woodstock writers festival

I went to the first annual Woodstock Writers Festival and all I got was this lousy totebag. Oh, and four days of workshops, readings, and panel discussions with a remarkable and generous group of authors; belly laughs, inspiration, new friends, and great advice.
            Opening night wine and dessert tapas with Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief, a book on my to-read list moving closer to the top because who can resist lines like, “I hate hiking in swamps with convicts carrying machetes.”
            Saturday morning Nina and I went to the writing workshop with Abigail Thomas, author of Thinking About Memoir and other books. There was a certain — what — ironic congruity? in sitting at a memoir workshop in our first Woodstock childhood home, now the Woodstock Center for Photography. Our parents owned the old CafĂ© Espresso, our living quarters in the apartment upstairs. My sister and I sat in chairs that would have been behind the bar. Huh, whattaya know.
            I missed the reading by Maria Bauer, author of Beyond the Chestnut Tree, a book I read 25 years ago when Maria gave Tony and me a copy as a wedding gift. I lived in a cottage next door to her summer house in Woodstock. It’s my favorite of the places I’ve lived, partly because it was when I first suspected I was not going to die tragically young in a firey crash on my way home from Deanie’s some drunken Quaalude-rippled night. I digress.
        I loved the workshop with Laura Shaine Cunningham because the woman is so god-damned happy. And not just because she is a best-selling author, either. She’s made a deliberate effort to let go of angst and get out of what she called, “writers’ debtors prison.” I sharpen my shiv and dig, even if it’s just to break out of an illusion. One of the exercises was to describe the prior morning.

To do:
One load of laundry
Look at the bills, maybe even pay some
Wake up one Teenager
Leave by noon.
        Coffee. Laundry in. The Teenager is given first call at nine with the hope that he’ll be out of bed by 10:00 with time to do kitchen chores before taking off for the day.
O for two.
Pack. What to wear to a Writers Festival? A tiny cut above my usual slacks and a t-shirt? Two t-shirts? Laundry in dryer. Time is on time’s side. It always is if I sit at the computer before getting my must-dos done. Sucked into e-mail and facebook and now I have an overpowering need to know more about turtles and now it’s an irretrievable hour later and I’m late but at least I’m all schooled up on turtles.

Panel discussion with Dani Shapiro, John Bowers, Marion Winik, and Shalom Auslander. I haven’t read the first two authors, but Glen Rock Book of the Dead by Marion Winik is a brilliant little collection of essays about 52 people she knew who have died. Shalom Auslander’s book Foreskin’s Lament is nine miles beyond funny. Really fucking pissed off funny. Maddest at god but plenty left over for family too.
Here’s a response to an unremembered audience question.

Shalom: If you want to know what it’s like to be a writer, read The Hunger Artist by Kafka. You live in a cage, you starve, and no one cares.
Marion: Except they drag you out once a year for the Woodstock Writers Festival.
Shalom: Yeah, in a barn in the middle of nowhere.

Go out now and get these books and read them. I’ll wait.
            Next up Martha Frankel on marketing. I hate marketing. Marketing is why I got out of marketing. But Martha makes it sound so fun! and easy! So now I have to learn to pimp myself on facebook, twitter, etc. Now I have to accept everyone who friends me, including that guy who self-publishes vampire porn written in the style of a seven year old which now I see is a brilliant marketing strategy. The hide feature is my friend, and if things get really bad I can block which is to say in Mother Frankel’s words, “He’s dead to me.” I know you’re right Martha but shit.
            The next panel discussion was so good because I hated half of them. Hey eager writers, feeling good, and inspired? It’s time for the Cranky Negative Panel! (Wake up JB, you’re on the stage.) On the left were Bob Wyatt and Shaye Areheart, lovely helpful positive folks who I hope can be paired with different people in the future. The two on the right, married publisher and agent couple, seemed to say, “Hello. We are your barriers to publication. Go dig a hole and bury your book and stop bothering us with your stupid questions.” I loved Bob Wyatt’s riposte after a particularly long and gloomy response by the nattering nabobs of negativism∗ involving the impossibility of ever seeing even one of your vowels in print: “Or, you could land a plane on the Hudson.” Thank you Bob. And thank you Sully.
            I read Chosen By a Horse by Susan Richards by accident, misremembering a book recommended by my sister. I’m not a horse person. I’m not really even an animal person unless it involves heat and side dishes. In Sunday’s writing workshop Susan points out that hers is not a book about horses; it’s a book about grief. It was poignant, funny, sad and uplifting. The book that is. The workshop was excellent. When I am stuck I will go back to minute observations. Speaking of poignancy and all that, why didn’t I guess that I’d spend so much of this festival welled up bordering tears? The audience readers were wonderful and so many of their stories ached. Note on next years fest: bring tissues.
            Sunday night’s event was a reading and Q+A by Julie Powell, hosted by Martha Frankel, author of Hats and Eyeglasses. Julie’s is the I had an idea and I blogged it and someone noticed and I made it into a book and then Hollywood found it and Amy Adams played me and Meryl Streep was in it fairy tale. Julie landed her plane in the Hudson. I’m embarrassed that I have not read nor seen the movie Julie and Julia, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of this event. Martha Frankel is a thoughtful and funny host. I first saw her moderating a panel at the Woodstock Film Festival and thought I would like to have lunch with her sometime, if only she wasn’t such a recluse. For a good time, friend Martha on Facebook. She’s not that choosy and you won’t be sorry. Back to Julie, who has a new book called Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession that is maybe a little about her time interning at Fleischer's butcher shop in Kingston, NY. Julie is so damn cute it’s hard to imagine her taking down a side of beef, plus it hardly seems safe for a twelve year old to be waving big knives around, but I do look forward to reading this book. I’m sure it’s not about the meat.
            Did I mention that Ruth Reichl read and answered questions? She did. She was her sweet and funny goddess self. I may write more on this later.
            The next morning was a meet and greet brunch at Joshua’s. I ate, I schmoozed, I took pictures. That’s it for now. Find yourself at the Woodstock Writers Festival next year. The totebags are really nice.

William Safire, for Spiro Agnew




I bet that many of us not in the profession have random medical terms floating in our heads. I can tell an adipo from an adreno and I’d prefer an oscopy over an ectomy any day. I know medical colors too, like cyano, cirrh, and xanth. I remember ovo-, ovi-, ov-. But I didn’t know about oo (egg, ovum) or ooph (ovary, egg-bearing.) Ooph. Oeuf.

Where this is going is that I had an oophorectomy last week. When I first found out I needed one, I thought it sounded kind of fun and cartoony, like I was going to have a small Dr. Suess creature removed from my abdomen. It was less fun that that, but pretty easy as surgeries go.

My friend Donna emailed me, “I could cook you dinner like I'm making for my family tonight but I wonder if you really want a tuna fish sandwich with sweet pickles?” That sounded more like a dish to offer someone who was pregnant. I declined. This recovery is distinctly in the other direction.

I’m fine; please don't bring food, unless they are Rice Krispy Treats made with real Rice Krispies and fresh marshmallows. I like them just-made, butter never margarine, and a little warm, so please plan the baking and driving carefully, especially with all this snow.