March 6th, 2008

Peterborough Panel Post-Mortem

Though I did have to get up at 5 in order to be at the bus station by 6:15 in order to hang around for half an hour to get the 6:45 bus, the trek out was sadly without incident. I read a bit, took a nap, avoided eye contact with the guy who was talking to no one. When I arrived I was under instructions to take a taxi to Trent, for which I’d be reimbursed. I was dreading this, because I am afraid of taxis (I am not even embarrassed about this phobia. I really don’t know more people don’t have it–you spend your whole formative period being told that if you get into a stranger’s car, they will kill you in a disgusting manner, only to later be told that it’s ok if you give them money.)

But then I saw a lovely city bus that helpfully said “Trent” right on it. When I got on, there was Nine Inch Nails playing on a little stereo under the driver’s seat, and when I didn’t have the right change, the much-pierced driver said not to worry about it.

Peterborough is awfully awfully pretty. I’ve already forgotten the name of the river there, but it’s gorgeous. The campus is nice, too–a few strange fan-shaped buildings, and rather sprawling (the bus drove for a long time on-campus before we got the library) but it has a bridge *right over the river*. Between classes, the bridge crowds up like a school hallway, only more scenic.

I hung around the library for the morning, got given all the coffee and fruit I could handle (I won a bonus cup in roll-up-the-rim-to-win! This post hasn’t even reached noon or any literature yet! I am going to focus!) and a room with a view to read and write in. Then there was lunch, which was good even though I couldn’t really identify what kind of sandwich I had. It had some sort of fish in it. (Focussing=failure.)

The panel *was* intimidating*, but in a good way. The other participants had done this sort of thing before—several of them are profs and do it all the time—and they seemed able to formulate complete thesis statements on the fly. The conversation seemed to me remarkably cogent and focussed, mainly about the role of writers outside of writing fiction and poetry. Thus, we talked a lot about teaching and learning, which I felt qualified to talk about at least a little, and a lot about critics and “public intellectuals, which is something that intimidates me greatly. I always *mean* to figure out how I could usefully review and criticize (two different things, I’m pretty sure) but I really haven’t yet. The discussion gave me some ideas.

*Shut Up He Explained* is nearly 400 pages, and it’s quite wide-ranging, so a lot of the things that hit me hardest–how a writer transubstantiates fact into fiction, and how artistry operates on a sentence level–didn’t get covered. Maybe there will be another panel?

Then there was coffee and chatter, and I was most relieved that it was over and I hadn’t said anything horrid (though I felt a bit guilty for having introduced the phrase “the joy of the text” to the discussion—surely I could’ve thought of a less lame way to convey that). Some of the writers went to another writer’s house for drinks and classy snacks, including something that, though I ate a lot of it, could really have been anything. Italian antipasto, but with corn? Salsa, only sweet? Some sort of chutney? Why am I still *on* about the food?

In this more informal discussion, I was still pretty bug-eyed and silent, but I asked enough questions (“Wait, *who* did he punch?” “Is that person dead?”) to follow the flow. As illuminating as the first, really.

Then there was an early dinner, because apparently if you are in PTBO on a Tuesday, you either have leave by 7:30 or sleep there. I will restrain myself from describing that meal (curry!) Everyone refrained from rolling their eyes when I said the day had been “a wonderful experience” (worse than “the joy of the text”) and I got on the Greyhound and went home in the blizzard. When I got here, there was lightning in the snow.

It really *was* a wonderful experience, though, is the thing.

What is this love

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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