Last night I couldn't sleep. Bread Loaf has infiltrated my brain. Brain Loaf. I close my eyes and hope that when I open them, the world will be green with the sound of summer cicadas. I half expect Charlie Baxter to hold a pitcher of coffee above my table, snickering as he says, "Sure, you can have some, but it's very dehydrating." And his stories, his glorious stories, and his wisdom, and his humor. And Cheryl Strayed and Ross Gay and Antonya Nelson and Robert Pinsky and Ted Conover and Terrance Hayes and Kristiana Kahakauwila and Jamie Quatro and Carlene Bauer and so many more.
I remember listening to my fellow waiters read aloud, stunned into silence by their talent and clear ambition. I dream of cloth napkins and tiny plates of butter. I hear the bell against the flagpole and the morning dew awakening. I remember those quiet moments when I sneaked down to Otter Creek or wandered down forest trails, listening to the world hum. And playing Frisbee outside the A&W as twilight fell. And swimming across Lake Pleiades on a rare afternoon off, watching tadpoles await the growth of their legs.
On the flight to Houston, a Norwegian oil baron asked me what I do, and I told him that I am writing a novel. That's the first time I've ever told a stranger that. The first time I ever said that aloud with the understanding that perhaps this is a thing I can actually do, in time. I was sitting, quite by accident, in first class, and as the waitress brought us glasses of wine that I kept passing them off to him, preferring to watch the clouds growing whiter and brighter outside the window. By the time we had arrived in Houston, he turned to me and said in all seriousness, "Well, you know, my wife and I know an American writer."
"Really?" I asked. "Who?"
It took a moment, and then we both laughed. I had my running shoes on and had to sprint to the opposite side of the airport to make my final flight. It was on that third and final flight, after several hours of traveling and ten days on my feet and in my head, that my throat began to clutch with exhaustion, my legs began to cramp in the chair. My body knew it was time to go home. And when I arrived and Ryan was there waiting, his face eager and full, I knew that though writing camp was over, so many wonderful things had just begun.