Chesapeake Writers Conference – Days 0 and 1

Greetings from the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference 2016, hosted by St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Lots to go into, even though I’ve only been here since yesterday and the event runs through Friday night. There’s a lot of “wow, things have really changed” going on. I haven’t been to school here in 20 years and I haven’t visited the campus in 15 years. When I was a student, I thought the place was, in some part, the land that time forgot. Time has caught up and made up for lost time, as it were.

And there have been some cool writing things going on, too. As well as some not so good things. Here we go …

Changes

For the first time ever, I drove the majority of the way down Maryland Route 2. I picked up 2 off of U.S. 50. Since I hadn’t been that way before, the entirety of the road between 50 and Maryland 4 was all new to me anyway.

Much of the multiplex Route 2-4 was really familiar even through Prince Frederick. They’ve put up a lot of new business along 2-4, but all in all, it looks the same. South of Prince Frederick, all the way through Solomons, everything looked as I remembered. I was using GPS, but I could have used my own memory as my old landmarks were all there and visible.

Even the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge is still the same and still a pretty intense experience, with its 2 lanes (with no shoulder) over a pretty steep incline. Maryland needs to rebuild this bridge. If I remember correctly, the state has put out questions in the area as to what they should do with the structure. I say get rid of the whole thing and build a bridge with 4 lanes and a shoulder. Same thing for the Harry W. Nice Bridge across the Potomac into Virginia (what’s up with the politicos and engineers back in the day building all these bridges over major bodies of water with just two lanes and no shoulder. The original span of the Bay Bridge was built that way.)

Across the Patuxent, it’s different story. I couldn’t believe it when I got to Route 235. I’d heard that the area had been really built up. It was beginning when I visited the campus about 14-15 years ago.

But instead of the somewhat still-rural Route 235 I remember, I saw strip malls all up and down the road between Route 4 and Shangri-La Drive. Hotels. Huge gas stations with mini-marts instead of the old country highway type (with an old, dingy mechanic shop) of stations.

This 235 looked more like York Road in Timonium than Three Notch Road in St. Mary’s. There, I needed the GPS. Even if some of my old landmarks are still there, some of the names have changed, some are surrounded by new development.

For instance, the Ledo Pizza is right there, exactly as I remember it, but there were so many new things surrounding it that I almost didn’t recognize the building at first. The gates to NAS Pax River are in the same place, but the new (albeit gorgeous) museum that commemorates the station dominates the view from the road now.

Down closer to campus, same story.

The road we used to take to get to town, Youngs Road, was mostly rural, aside from one or two developments; The Greens was one of those and if I remember correctly, it was a favorite among commuter students. The Greens is still there, but along the road are now newer condos and apartments and new home developments. I don’t usually use the term McMansion, but that’s the type of home being built there. From the 280s as the sign says. And many more are under construction right now.

The campus itself has changed pretty dramatically from my time here. For one, when I drove onto campus and got to DPC, I noticed you could keep going, further into campus. This certainly didn’t used to be the case. There are more dorms and other buildings north of there. There was one inbetween Caroline and the gym and a few more behind Goodpaster that I don’t remember (I also don’t remember Goodpaster, which opened in 2007)

I knew the old dining hall was no more, as I’d been down by the time they built the new one, but there’s a cinema and presentation room beneath it. The school store is in the same building, over from Anne Arundel Hall (though it may have been there last time I was here, but I think all of this was under construction at the time). The patio is definitely new.

Baltimore Hall computer lab is still there in the same place (some great memories of pranks and hijinks there) as well as the library.

They tore down the old Public Safety building. And I don’t see the post office anymore. Getting packages from home in that post office was a life saver.

One of my fellow workshop participants was surprised to learn earlier that Dorchester Hall didn’t always have air conditioning. Nope. We used to swelter in there. These days, I guess, the kids have creature comforts. I haven’t been in there and I won’t as the writing conference also has a teen component and the teens are staying in there.

The campus has really grown. I got lost driving. You didn’t used to get lost on this campus. At least Montgomery Hall is where I left it. And it looks largely how I left it. I strolled through the Theatre. The place where I first fell in love with the art of theatre. More on this later, perhaps.

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I went to Buffalo Wild Wings last night to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals (what a game). While there, I thought about how where I was sitting was probably a patch of land 20 years ago, along with the shopping center across the parking lot, anchored by a Kohl’s.

When I was here, I never cared for the isolation. Having grown up in the City, this place was at first, a huge shock. Couldn’t walk to the store. Friends were far away. It was so out of my comfort zone and I was too stubborn to let it back in. So for that and other reasons, I went home on weekends as much as I could. I wished I could have a car, but that never materialized. Lots of things never materialized from the experience that could have.

