Friday, June 7, 2013

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

By Susan       

Last year I was fortunate enough to be accepted to the Appalachian Writers Workshop in Hindman, Kentucky. I'd been recently rejected by another workshop and my confidence was at an all time low. Going home to write made sense. Hell, going home—when I'm feeling blue—always makes sense. Kentucky has a way of fixing what ails me, and after living elsewhere for twelve years, I knew I needed those green hills and valleys and the open arms of my kin.
The sycamore at Troublesome Creek, Hindman, Kentucky
I packed up my SUV with daughters and luggage and books and we left Texas, heading east to spend a month in Kentucky, hoping to find some clarity in my work and my craft. In the two weeks before going to Hindman, the girls and I hiked, visited family, and swam in open lakes. I tried to write. And I was scared. What did I have to offer at such a workshop? I wouldn't know anyone there. I'd never been published and knew I was out of my league. I showed up timid—rolling down into that deep holler, wearing my lucky shirt, trying to smile and act like I belonged there. I was a writer after all, wasn't I? Wasn't I? I didn't know anymore.
Hiking the trail to my cabin
 in Hindman, Kentucky.
I should have known things would have been fine. I should have known that these were my people: writers with storytelling in their blood, long Appalachian lineages, accents I could understand. There was no pretense. I could feel all my own artifice slipping away, and it felt good. Instead of feeling vulnerable, I felt finally real. It felt like home, although there were writers there from not only Kentucky, of course, but from the entire south and beyond. My dearest friend from the workshop lives even further from Appalachia than I do—in Seattle. But our shared roots gave us a foundation we don't have to explain to each other. Those friendships have carried me through this year of change and growth, both personally and in my writing.

So when it was time to apply this year, I held my breath. I couldn't handle a rejection, I decided—not now. Too much had happened in the past year to not lead me back to Hindman. After a few weeks of completing my application, wrestling with the idea of paying for it, and stressing that I might not even get accepted this year, I fired off my application.

And then I waited.

Writer George Singleton and I act silly
(halfway through the week, he'd shaved his beard--
and I couldn't get used to the new look.)
Facebook doesn't help in the waiting game. I got to see other writers celebrate their letters while I waited on the Pony Express to bring my acceptance—or rejection—to Texas. I tried not to think about it. I went on long runs. I paced. I ate things like, I dunno—a whole pan of brownies. Nothing really helped the clock move any faster.

I decided that if I wasn't chosen this year I would survive. It would give me more time to work on my final edits, I reasoned, and I could still spend my month in Kentucky with my daughters and extended family. I'd even decided to drive down for the keynote address on the final night—Barbara Kingsolver!!—and see all my friends. I talked myself into believing that I would not be going, and that was just fine.

When the letter came, I didn't take the time to think too much. I opened it, scanning quickly for the word "accepted."  And I found it, thankfully.

So now I wait for July. The line-up of instructors this year at the Appalachian Writers Workshop is incredible: Silas House, Fenton Johnson, Holly Goddard- Jones, Mark Powell. Many of my friends from last year will be returning, although many will not.  I'm feeling blessed by the acceptance, right when I really need it.

Home is complicated, isn't it? Yet for me, it's a safe place. That's what I found at Hindman: welcoming arms, no hierarchy, and people who write because they can't not write. It's in the blood, or maybe the water. Maybe it's the hills. It's my home, and I'm thankful that I'm going back. And I'm happy to see all y'all again!

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