops and readings, doubtful that I’ll have time to read even half of them but satisfied with the intention. At breakfast, I sit next to poets who remind me of eighth grade days sprawled across the carpet with my best friend, Angie Clark, crafting crappy love poems to boys who didn’t know our names. At lunch, a journal editor asks me where I’m from. When I tell him Fort Smith, he shouts happy expletives – finding a fellow citizen of that Wild West town when you’re not setting foot in the state is a rarity. Afternoon and after-dark readings remind me of the power and music of language to arrest. During a rare walk away from the readings and lectures and workshops, a wise new friend and I share the trials of cutting yet another scene, another chapter, another story entirely.
In classes and in conferences, I steal hours and days away from people who need my excellent PowerPoint or project management skills. Here, I can be someone else, someone who belongs to something greater than the struggle of sitting alone and putting words on a page.