In a class I took with Susan Breen, one of my classmates, whose name I’ve totally forgotten, told me that I ought to try to get into Bread Loaf, which is held at Middlebury College in Vermont. I asked why, because I had become so cynical about things, and she said she was certain I’d get in. Did she get in? No. But she knew I would.
Well I went home and checked and discovered I had missed that year’s deadline (2016), but I put it in my calendar to submit once the submission period was open for 2017. I did, and it turned out she was right. I got accepted as a participant.
I was still very cynical about it — in fact I think I tried to sabotage the whole thing by missing just about every deadline; not reading up on the teachers or the fellows or the agents or editors, and not even looking up the books that they’ve written. But every step of the way I got a reminder that I was late and so I ended up in a class with Robert Cohen and Natashia Dion.
Basically Bread Loaf was a wonderful experience. It’s 10 full days of writers being around other writers, going to workshops, lectures, craft classes, meals, dances and tons and tons of readings, and one of the things that made me sad when it was over was that, although it took awhile, I realized I had just spent ten days not feeling like someone who had to explain himself. I don’t know how true it is for others, but often in the “real world” I have this vague and somewhat constant discomfort at having spent my life chasing a career in writing. As Emily Dickinson once wrote, “The longest day would pass me on the chase,” and that’s sometimes exactly how I feel when someone — almost always American — asks, “What do you do?” I feel like I can’t really tell someone that I was compelled to try this; that I’ve had modest successes that to most of the world probably don’t look like success at all; that I still feel the need even if people don’t like my work; and that I quit a career I had in computer technology, in order to keep chasing this thing called writing.
But for two weeks or so at Bread Loaf, you don’t need to explain anything. Everyone understands why you want to be alone and why you need an inordinate amount of solitude. As my teacher said we have the odd need to isolate ourselves from the world in order to go down and write about the world and then bring it back to them in the form of a novel, which they immediately, mostly, reject. There’s no explanation for it. But I had a great time and now, “Bread Loafer,” is part of my resume.