The “Write Brain” session was held at Cottonwood Artists’ School, across from the new America the Beautiful Park. (I’ve heard talk the school was to be closed and razed to build a hotel. But everything was full speed ahead, as far as I could tell.)
When I pulled into the parking lot, other cars were trickling in behind me. Oh good, I thought, this really isn’t going to be six people sitting around a table, blindly critiquing each others’ work. (I hate workshopping.* I’d rather have someone I trust read my book, or read someone else’s book. Not have a dozen people sit around with twenty pages, coming to the consensus that the best way to tell if spaghetti is cooked is to throw it against the wall to see if it sticks.)
I didn’t count, but somewhere between 50-75 people showed up, eventually. I think the last person was fifteen minutes late, which was handled quietly but amusingly: she was pointed straight to the front row.
As I walked in, my initial impression of the place was that it was a working artists’ school, rather than a selling artists’ school, which is what the Bemis and the BAC (in Manitou) come across as. Not that art shouldn’t be sold, and not that the art at the Cottonwood shouldn’t be sold: I found a print of a luminous, leafless white tree against the dark background of an evergreen forest that I really wanted and may have to go back and check out (I didn’t get the artist’s name). But it looked like people spent more time working at art than putting in new carpet or painting over nicks or replacing ceiling tiles. A good impression. The paintings in the room we were in were hung with awards: the ribbons were the same kind I remember from 4-H at the state fair.
My first impression of the people themselves was to laugh: a gathering of artists (although maybe not the artists that worked at the Cottonwood) would be more pointedly eclectic. A gathering of “art lovers” would be better dressed. Also, there would be wine in addition to the coffee. But a group of writers is just a bunch of people. People you might see in line at the DMV. “Ordinary” isn’t the word, because almost all of them were holding notebooks, and how many people walk around waiting for something to be said worth writing down?
I sat next to a guy who looked about sixty, nearly fell over in the chair (me, that is), scooted over a seat, and sat next to someone who looked like a frazzled admin escaped from the telephone. It smelled like lavender. The woman in front of me had done her dark blonde hair, dressed in an orange suit, put on gold-color earrings, and nursed a coffehouse chai, which also smelled good (I don’t know about her, but I’ve nursed many a coffeehouse chai when I was in need of reassurance. Maybe she just liked the taste, though). Missing was the scent of overwhelming perfume: I didn’t catch anybody being drenched, even during intermission. The one artfully-dressed woman I spotted looked like she came with the place, not the group, but I might be wrong.
The Vice President, Beth Brownwater, opened the session. The craft book** of the month was Self-Editing for Writers (I may have written the title down wrong, because I can’t find it now), which was on sale for $11 if you bought it at the table at the back of the room. Other craft books would be on sale. The backside of one of the shelves would be filled with donated books. Donations would be accepted for the donated books; the money would go toward the PPW Microphone Fund. The no-host members night would be the Monday following at 6:30 at Poor Richard’s for everyone to talk about writing and drink hot chocolate*** and eat pizza.
Sandra Bond looked very professional, very black-and-white (and not just in a color scheme). Groomed, rather than styled, if that makes sense: styled, to me, means an expenditure of too much effort, where groomed means adaptably tidy, able to fit in as necessary without out-doing anybody. Professional-looking men are groomed. Women with too much hairspray are styled. She was groomed. Strong-prescription glasses. Blinked a lot, at least before she started speaking. Her voice had just a whisper of a lisp in it but sounded charming and unpretentious nevertheless. The charm came from her involvement in what she was talking about: she must love being an agent.
Anita Kushen looked very no-nonsense, like a nurse or a fourth-grade teacher. When she spoke, her face lightened up, and I realized that she was the kind of person accustomed to being the life of the party. When she was being introduced, she reacted to what was being said about her, a little self-consciously. It was almost like she wasn’t herself unless her face was in motion, but as the introduction went on, we found out she’d worked for a rape crisis hotline, among other jobs requiring an abolition of nonsense, so I wasn’t totally off in my initial impression, either.
*But not as much as I hate revising. Let’s keep this in perspective, here.
**I like the idea of referring to writing as a craft. Writing is somewhere between tatting and casting black-magic curses on ones exes, after all.
***Poor Richard‘s opened a wine-and-chocolate bar in one section of their meandering store, uh, I think it was last year. Ooooh…looks like they put in free wireless now, too. I swear the goal of their toy store is to get adults to buy stuff.