The last week in June is my favorite week of the year and has been for more than 15 years. That's because it's time for the Santa Barbara Writers Conference (http://www.sbwriters.com). I teach the humor workshop at the week long conference. Unfortunately, I always seem to have a column due that week also. Usually, I finish my column before the conference starts, but a couple years ago I didn't, so I had to come up with a new plan as to how to complete it. This is a true account of what happened...
"Good afternoon class. I thought we'd try something brand new this year. I thought we could write a humor piece together. I'll start it with the first few sentences then the assignment is for you to write all the funny stuff. And if it comes out good enough, I'll see if I can get the Montecito Journal to publish it."
I raised my hands modestly in a "please, don't thank me" pose. That's when my good friend and fellow Montecito Journalist, Jim Alexander, who was sitting in on my workshop, said:
"Bull! You've got a column due and you want us to write it for you." Personally I've always thought that Jim was a bit too smart for his own good.
Fortunately, it's my workshop and they have to do what I tell them. Double fortunately, it actually worked. Thanks to Karen, Amy, Patrick, Bradley, Jacqueline, Jade, Tracy, Jan, Mike, Tom, Sylvia, Brian, Steve, Patricia, Cat, Verna, Anita, Johan, Kim, Ellen, Beverly, Cherry, John and Jim I turned the following column in just in time.
People are always asking me what goes on at a writer's conference. Well, besides the goat sacrifices, naked pagan dancing, and the jalapeño-tofu-hummus eating contest, it's pretty much just a bunch of successful people with real jobs who want to give it all up for a glamorous life with little or no pay.
This year, for the first time, we are at Fess Parker's DoubleTree Inn located on the beachfront in Santa Barbara, a wonderful venue for a writer's conference mainly because they have a bar and a hot tub.
"The goat peed in the hot tub."
Okay, mainly because they have a bar.
There are a few problems at our new location though. For one thing the train goes by every fifteen minutes and they blow the horn continuously to get the pagan dancers off the tracks. The humor workshop was outside one day and my opening lecture went something like this: Loud horn blowing. Mouth moving. Students straining to hear. Train finally passes.
"...and that is the one thing that will guarantee fame and fortune. Any questions?"
Some of the other hurdles that students had to overcome this year to become unemployed, er, I mean, working writers, include: The disorientation of all the conference rooms at the DoubleTree being labeled either East or West combined with the fact that Santa Barbara actually faces south. Plus, apparently, the room layout map was printed upside down. I saw several students walking around with compasses and sextants, and one student from Florida was found three days after the conference started sitting in the men's room waiting for the "Flushing Out Our Characters" workshop to start.
Speaking of restrooms, The DoubleTree has all the latest amenities such as automatic faucets. But being Southern California laid back faucets they don't always respond right away.
"Try putting your left foot and right elbow in the sink while wiggling your ears at the sensor and bending at the hips."
"Thanks so much. What do you teach?"
As you might imagine, most writers don't get out much. That's why they smell like moles, blink a lot in sunlight, and wear things like coal miner's helmets and day-old bed linen. Of course, they're also carrying around two-thousand-dollar laptop computers. However, the real problem is that going without any sleep for an entire week at the conference requires that these writers consume copious amounts of coffee, but not all them are from Santa Barbara so they don't all like half-skim, half soy, sugar-free vanilla-laced, cinnamon swirl, chocolate-enhanced, half-cafe double lattes.
"Black coffee please."
"I'm sorry no one here knows how to make that. Next."
Students are always losing things at the conference too, so there is a lost and found box. So far this year the box contains fifteen cellphones all with the text message "Where Am I?" two sets of false teeth, one of which is still attached to an agent's pantleg, a nose ring the size of a hula hoop, a Pam Am Frequent flyer card issued to Amelia Earhart, and a manuscript entitled "Why I Never Leave Home."
Another thing that's hard for new students is figuring out the system. Most workshops have signup sheets for reading your work, which carryover from day to day, but by the time some people figure this out it's a bit late.
"I finally finished my humor piece and put my name on the list."
"Great. You'll be first up next year."
Did I mention the weddings? There were three during the conference, which added a musicality to several of the workshops like the mystery workshop: "It was a dark and stormy night..."
"...You light up my life. Light up my life..."
And to the travel writer's workshop: "My story begins in a remote section of..."
"...Y-M-C-A. da-da-da-da-da-da-da. Y-M-C-A..."
Anyway, I hope this gives you a picture of what a writer's conference is really like. Now, if you'll excuse me, the goat's in the hot tub again.
This year's conference starts on Saturday June 21. I have a column due Tuesday June 24. I sure hope I get some ambitious students again...