I left Thursday morning for Sackville and a weekend of writerly activities. I stayed up late (2’ish) the night before trying to get as much work done as I could before I had to go. I got up early Thursday (5’ish) and printed off some stories to read, packed, worked some more, etc. I left like a bat out of hell, leaving a wake of things tossed this way and that, unwashed dishes, clothes needing sorting . . . chaos. That happens when you have too much to do and not enough time. I hate returning to chaos, but what can you do? Short of cloning yourself.
The train was on time. I had a watered down coffee and a Kit Kat for breakfast, spent most of the ride in a half-sleepy drowsy state trying to figure out sudoku puzzles in the VIA magazine. Even the simplest one seemed impossible to figure out. Brain fuzz. Squires Courtesy Cab picked me up at the train station and dropped me at the Marshland, the first to arrive. My room in the carriage house was cold because nobody had been out there since the weekend, but had its own thermostat so I cranked the heat, unpacked, and then headed to the Owens to check out the venue for the Friday night reading. I was assured everything was under control. Off to Mel’s Diner for lunch (cheeseburger, fries with gravy, and an extra-thick chocolate shake for $8!) and then back to my room for a little lie down before going to dinner. I didn’t really sleep. Drifted through bits and pieces of soap operas, talk shows and music videos for an hour or so. Heard many sirens, and then got ready to go for dinner.
Dinner was marvelous as always! Lasagna, tossed salad, red wine, frozen yogurt, and coffee. Great conversation. Reconnecting with old friends. After dinner a few of us went to the Bridge Street Cafe Open Mic (mostly for musicians, but the organizer had also invited us to read). So much musical talent! Lots of young people. I read my wading the river piece. I need to get to a point where I can read that piece without cracking. Not sure how to do that. Many young boys squirming in their seats through that one. Perhaps brave of me to do. Perhaps stupid. But what is done is done. Bygones. My friends left before me. I stayed until the end to pick up audio equipment for the banquet Saturday night. Arrived back at the Inn around 11pm, watched some tv. The bed was super comfortable, but nevertheless I woke every 15-20 minutes throughout the night to check the clock. Finally, I gave up at 4:45 am. Got up, watched reruns of the previous night’s news shows on CBC, showered, dressed, was ready to meet the day, go to breakfast by 6 am. Then I realized the dining room didn’t open until 7 am. Watched more tv and waited. Went over at 7:05 but was locked out of the Inn until 7:10’ish and then I settled into the parlour to read until nearly 7:30 before the dining room opened. That was okay. I’m assuming they aren’t used to having such early risers on a weekday in the off-season. And certainly I was in no hurry. I had no plans.
Back to the room and chilling out in front of the boob tube. I did intend to take full advantage of having cable tv, but other than Much Music, watched mostly CBC (which I totally have at home). Lunch with friends and fellow writers at the Marshland. Then off to the Owens again to check out the venue with others and see the displays as other writerly types started to arrive and check in. It snowed for a few hours, then changed to rain for an hour or so, then cleared right off. But apparently in Miramichi there was no clearing and that kept my roomies from arriving on Friday when they were supposed to come. Though the weather in Sackville was much more poorly on Saturday morning than Friday evening.
A clan of New Brunswick writers descended upon The Olive Branch restaurant for dinner Friday evening. Still pretty full from lunch, I just got a small salad and some wine, then a friend and I split the strawberry cheesecake. I’m not talking about New York cheesecake with strawberry topping either! I’m talking strawberry cheesecake! Pink! To die for. Yes, the cheesecake is still very good there.
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Friday night reading/musical event. Never could I have ever imagined it. And I don’t know that I can even describe it. You had to be there I guess. I expected more music than sounds. I guess sound is music. The readings were very entertaining. The intermission was haunting and soul stirring. But the grand finale was . . . battering? I don’t know how to describe it. It was like I had a tornado in my chest, like my insides were being churned. I started a few feet from the wall, but by the end I needed the wall to stay grounded. Certainly that will never happen again. It can never be repeated. It was literally a once in a lifetime experience. The Owens is a good venue. Great acoustics. I still kinda wish we could have done something in the chapel though, but that’s okay.
After the reading, I wanted to just go to Ducky’s and have a drink. Someplace quiet. But I couldn’t get a crowd up for that. A bunch wanted to go to George’s Roadhouse for blues. Remembering the 45 minute guitar riffs and elbow to elbow standing room only experience of bottled domestic beer that Trish and I had on a blues night, it was the last place I wanted to be. So instead a few of us just went back to the Marshland and sat in the parlour for an hour or so enjoying hot chocolate, ginger snaps and in my case, a glass of wine. This was a good way to unwind. Pleasant. I was so sleepy, I didn’t say much the whole time there, just listened and laughed and took everything in.
Friday night was another night of waking every 15-20 minutes to look at the clock. In such a comfortable bed, you would think a person would sleep, but I didn’t. I lingered around my room until 7:30 Saturday morning before meeting everyone in the dining room for breakfast. Then setting up for the morning. Then the AGM itself, which went very well. I found my roomies in the lobby on the morning coffee break after the meeting, got them set up in the room and registered for the event. Then it was workshop time.
