This is a Clarion Blog.
I’m writing this from the future, from week five, but more on that later.
When the end of week two rolled around, we were crashing headlong into a wall made of exhaustion and no sleep and no stopping, as Geoff Ryman pushed and encouraged and pushed us some more, in our Clarion journey. By the end of week two, we had experienced our first major wipeout of the workshop.
But we worked through it, with sleep and alcohol and singing, and by the time Cat and her partner Heath (who is a wise and hilarious gentleman), showed, we were ready for week three to begin.
Cat, (or Catherynne Valente as she is known to the book world), is an absolute gem, and one of the main reasons I applied this year. If you’ve never read any of her fiction, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Magical, whimsical, heartbreaking, gut wrenching, sly and charming, Cat’s work is beautiful on every level. I was half-expecting her to start bringing chairs and brooms and doorknobs to life with a wink of her eye, kept waiting to see eucalyptus trees bob and ravens wheel and stones laugh as she passed by.
And even though most of these things didn’t happen, (that I could see with my very human, non-magical eyes), she was a delight and wonder in every sense, not only as a teacher, but as a mentor. Her critiques were enthusiastic and filled with overwhelming support, with questions that cut to the heart of the narrative, and an energy that always managed to revitalize a room of sleep-deprived writers.
Outside the workshop though, she took us under her wing, and spoke to us as equals, compatriots, colleagues. She taught us how to read your story with energy and confidence. She sat with us on the roof, taught us to stand up for ourselves, how to approach the community, how to sit at the table and be counted.
We cooked up Herbert the Plotstrich, and ate him for his narrative power.
She taught us that we have to believe in ourselves, that the stories worth telling are our stories, can only be our stories, that they have to come from a deep place, a well in the bottom of your heart that you have to pull from, have to give of yourself to the world through your writing.
She was ridiculous with us and laughed with us, and sang with us, (Backstreet Boys, if you must know).
She taught us that we have to write with our stars out, with our heart on the page.
Her energy and love and support and sheer fucking enthusiasm for us and our future got us through week three. She dropped truth-bomb after truth-bomb, and taught us that we can make it out in the world, that our stories are worth telling. She was a song, a poem, a spell, amorphous and all-changing and always supportive.
I’ll always remember sitting with her, beer in hand, nodding along, rapt . . . And then playing Charades Against Humanity, embarrassing ourselves, with not a care in the world, putting ourself out there as we had to on the page.
She was exactly what we needed in Week Three, and it was an absolute blast (and privilege) to work with her. I think she helped convince us we were all on the right path, and that ultimately, we needed to be enjoying ourselves, that writing wasn’t all doom and gloom and darkness. She helped us remember that writing could be, and should be fun as well.