Today’s students have an exurb here with all the familiar sights from home. If they’re like me and take much to adjust to new settings, then all this new development would probably help them ease in. Being able to go to Buffalo Wild Wings or one of the several Mexican restaurants I’ve seen might go a long way to making yourself feel comfortable so far from home (and again, there were other reasons I wanted to be close to home as much as possible. I really should have taken a gap year, but unfortunately, those hadn’t been invented yet)

I wondered if I could be a student here now and I don’t think so. I’d rather be on an urban campus. Walking through campus now, I understand those days and myself better. I’m grateful for my time here, but I might have done better in a different setting. However, there are no mistakes. I met some great people during my time here. And still, I’m back for this conference. I’ve changed a little, too.

Kids on campus

In addition to the teens in their own section of the writing conference, there is at least one other group of kids on campus, involved in the Maryland State Boychoir concert taking place on campus this week.

In addition to rooting me in line several times, they have been singing at mealtime. Those kids are really good, too. One of the leaders gives a signal to get up and once they’ve all risen, they sing a 2-3 minute choral song. They were so good, I didn’t care anymore about them rooting me in line. Besides, the school wasn’t going to run out of tater tots. And if they’d run out of bacon, I wouldn’t have cared.

I am getting up early in the morning to hopefully beat the kids to the dining hall. Wish me luck. Maybe they’ll have some non-pork meat in the dining hall, too. If not, I’m for sure going somewhere off-campus for breakfast Wednesday morning.

Not so good things

The Data Situation

Not that it’s the fault of the school or the workshop –and I was forewarned about this– but the cell signal on campus really sucks and I’m very unhappy about that. Cell phones weren’t a thing when I was a student here, so it’s nothing I ever complained about back then, but right now, it’s frustrating. The replacement is public WiFi. Evil, evil public WiFi. The signal is just around campus, but still, public WiFi is of Beezlebub. Don’t trust it. Unless you’re far from a reliable cellular signal and it’s the only thing available.

The Walking Situation

I’d forgotten how it was walking here. Going down the hills is okay as it ever was. But going back up? Well, it’s hot and those hills are steep. And I missed a few weeks of throwing the bell and lifting, so I might have lost all kinds of my gains from those activities. Hopefully I’ll get used to it again. Being winded makes for some bad writer conversations on the way to the dining hall and back.

The Accommodations Situation

This didn’t happen to me, but a bunch of the folks didn’t get the bedsheets we were supposed to get. My roommate ended up fending for himself and going to some mystical laundry room that nobody else knew about.

I’m not going to write a story about this, but I imagine someone else will one day. I hope so.

Some other folks are having issues with wasps. So my issue with there being no hand soap is pretty low. Plus, I went and got some. Problem solved.

The Breakfast Meat Situation

All pork or veggie. I was a breakfast vegetarian today. Fortunately, I made up for that at dinner with burger and grilled chicken. I really went crazy on the protein. Still, there’s more to breakfast meat than pork.

Good stuff so far

There is a lady in my workshops who lives in Bethesda, but originally from Alabama. She’s a retired teacher who had been steered away from writing and towards being a teacher, back in the day.

She wrote a brief essay in workshop about being a teen and the young, super-religious boys back then having issues with her skirt being too high above her knee. When they were wearing the same kind of stuff. She’s going after this body shaming and ridiculous double standards BS hard. I’m looking forward to what she’ll be writing next.

While walking back from the dining hall with her, I told her my boss is from Louisiana and a huge LSU fan. She wouldn’t even acknowledge that I’d mentioned that. She said where she comes from, they ask you if you’re Alabama or Auburn. She even said some guy from Tennessee was asked that question there and he said he was Volunteers. They still asked him if he was Alabama or Auburn.

If I’m ever in that part of Alabama and I have to choose between the two, I choose Alabama, only because Ozzie went there. Outside of Alabama, I’m Big 10 Maryland and ACC Miami.

Oh and she’s been to freaking Breadloaf a few times.

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My workshop leader, Angela Pelster-Wiebe, has an MFA from Iowa. And an interest in experimental essay forms. How could this be anything but good? We’ll be workshopping and writing the rest of the week. It’ll be her turn to read and lecture soon. I’m looking forward to that.

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I took several pages of notes between Patricia Henley’s opening remarks yesterday and her craft talk today. I can’t even go into all of it right now without writing much more (this is up to about 7 typed pages). But suffice it to say, her ideas about using your curiosity in writing, have stirred up much in me.

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The soda machine in Goodpaster is touchscreen and takes cards. I really needed that water.

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A Few Pictures

Having problems uploading. Will do that ASAP.

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Conclusion

If there’s anything I missed, I’ll cover it later. They have social stuff on campus during these post-workshop-event hours, but if we’re getting homework like the folks in the fiction and poetry workshops, I’ll be back in here writing each night. I made a commitment to blogging this experience and posting pictures of it.

I’m so glad I have a couple of tablets I can use to watch TV on.

Writer, et. al.