Last week, thanks to the work and help of friends and strangers, I traveled to Salem, Massachusetts for the Writer Unboxed UnConference.
Have you ever been to Salem? I found it magical. Maybe it was arriving three days after Halloween and meeting people I’d known online, but had never spent time with in real life.
I could have wandered around a few more days.
The area’s history is dark, but it fit my mood lately after working on the Obituary Project and coming up on the anniversary of my mother’s death. As a teen, too, the witch trials fascinated me. I suspected that as a girl who liked Tarot cards, being alone, and writing books, I’d have been accused of witchcraft back then. Well, it’s unlikely I’d have ever been alone much or been given a chance to be a writer, but I already felt like a misfit at school. I certainly identified with women falsely accused.
But that’s another story.
I went for a conference and to meet other writer friends. In truth, I didn’t go to as many sessions as I expected. The first day I went to a talk and a workshop by Meg Rosoff. I liked her right away. And it turns out she’s a cancer survivor like me. During the workshop, I mentioned my obituary project, and the idea resonated with her. It doesn’t resonate with many people, so appreciated her reaction and I plan to do more with it.
She talked a great deal about the subconscious and accessing those dark places in the mind to help write. Her ideas didn’t click with everyone, but not everyone has the same way of writing. I don’t care anyway. She resonated with me.
I missed a few other sessions because I had the chance to spend a day with my cousins–who I hadn’t seen in 25 years. And then I left a day-long workshop with Donald Maass early to go to an art exhibition.
Now, Maass is a great agent and he knows what he is talking about and it seemed foolish to miss the chance to learn from him. I had no hope of snagging him as my agent, but he isn’t someone I’m going to have a chance to meet again. But here’s the thing.
Down the street from the hotel stands the Peabody Essex Museum with a Calder exhibition. It so happens my mother started a novel before she died and in the beginning of the novel, two characters talk about Calder. The title of her novel is The Death Man. Well, I had to see the exhibit, and I’m glad I did, even if it meant missing the biggest workshop of the conference.
The exhibit was beautiful. I went to the museum with a friend, but we looked at the art separately. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I had to work hard to be a sane person. I didn’t want people to think I was losing my mind because I was crying. But for the first time in a while, I felt my mother’s loss keenly. She should have seen that exhibit.
And I ought to be able to finish her novel for her. No. Not finish. I can’t presume. But incorporate what she wrote into something. I think I came up with something. I write down the calder quotes on the walls, and hints and suggestions came to mind. Now i just have to put it all together.
I hope I’m up for that.
As always, thanks for reading.