I recently got back from teaching my two-day workshop at the Kauai Writers Conference. Two long twelve-hour days, jammed packed with instruction, learning and socializing, as I wowed the crowd with such titillating titles as “Crime & Mystery: Breaking Apart the Mystery and Planting the Clues”; “Using Past Troubles for Future Gains”; “How to Make Setting a Character in Your Novel”; “15 Ways to Escape a Turkish Prison with Only a Bar of Soap and a Dream” (we never got to that last one). Dorky writer stuff that I just love.
At the end of the first day, I had a bitching headache. I’m talking whole face aching, thundering in the dome, pulsating artery pain. By the time I returned to the hotel room, Justine had finished the day's adventures with the boy, who was already passed out asleep. One look at my face, she asked what was wrong.
“I think I have a headache from smiling too much,” I said. “I’m not used to using those facial muscles.”
Happiness for that gentleman hurts.
Way back in the Salad Days, my buddy, Matt, and I went tripping on mushrooms in the Marin Headlands. And as the heavy, cold fog descended with the midnight gloam, blanketing heath and hill, the trip started out pretty shitty. But then that Santana song came on the radio, and everything was OK. Because when you are tripping on ’shrooms, a good or bad trip sometimes comes down to the song the DJ plays at that moment.
The great thing about the Kauai Writers Conference, besides its being held on one of the most beautiful places on Earth and sponsored by some of the nicest people I've ever met, was how much I felt I was able to help others, namely other writers. You all know I am no fan of the hippy. I’m not into yoga. I don’t worry about radioactive fish, I vaccinate my kid; and even though I know climate change is very real and a very bad thing, I mostly champion resolution because I can’t stand the Right’s ridiculous denial of the issue. In short, I’m a strange bird. A leftie whose veggie diesel bug runs on hate.
My lovely wife, Justine, says my misery is all schtick. She may be right. Don’t forget, I’m the same dude with “Peace, Love, and Understanding” on his (massive) biceps (and, kids, grammar lesson one of the day: even if it is only one arm, it is “biceps,” never “bicep”). There was a time when I believed in the better parts of man, but the years of hard living and abuse stomped all that love, hope and positivity out of me.
I realized this weekend there might still be a shred of optimism left. I’ll admit: I drank a little of the Kool-Aid. The writers I had the privilege of teaching were so hungry, receptive, so talented, from all walks of life, with such open spirits and positive attitudes. And the tie that bound them all together was how earnestly they desired get their work into the world. I only wanted to spare them the rejection I suffered. And I knew how to help. And I wanted to help. Which is weird because I think it springs from an authentic place in my cold, black heart.
Standing at the lectern (grammar lesson two, kids: we stand on a podium, in front of the lectern), seeing how much I was helping, goddamn, it made me feel good. I love teaching, pure and simple. And I am good at it.