Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dispatch from Bread Loaf Mountain

Michael Collier, in 1981, phoned the woman who was to become his wife, excited to share every single hour of the forty-eight he had experienced at Bread Loaf up to that point. I have him beat. It took me one.

There was one phone here then, and you dumped quarters into it. Things are slightly different on this mountain now: you can get on the internet and Skype your life away if that's your wish. Thus far, I've called home, I've tweeted, I've Facebooked and Skyped. It's what we've learned to do, at least those of us who use the internet to get others involved with poetry. You have to promote the reading. You have to get the word out. You have to make people aware of what's going on. This is, admittedly, an extension of how we have learned to grasp the world. Everything's a social event. Everything needs to be experienced with a comment stream, links, and pictures. It's all public, and fast, and now, right now. And you know it's unwise. But you do it anyway.

To hear Michael tell the story at last night's welcome gathering, it sounded like his wife greeted his enthusiasm with much wisdom. An innate instinct that the experience he was having was much better experienced…well, being experienced, as opposed to being documented. There's not much room built into the schedule for writing, though I can't ignore the instinct. I'm up, and typing, at what I'd normally call an ungodly hour, except there's something sacred about this hour, in this setting, that keeps me from saying the adjective. I don't know if this will be my ritual while I'm here. It might be. What I know for sure is that except for this one entry, it won't be public.

There's simply too much happening to tell you about. And by happening, I don't mean that things are taking place, events are transpiring, drinks and jokes and fellowship are being swallowed whole. These are happening, too. But what I mean is a process, a mode, the difference between documentation and direct experience that Erich Fromm talked about in To Have or To Be. To report is not to breathe in. Being on the spot is not being. Having an experience is not the same as experiencing.

Don't get me wrong. I'm recording everything. There are things—you know, things—I can tell you. Satellites cross the night sky up here with as much frequency as airplanes do in New York. The weather changes rapidly—it is a mountain, after all—and I truly did need a hoodie last night. If you wanted, you could drive for five hours on nothing but coffee and a bag of grapes. The conference is diverse. Different ethnicities, backgrounds, styles of writing. Yet everyone seems to be from Brooklyn. Water is not property, not if you judge by the cold clear rivers I've seen thus far. And I want to make a thousand stacks of pancakes when I get home, just so I can put some real goddamn maple syrup on them. They sell this shit by the boatload up here.

I'm going to resist the urge I normally feel to report every experience like I need a companion. Something you learn within five seconds of seeing a mountain range up close is that you really only need breath. Water, eventually, but essentially, breath. I'll write, and you'll read, but I suspect what I post here will be infrequent. And it'll be writing in a place, not about a place. There are people looming large in my mind, and this summer was not an easy thing. That's what I carry with me, mostly.

But I also have to say that I feel like I am here on something like a community scholarship. Real talk: this shit is pricey. Worth it, but pricey. If my family, my friends, and my colleagues had not gotten together to send me here, I would not be here. And it isn't just about money, either. I'm here on the power of pure love, and I don't doubt for one second that I am part of something larger than myself. A community. I know there are writers who shit on that particular word, some who should know better, frankly. What I know, at 6am on a Thursday on the side of a mountain, is that I'm a Nuyorican poet, sent here by family—by blood and by choice—and that I am exactly where I belong. 

I can be solitary, but I will never be alone.

Bueno. If I had a hot plate, it would be Bustelo time. I'm going to have to look into that.

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