Monday, June 26, 2006

Ellie Mae Clampett Goes to Aspen

Blogging is a type of writing, right? I don’t need to feel guilty about sitting in an Aspen Starbucks blogging instead of working on a novel or studying craft, right?

It’s beautiful here. The house is remarkable. But I’m left with this sense that I’ve just packed up the truck and moved to Bever-leeee.

The trip here was only mildly eventful. At the Phoenix airport, while waiting on my (late) connecting flight I looked down at a young woman who was reading a manuscript and realized it was mine. I introduced myself and thought we’d have a chatty moment or two about our hopes for the week. She said, “Oh.” Not “Hey, I liked your story” or “Funny line on page three” or even “What do you think Ron Carlson will be like as workshop leader?” I asked who she was and was not surprised to learn she was the author of the only story in the whole pile that I hated—writing that gives the impression of depth but wherein there is no there there.

The flight was delayed, the plane was tiny, and when I got on I stepped on a pair of abandoned sunglasses and broke them. I though, shamefully, “I’m so glad those were someone else’s sunglasses and not my own.” Then last night when I unpacked my own sunglasses were broken in two. I’m not sure what the message there was from the universe: be more remorseful when you break people’s things? Always keep your sunglasses in a hard shell protective case? What?

Unfriendly Writer Woman ended up being my seat mate. I tried again to engage her by commenting on her rapid-fire line editing, but she just smiled that smile that is not really a smile but more of a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign. So I turned on my iPod. Later, when the plane hit the most horrendous single-moment of turbulence I’ve ever experienced—we’re talking “Tower of Terror” style drop—my glass of water went flying and then water all over the ceiling that rained down on her for the rest of the trip, I felt like, well, maybe there is something to the whole karma deal. (But I still don’t think my sunglasses should have broken.)

D & L, my hosts, were not at the airport to greet me. The American West delay threatened to make them late to the YoYo Ma concert. A woman gave me a note from L with directions to the house and a suggestion to take a cab.

The house is indescribable, though of course I will try. Where I’m from, when people are “having a house built” what it means is that a new house is being built in a former forest or cornfield and it looks, basically, like the other houses near it. This is a house. With an architect and a lot of square footage and a view.

The entrance to the house is a curving gravel lane flanked by pines, Aspens, and wildflowers (L is a landscape architect). From the outside you can tell that it’s going to be something special inside, but it doesn’t call a lot of attention to itself—no big Tammy Wynnette-esque pillars out front. (Dark wood, lots of glass, maybe Neo Prairie style if such a thing exists??) D has a little office building in the front garden, all glass. Lots of sculpture, flowers, stepping stones, and a formidable entrance.

Hannah the Golden Retriever greeted me as soon as I opened the door. She immediately tried to crawl up onto me and started whining with joy that someone was giving her some attention.

The entry hall was so breathtaking that I had a hard time moving further into the house. Gorgeous hardwood, four giant medieval-looking figures, twice my height lined the corridor, a big vase of fresh flowers, artwork. I can’t even begin to think of how to do it justice.

I told Hannah that I needed to find my room (L had left directions to the room and instructions for how to avoid altitude sickness—drink lots of water and lie down flat for a half an hour as soon as you arrive). Hannah very regally walked me to my room and stood at the door like a bellhop, awaiting her tip.

My room is huge—cathedral ceiling with a ladder that goes up to a loft, an entire wall of windows overlooking the Rockies, a door out on to the back patio, beautiful, unique antique furnishings, literary readings placed out on the desk for my perusal, a bar of lemon verbena soap awaiting me in the shower, fluffy duvet, what must be 6,000 thread count sheets, not to mention the fluffy robe, towels, and flip flops. Also, in the closet—a hanging metal skeleton!

A river rushes down the incline off the patio. I went out to hear it and locked myself out of my room, so had to traipse through the yard (more wildflowers! More view!) back to the front door, where Hannah greeted me again and insisted I look at the living room and kitchen. Wow. One huge room, huge cathedral-sized windows, lots of exposed wood, big firepace, books, artwork. Every where there are little wooden artists dummies, sitting in windows, hanging on picture frames, doing acrobatics across a bulkhead.

Hannah insisted I play tug of war with her, which I’m used to with my Scottie, though it turns out Golden Retrievers can do a LOT more tugging. I finally had to cry uncle.

After my altitude treatment, I decided I’d walk to The Gant where Summer Words is being held this year. D had told me it was a 15 minute walk. Sure. For someone who is fit, athletic, and used to this altitude. Forty minutes later I lumbered into the reception area, just in time to meet Ron Carlson, get my name tag, say hello to the Countess who was on the Ireland trip with me in November. Then I found my friend H who was looking for me, so we went off to have dinner, talk about writing, and catch up. She very graciously drove me back to The House and went off to set up her camper. (People who can do grown-up things like set up campers amaze me.)

I sat on the patio watching the sun set behind the Rockies and waited for my hosts to return. When they did, we talked a little and then I tumbled in my Princess and the Pea bed. I can’t believe I had doubts that this house would be less exciting than the Hotel Jerome.

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