Entry 4

I’m writing this diary entry at night. I’ve written the other entries in the morning, but tomorrow I’ve got to serve breakfast—we’re on rotating shifts here, and the last shift starts tomorrow. Bread Loaf’s starting to wind down; everyone leaves early Sunday morning.

Carl Phillips, serving lunch
Carl Phillips, serving lunch

We didn’t have to work lunch today—writers on the faculty worked the dining hall, which is a tradition one meal a summer here, and which means there’s no real excuse for me to be this tired. (For a list of the Bread Loaf faculty with bios, click here.) Carol Muske-Dukes, the famous poet, had the table I sat at and, although she left a pitcher of water on the table for us to help ourselves (strictly against the rules), it went fine. Carl Phillips, a poet and, until last semester, the director of the writing program I’m in, was serving tables a few feet from me. The novelist Helen Schulman and short story writer Margo Rabb were both hovering around in aprons not far away. Ted Conover, who wrote about his experience working as a prison guard at Sing Sing, was up somewhere near the front. There’s something slightly surreal about being in a dining room with two dozen established writers serving coffee, but it’s not as strange as you’d expect. It’s like one of those thought experiments they give you in philosophy class: In some parallel universe, the waiters are famous. You’d get used to it, I think.

After lunch, I drove into Middlebury, the nearest real town, to buy flip-flops at a store named Ben Franklin, a five-and-dime near the college, and bowling-alley pizza (because the food at lunch wasn’t so hot). The drive into town is beautiful: mountains everywhere.

When I got back, I went to a craft class given by Kevin McIlvoy, who read the story the first night I got here that I liked so much. He lectured about writing styles and how the revision process can be used to make second and third drafts of stories messier (not neater, which is how I always do it), and the 20 people in the class were hanging on every word he said. Rumor has it that his writing schedule goes something like this: He writes, in longhand, at a diner for four hours each morning starting at 4:00 then teaches during the day—he’s on the faculty of the MFA program at New Mexico State University—and then reads for a few hours at night. Anyway, his lecture was great—just what you hope for: brilliant, insightful, free of in-class writing exercises.

And there are tons of these lectures and readings and panel discussions on this or that going on here; it seems like they’ve packed a month’s worth of writing activities into a 10-day schedule. Today, for example, there were eight other craft classes and two panel discussions. All the drinking aside (we picked up more vodka when we were in town), there are some fairly great classes here.

Dinner was uneventful, except they made us serve ice cream again. Here’s the problem: If the ice cream comes straight from the freezer, it’s impossible to scoop, but when it sits out it melts and becomes unappetizing quickly—soupy and gross. If you grab an extra dish of ice cream, you can’t bring it back to the kitchen because it’ll be too melted to eat, so lots of the ice cream gets wasted. They’re taking a strong stance against the learn-from-your-mistakes kind of logic that would dictate dessert decisions in a more perfect world; I still have caramel sauce on my shoes.

Jericho at the waiters' reading
Jericho at the waiter-reading

After dinner, we had the second waiter-reading. It went well but didn’t have the same pep-rally quality as the first one, mainly because the turnout wasn’t quite as high. It’s freezing here tonight; a few people pulled the wool blankets off their beds and brought them to the reading. It happened again, where everyone turned out to be good, which really is nice. In the real world—back in our home towns and MFA programs—it never turns out like that. I read from the beginning of a short story about Maine and I managed to get through it without flubbing any of the words. So many things can go wrong at a reading: The first time I read in front of a lot of people, I took swigs of beer at the section breaks in the story I was reading (because, you know, your mouth gets dry when you read), but I did it so close to the microphone that the glug-glug-glug got picked up over the speakers. Tonight, there’s another bonfire party that I’m about to head off to. If anything exciting happens there, I’ll write about it tomorrow.