Here we are in August, a time of transition. Summer is lumbering toward autumn like an old dog circling before finding a place to lie down and rest. Cooler days are ahead; we just don’t know exactly when they’ll arrive. These times of pause before transition are suspenseful in a way. Maybe we’re tired of the heat and the languid days. Maybe we’re ready for something to happen. Each August, I can’t help but think of Gatsby and his awareness that he hasn’t used his pool all summer. The scene of him floating on his air mattress is a moment of calm just before George Wilson’s gun fires, ending Gatsby’s dreams forever. That pause in the narrative is eerie, of course, because we know that Wilson is on his long walk to seek revenge for his wife’s death. We know something is indeed coming, and its prospect is all the more tantalizing because Fitzgerald slows the narrative for that swimming pool scene. We know the tranquility will be shattered, and we hold our breath to see how it will all play out. These sorts of pauses in narratives are often essential to the climaxes to come.
Last night, we held a neighborhood gathering because two of our cherished friends are moving away at the end of the month. August is a time for changes, and this one will be deeply felt among the group of close friends we’re fortunate to have where we live. We make family where we can, and Cathy and I have done just that with our neighbors. Comings and goings provide rich grounds for narratives. The journey and the visitation—each contains a story. The one who comes and the one who goes—each causes a shift in the ordinary days. Stories of arrival and departure are full of heightened emotions. Each love one who leaves and each stranger who comes has the potential to alter our lives forever. Our lives become different, changed. Narratives have a way of highlighting the moments beyond which nothing will ever be the same.
Next week, I’ll be teaching a creative nonfiction workshop (virtually) at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference. I’ve taught this workshop, as well as novel workshops, the past twelve years. Each August, I look forward to this gathering of writers. The faculty is accomplished and highly accessible. Egos and hierarchies have no place in this family. Instead, we concentrate on a coming together of folks with a common interest—the word on the page. The work itself takes center stage. There are no visiting editors or agents. The faculty’s talks are craft-centered. There’s a vibrant esprit de corps rising from a shared goal of improving one another’s writing. So we’ll kick things off tomorrow evening, and we’ll spend the week immersed in the study of the word, egos checked, hearts and minds open, supportive and encouraging. What more could we ask, not only in August, but in each stage of our writers’ journeys, but to know, as William James once said, “We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”