A promise made

It’s always hard to say goodbye at the end of a good writer’s workshop. My friends—Leslie, Tina, and Kristen—and I met in downtown Yellow Springs after the final morning lecture. We wanted to have a last lunch together under a hazy sky before each of us made our way back to our homes in northern Ohio, California, Kentucky, Tennessee. We went to Current Cuisine and sat at a small metal table outside after we had ordered inside at the deli counter. As the sun wandered in out from behind clouds, we ate baked chicken, spinach salad, sandwiches and rice crackers, and we talked about next year’s possibilities: come back again to the Antioch Writer’s Workshop (AWW), next time just sign up for the morning lectures (Nikki Giovanni will be teaching poetry; John Grogan—author of Marley and Me—will be teaching nonfiction) and take the afternoons off and create our own little workshop, exchange manuscripts, give each other feedback, have room to write.

This is my sixth year coming to AWW, and every time the aftermath is the same: I learn so much my brain feels full and happy. I am inspired and energized to write. I have loved seeing old friends and making new ones. When I go home, as I am doing now, on a Delta flight that will take me back to the people I love and miss, I remain inspired, but some of the lessons start to become lost as the weeks then months pass. What did that teacher say again about prose poems? What are the pitfalls of writing dialogue? Some things become embedded long-term in my brain, maybe the things that matter most: What I always remember best are the people.

In the middle of AWW week, I was sitting in the Emporium’s Underdog Cafe, after having gotten my usual cup of decaf. I was at a wooden table, a lamp throwing down yellow light onto the table’s scratches, and the smell of roasted coffee wafting the air. In the middle of writing, I looked up to find that one of my favorite teachers, Matthew Goodman, had come in. He sat down at the table next to me. 

I should say first that I have taken Matthew’s small-group workshops and learned from him in many of his creative nonfiction lectures. He is someone who has taught me many craft tools: when to create a scene, and when to summarize; how to create tone by pacing; the importance of past tense, the importance of reflection. I have known him for four years now, and I consider him a friend.

Matthew and I shifted our chairs so we could see each other, and we talked for a while until we dove into our own writing worlds. But before we turned away, he said, “Promise me something.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Promise me that, five years from now, you will still be writing.”

I smiled. It had never occurred to me I might not, but I made the promise anyway—to him, to myself—because I know it does not just take talent to be a writer: it takes not giving up.

And that is the thing I will probably remember best, long after the lectures from this summer have snuck out of my brain. Thank you, Matthew Goodman.