The Burn This House road trip continues its juggernaut down the California coastline! Yesterday, I arrived in Santa Barbara, where I spent several years as an undergraduate at Westmont College. I was honored to be invited back to Westmont this week to read from my collection and to guest lecture in a creative writing workshop.
I hadn’t been back to the Westmont campus since I graduated a good decade ago, and as I drove up into the hills above Santa Barbara, I had to laugh at myself for my relative inability to navigate the roads I’d spent so much time driving in my youth. Being back on campus was also an exercise in mental astonishment–everyone walking around so young. And they all looked exactly the way we students did years ago. It was as though I’d entered some strange wormhole in which I was the only one who’d aged. The campus, however, was astonishingly beautiful–a number of new, environmentally friendly and darned cool buildings have popped up in the wake of the devastating fire that swept the campus a few years ago, and it was good to see the campus not only restored but made even more beautiful than it was before.
The reading I gave was, I think, a success. At every stop along the road, I’ve been frightened that no one would come. Or that one person and/or a feral cat would come. Somehow, one person or a cat
would be…worse than no one. And when I arrived to see a huge number of chairs set up in a hall where I’d only seen Dana Gioia pack out the venue, I was not a little scared about my prospects. Happily, a great number of students, faculty, and community members came out for the reading and all but filled the hall. The reading opened with two wonderful student readers, Paul and Riley. I was not writing poems half as strong as they when I was an undergraduate, and I hope both of them continue to develop their craft.
For my own part, I read a large quantity of poems, trying to intersperse some of the funny ones with the serious. I felt that the poems were well received, and it felt wonderful to have the support of some very dear friends and teachers in the room with me. I know many of them are extremely busy this time of year, and I was honored and humbled that they made time to attend.
This morning, I visited one of the fiction writing classes at Westmont to speak with the students about how to begin placing work in literary journals. I brought them a big stack of magazines I brought back from AWP, and made sure the students took home journals to read. We talked about finding venues that specialize in particular types and lengths of fiction, about how exactly one goes about submitting work, and how to handle rejection. The students were a delight–serious, enthusiastic, open to what I had to say. I hope that if they gleaned one thing from my talk, it’s that rejection is okay. Rejection is simply a feature of the writing life, and that we should embrace rejection as a sign that we’re doing what we need to do as writers: sending our work into the world.
After a great morning at Westmont, I headed down to Los Angeles for the last stop on the California leg of this tour. This drive was a bit more grim than the others thus far on the trip, with stop-and-go traffic the entire way from Santa Barbara to Long Beach, where I’m staying.
A few points of interest along the way to Los Angeles:
1. I watched the Parent of the Year drive past me on the 405 in Los Angeles today. Said parent was on a motorcycle, threading the snug needle between the two left lanes, with an infant strapped to her back in a Baby Bjorn. I don’t know if that’s illegal, but it should be.
2. There is sure lot of flotsam and jetsam strewn around the sides of the roads here. I suppose I don’t generally notice it when I’m breezing down the freeway doing 70, but stopped on the road today, I saw enough broken glass, smashed beer cans and general detritus to make a really bad art exhibit. What are you all doing down here?
3. In ‘N Out doesn’t get old on road trips. It just doesn’t.
Now, finally, after an epic day, off to get some rest.
I hope I’ll see some of you, who have not traveled with infants strapped to your motorbikes, at the Ruskin Art Club this Sunday, 2:00 pm. It should be a fabulous program! I’m delighted to be reading with a great group of other Red Hen poets.