Kent Stetson’s drama workshop was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant! I want to take one of his longer more intensive workshops. It was fascinating to learn about his method and to discover the world of playwrighting from a different angle. At every AGM there seems to always be one workshop that I really connect with and this was it for me. Last year I didn’t take any of the workshops, the year before it was Gerard Beirne’s workshop. The year before that it would have been Magie Dominic’s. These are workshops that stay with you, that you always remember and retain, that you incorporate into your work style. Sometimes it comes from a personal rapport and connection with the workshop leader, sometimes it’s strictly based on what you learn. Kent’s was both for me. I learned so much! I’ve been so inspired! And I immediately felt at ease and connected with him on a personal level. He’s a wonderful human being on top of being brilliant. If you get the chance, if you ever have the opportunity, if you have any interest in writing or drama in particular, workshop with Kent and you won’t be disappointed.
A bunch of people lunched at the Marshland, but after two days I was ready for a change, so we went to Patterson’s Family Restaurant out by the TCH for some good old fashioned chicken fingers and fries! Well, not everyone had this, but I did. Then a stop over at the liquor store and Co-Op for supplies. And back for the afternoon workshop with J.J. Steinfeld. J.J. had also arrived on Thursday so I had the pleasure of hanging out with him a lot before the workshop happened. He’s an entertaining funny sort of guy with many stories to tell. In his workshop participants attempted to write a short story together. It was an interesting process where we ended up with a whole lot of loose ends and not much tied up. It seemed everyone wanted to heighten the tension rather than fill in any of the blanks already alluded to. Looking around the room you could see how upset some participants were getting when sentence after sentence brought out new ideas, rather than developed upon the idea they had already put out there. That was interesting. I’ve often wondered about collaborative writing, and how it ever happens, because as writers we are so personally connected to our words. It is a different breed of writer that embraces the more collaborative genres like screenplays, methinks. That exercise ended with a total break-down, nobody wanted to finish, unless they could do it on their own terms, individually. Very interesting. My favourite exercise was the three sentence one, where J.J. gave an opening line, a participant gave a second line to build upon it and a third person gave the final line to close the story. That was a lot of fun to see and participate in. It’s always interesting when you get a room full of writers at different stages of their careers, who write different genres.
I had promised myself I wouldn’t spend money on books this trip, I need to finish all the books I already own first . . . but that went out the window. After hearing J.J. read on Friday evening I had to get a full collection of short stories and two chapbooks of short shorts. He signed them for me on Saturday afternoon before he and his lovely partner, Brenda, departed for PEI.
Back to the room for drinks and decompressing and preparation for the literary awards banquet. The meal was amazing! Like seriously, amazing! Should I ever have occasion for a banquet (a wedding? a birthday? retirement? something?) I will seriously consider making everyone trek to Sackville and take over the Marshland for at least a day and a night to enjoy the hospitality and great food. I had the roast beef with whipped potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Not because I particularly like roast beef, but because I didn’t particularly want salmon (which would require a white wine and also induce sleepiness) or asparagus crepes. Going into the banquet I would’ve much preferred the pork dish I’ve had at Marshland’s before and enjoyed immensely. But lo and behold, I am now a beef convert! The dinner was amazing! The appetizer salad with poppyseed dressing was to die for, and frigging huge! The main course was also to die for . . . and frigging huge! Everyone at my table had the chocolate dessert except me. I had the mandarin orange cheesecake. Again to die for! Perfection! What a meal! Hat’s off to the chef. Truly a memorable meal.
Following the food, came the presentation of awards and readings by the winners of the WFNB’s annual literary competition. A fine selection of readers. A few years ago the WFNB opened their annual competition up to entries across Canada, in keeping with what most groups across the country do, and it’s wonderful to see how many of the winners are New Brunswickers in this now national competition. NB’ers are writing! And they’re writing good stuff! It’s particularly wonderful to see and hear from our young writers like Katherine Standen, who tied for second for the Sheree Fitch Prize for fiction. Before the readings started, Marilyn, madame president, presented me with a gift of a very nice bottle of wine and a wonderful gift certificate. I didn’t feel like I deserved this, I didn’t do that much, but it was lovely of them to think of me. Thankfully I did not open the bag, see the contents, read the card, during the banquet, because I would’ve been bawling. I nearly was, as it was. And I had the responsibility of mic adjusting, so that wouldn’t have been cool.
All in all it was a great evening. My roomies were exhausted though, so we didn’t go out for the usual drinks or partying afterward. Perhaps nobody gathered to talk writing and literature into the wee hours of the morning, I’m not sure. We retreated to our room for an hour or so of drinks and tarot readings. And were all tucked in quite early. Where I continued to check the clock every 15-20 minutes, this time waking my sister every time because she opted to sleep between me and the digital, so I had to sit up and peep over her to see the numbers. She may regret not choosing the claustrophobic next to the wall spot.
Slept late and went to breakfast late on Sunday. I had the eggs benedict and then emceed our final event, the open mic readings. This is where everyone has a chance to share their work and it’s always a highlight of the weekend. Such a great turn-out! We had about 14 readers and at least as many spectators. We went round the room once, but opted not to go round again as many people (including me) had to get on the road to travel back to the real world. I read why I hate New Year’s Eve, and probably went a little long, it’s hard to time yourself, but I was last, so I don’t think it mattered that much.
All in all, it was a great few days, a successful WFNB event, and I’m already churning around ideas for what we can do in Miramichi next year to top this year’s event.
Listening To: water running for the washer upstairs
Hair: still headbanded