There is no collective noun for a group of writers, however, Quill Cafe on Blogspot has some fun ones; “Absurdity of Writers” is the obvious choice for a writing marathon at Mark Twain’s Hartford home. I sat in his library, pencil in hand, journal open, for three hours.
Preparing for the Writing Marathon
The day before the writing event, I joined one of the regular house tours. Entering the library, I scanned the dark wood paneled walls, the plush end-of-the-nineteenth century furnishings. Guests are not allowed to touch, let alone sit, in his velvet wingback chair. The library is not a large room, and I wondered, how the hell are fourteen writers going to have elbow room tomorrow night? Secretly, I must confess, I did scout the room, in the against-the-odds hope that the furniture would be fair game for the writing marathon.
No such luck, but there is hope for some elbow room. When the museum employee calls us together, only nine gather around here. She repeats the rules clearly communicated via the event’s webpage. Then she adds: “No roaming the house, please stay in the library. No touching the furnishings.” So much for my private wish to sink into velvet.
By the time we reach Twain’s front door, others have joined the Absurdity of Writers. We’re now a full dozen.
We pause in the dark-paneled entrance hall, perhaps to build suspense, but the “no roaming” rule is repeated yet again. I flinch seeing fourteen folding chairs and TV-dinner folding tables wedged between the fireplace wall and the back wall, not including the cozy bow-window space. During the previous day’s tour, I learned that Twain would sit in this alcove with his daughters and play the “fireplace game.” Starting with a drawing of a cat’s face, to the far right of the fireplace, Twain had to create a story using every object on the mantel, in order, until he reached the portrait of a young woman in a cornflower-blue dress.
A few writers who came together whisper and point where they want to sit. I claim a “desk” in the front row, in front of the simulated fire. The third place winner of the 2017 Royal Nonesuch Humor Writing Contest welcomes us and shares a little about herself and her writing. By about 6:15, we settle into writing.
The Writer's Zone
I admit, I had a millisecond pause of “now what?” Crammed into a room with strangers and sitting on a folding chair for the next three hours, I’m definitely outside my comfort zone. The chair squeaks in agreement. The folding table wobbles as if nodding “yes” to my discomfort.
“Discipline, just be disciplined,” I tell myself.
Travel journal: check.
Five pencils and mini pencil sharpener: check.
My wits about me: half a check.
Words of wisdom I always told my students: “When in doubt, just put words on a page until you get in the flow.” So I did. I chronicled checking in. The museum’s welcome and introductions. The stragglers. Speaking of which, about this time, two more came in. Apparently they drove down from Boston. Descriptions of the room. What do I hear? What do I smell? See? I listed the objects on the mantel; maybe I’d play the mantel game and create a short story.
Then the magic of the Absurdity of Writers happened. I didn’t think it possible, but once all fourteen of us settled in, the chairs stopped squeaking, and the pencils started scratching, I found the writer’s zone. Three hours passed with ease and comfort. I jotted down notes and ideas for how to format Travel Lit, which would be renamed A Teacher Travels. Even when the gentleman next to me took off his shoes and whispered to his buddy, I remained focused on the pages in front of me. I counted them: twenty-five pages of scribbled notes, observations, and ideas.
Before stretching our legs in preparation to depart Twain's library, one writer suggested we introduce ourselves and share something about our writing. Absurd, isn’t it, introducing yourselves at the end of an event?
Author's note: I had this wonderful opportunity during June 2018. The Mark Twain House does not permit photos inside the house, so I apologize for the lack of visuals with this post. If you'd like to take a virtual tour of the house in 3D, you can do so on the Mark Twain House website.
I'm a Chicago-born baby raised in Connecticut with a two-year diversion in Beirut, Lebanon. As an adult, I'm a nomad having lived in New York; Connecticut; London, England; (back to) Connecticut; Ohio; and now Florida. I have traveled by foot, by bike, by air, by car, by motorcycle, by boat, and by train. I remain constantly curious about the world.