Saturday, June 23, 2007

Home from New York

I just got back from the International Women's Writing Guild Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York and I have jet lag. This will be my last hoorah for a while so far as traveling goes. I've been lucky this year to go to Charleston, South Carolina, Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Saratoga Springs, New York but now the funds and available time off work are gone so I'll be staying pretty close to home for the next year or so.
Saratoga Springs in upstate New York is one of my favorite places, a place that loves art and horses in equal measure - a great combination. Home of Saratoga Race Track, one of the most graceful of the old historic tracks, it also features blocks of huge and fabulously beautiful Victorian homes. In the past, on one grand weekend, the weekend before the racing season opened, the houses went from bare to flower-bedecked. Suddenly, millions of blossoms appeared along streets and sidewalks and in hanging baskets on verandahs. And when the lawn jockey appeared on the tree lawn in front of the house, that was notice that the owners of the mansions were in residence and ready to receive guests (most of them only living here during the short racing season).
During the season, the horse people could be seen traveling to the track in fancy carriages pulled by immaculate Hackney ponies, the women in fantastic picture book hats. A special visit during this time of year was breakfast at the track where you were served fresh strawberries and thick cream on linen tablecloths as the exercising horses pounded down the track in front of you.
The historic downtown features art galleries, some of which specialize in horse pictures and bronzes and jewelry. But Saratoga is also known for the ballet and the opera and writing and fine food and grand old hotels and the healthful waters of the spa.
For a writer, the IWWG Conference is a feast of inspiration and ideas. Workshop Directors are a mixed bag. They range from purely professional novelists and poets and children's book authors who offer practical advice about both writing and publishing to those who are more in tune with a writer's spiritual side whether that takes the form of expressing your innermost self through intensive journaling or casting your horoscope or learning to tell a story with fans.
The conferees too are a diverse bunch. They come from all over the country, even all over the world, although the most well-represented location is New York City. They are old and young; fat and thin; of all different races and complexions. They are straight and gay, worldly and spiritual. Their political opinions range to liberal to ultra-liberal. (It feels strange to me, who is usually accused of being a bleeding heart, to be on the conservative fringe here.)
All of Skidmore comes down to one woman, Hannelore Hahn, who conceived of and brought into being, the International Women's Writing Guild many years ago. The Guild has conferences all over the country but Skidmore is the biggest and her particular pride. Hannelore took me under her wing many years ago when I wrote my very first Newsweek article and I still consider her a mentor who encouraged and inspired my writing, as she has encouraged and inspired so many.
Skidmore College, where we stay, is a beautiful campus....but, it is a college campus, meant for youthful students who jog from student union to class halls to dorms with great sacks of books resting on their backs, not for older ladies with bum knees and arthritis hips.
I never noticed when I went to Skidmore last about 20 years ago that the narrow dorm beds were quite so lumpy, nor the distances between cafeteria and halls quite so far.
And this is what I learned about myself on this trip: I am spoiled. I was ashamed of myself for my weakness. There were women older than me who never complained, nor even seemed to notice the deprivations of uncomfortable beds and bathrooms down the hall and being coffee-less until the Student Union opened at 7. Meanwhile, I awoke each morning between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. with a belt of pain across my back that drove me out of bed. And there I would sit, reading, miserably waiting for time to pass. I could not smoke unless I got dressed to go down three floors to sit outside on a bench; I had nothing to drink except water out of the tap; I had no computer nor television to catch up on the news and the blogs which is an elemental part of my normal daily routine.
And so, as much as I enjoyed and appreciated the workshops and meeting new people with all kinds of writing experiences, I was not sorry when the conference was over. I stayed my night on the road on the way home in a Sleep Inn just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. When I opened the door with my keycard, I positively reveled in the great soft king-sized bed. I schlepped barefoot across the deep, colorful carpeting. I luxuriated in a long shower, knowing that no one else would walk into the room. I caught up on all the news that had happened in the world in the last week via the t.v. I got the coffee pot ready so all I had to do the next morning was turn it on and wait 3 minutes for a wonderful hot cup.
Would I go back again next year for more of the same. You bet I would!