We were in our cups, Megan and I. She was leaving in a week to start her MFA at Missoula on a free ride! And while I was happy for her, her lovely presence at our Wednesday evening happy hours would be missed; we usually went to the Sapphire Hotel or Colosso, popular Portland watering holes for elegant cocktails and yummy appetizers. No more boozeing and laughing, no more shared thoughts on writing, on this or that ms., on our successes and rejections, on ideas for potential markets, on agents and publishers; no more propping each other up - we shared antipathy at writing for far less than minimum wage. No one to hear my frequent threats to stop writing altogether.
This evening I brought photos like I promised - photos of a younger version of me at the Bread Loaf writers conference. See, there's me with William Stafford, and Howard Nemerov and John Gardner. (You knew it was Bread Loaf - everyone was wearing a tee shirt that said so.) Stafford was a gentlemanly old gent, Nemerov's hand was permanently curved to hold a drink, and Gardner's hair was styled in a white-blond Chaucerian pageboy. What a stellar summer: John Irving (Time magazine was there to photograph him for their cover story - Hotel New Hampshire was just hitting the shelves) was there with his sons, Stanley Elkin, Erica Jong, William Matthews, Tim O'Brien. David Godine visited, and an editor from Knopf; a well known agent or two - one of whom had recently contacted my friend. Which was a topic of endless speculation, as I'd met him that summer.
"Do you have a photo of Him?" The capital 'H' came with the agent's reputation.
Megan looked distressed. "Things are so different now. They're all dead," she said.
"Well, not all."
But I knew what she meant. Everything is different now: the authors, the business, how things are done. It's difficult to point to a group of contemporary writers whose body of work I would consider "great." For me, only Philip Roth remains.
Our conversations about Bread Loaf and the writers that summer took me back to a time and place that was intimidating and inspiring at the same time. The stories you hear about BL, they're true. It was a timeless fortnight - a manic two weeks: wild, overblown, grandiose. Careers made or broken? I don't think so, but that was how it felt. BL created and wrapped itself in its own myth.
Looking back, I was too young and new to be there. I had a handful of very good short stories. Eventually they were all published, and I wrote other stories and these were published, and essays and poems. I don't regret going, not when I recall the authors I met and mingled with, but I felt a particular type of terror. I compare it to immersion therapy. You have to survive it and then yell for more - in order to go forward.
The night before I left for Bread Loaf I had a classic Freudian nightmare; I actually can't dignify it by calling it Freudian but you'll get the idea. In my dream, John Gardner read my ms., threw it on the ground and jumped up and down on it. The reality was that John Gardner was a lovely sober man that summer, with a year left to his life. When I returned from Bread Loaf, my then gentleman-friend said I looked as if I'd seen god.
In a way, I had.
Causes Evelyn Sharenov Supports
Oregon Humane Society, ASPCA, PETA, HSUS