In the Writing Center, Beth and Lisa talk loudly with their students. Beth is always loud – much, much too loud – and Lisa raises her voice so that her student can hear her over Beth. They are all going over essays, talking about how each paragraph has to have a point, its own little thesis. Same old shit. Beth's student was born and raised in Russia and therefore does not know how to use articles. There are no articles in the Russian language. When native speakers start trying to learn English as adults, it is almost impossible to make them understand when or why to use "the" or "an". They just never get it.
I am sitting at my own table, thumbing through short story collections by Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates. I leave for Iowa tomorrow and have to bring two pages of a scene that I think works well (along with a couple of my own, of course). I will probably fall back on "Ugly", my old standby favorite Oates story ever. Sitting in the middle of Brooklyn in a building on Flatbush Avenue, I find it hard to believe that 24 hours from now, I'll be in Cedar Rapids. I have no idea what the streets will look like, if it’s all really cornfields and general stores like I picture in my mind. I wonder if I'll be the fattest girl there. I wonder if I'll be good enough, if my story will take shape.
Honestly? I’m scared shitless. That I'll be the fat girl in the class, that I won't get a chance to prove I can write. I am scared to be alone on a plane again, to be lonely on a plane going once again to a place where I know no one, don't know what the land looks like or where people eat their dinner. I am afraid because it is completely unknown to me and Iowa is the most prestigious writing program in the world and I might not be good enough. I think of next week and those five days lay ahead of me, gray and lumpy and unknowable. I don’t know how to shape my anticipation into something I recognize. In my mind, the roads in Iowa are wide and dusty like in New Mexico, the hotel is sunny, white and antiseptic like the dorm at Naropa.
In Iowa, class will be in the afternoon. In the morning, there will be a daily shmoozefest over coffee, hours to mill around a vanilla classroom with a paper cup of coffee in my left hand. People in that program are all built to shmooze, says Michael Cunningham, who went there. I imagine their eyes slipping on and off me quickly, moving on to someone who looks more like they belong there, someone worth shmoozing. I have nothing to offer anyone there, no contacts or editors or publishers. I'll just be standing with my coffee cup in hand and this half-written novel that claws its way out of me one agonizing page at a time.
My suitcase sits zipped up and unpacked by the front door. I keep telling myself I don’t have to pack it yet, that I still have time. It is 18 hours until I leave for the airport and I am scared shitless. Last weekend, I had this fantasy in which I decide not to go, chicken out and secretly stay home all week. It was a nice fantasy, but I'd never do that. My hatred of failure will push me out the door and into the airport tomorrow morning. Lots of people might not. I know I have balls. This is one time I wish I didn't. Fear would keep me safe and familiar next week, but instead I'll be in a cold, scratchy hotel room, wondering how the next day will go, wondering if I'll be the best one or even good.
Maybe I'll be absorbed with Violet and inside the mind of my story, and I'll be in the Midwest away from my job and investment banking and this writing center, and I can sit at a faux mahogany hotel desk and let the words pour out of me, talk about Violet and Kathleen walking up Park Avenue or sitting by the Delaware River. There is a certain romance about leaving New York and disappearing into the barren Midwest to write a book. I imagine crafting the story with my bare hands, putting one block on top of another, balancing, building, leaving it for sleep and waking up to find it on my desk as I left it the night before, and stepping right back into it, still asleep, still dreamy. I imagine driving down dusty roads in my compact rental car, stopping to take pictures of I don't know what, but it won't be New York, will be the anti-New York. And I'll be home in a week and then it will be Pride and everything will be back to normal at the Gay Pride parade after a week in the scary city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.