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Kettle Pond

Kettle Pond Writers' Conference took place in July 2019 at Paul Smiths College, NY.




workspace, clockwise from midnight:

- sunscreen, bluetooth speaker, literature (Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt, A Thousand Miles Up the Nile, A Field Guide to the Birds, Dorian Gray. Not pictured: This Is Where I Leave You), envelopes & letter writing paper, conference folder, Billy Shakes, room key/pen name name tag (I wrote my real name on the back) (also immediately locked myself out of my room and had to call campus security on a talking wall keypad), 1978 Met Bulletin about The Temple of Dendur, shades and specs, camera case, errant hair tie, a variety of pens (don’t knock it til you try it), journal, to-do list, glimpse of tiny altar, timer, perfume, newly acquired loon feather that floated lazily toward me on the lake’s surface yesterday


I couldn’t touch the bottom, but I could see my feet through the brown water, ghostly yellowish things with white-hot wires of light dancing across them. Plants were growing on the floor of the lake, seemingly an entire forest of plants, which wrapped around my ankles and wrists. I did the backstroke one way then the other; played a game of cormorant, diving under and popping up elsewhere; floated on my back and listened to my ragged breath. At eye-level, the lake lapped against itself, yellow pollen floating lazy on its surface. Beyond it, evergreens and clouds made of down, some kids with a canoe on the other side of the lake, one in an orange t-shirt.


I had already done some meditation and writing and reading this morning, and though there was more of everything to do, this solace felt earned. I noticed I felt far removed from the stress of the school-year, from those occasional hands that can come up from the depths and try to yank you. I tried to commit it to memory, this place, this moment, in order to be able to access it again in moments of unrest. Later on in the day, I would return to the page, continue to negotiate, to seduce and to grovel, to locate, to discover. But for now, splish splash: a respite between growing pains. Behind me, on land, the geese ripped beakfuls of grass from the ground, emitting tiny little grunts. What is the worst that could happen here? I asked myself. Leeches, maybe, or eels. A leg cramp. But then I reminded myself that probably, even those won’t happen.

And they didn’t.


An altar to alternate idols


DAYS 4&5


The ideas start coming in a hailstorm, as though they’ve merely been waiting to feel welcome. I write them down like I’m taking dictation, through meals and in the sun and the library and the shade and my bed. To acknowledge my feelings, I read and make lists and delete Instagram and reinstall it later and walk down to the post office each morning to mail letters home. To acknowledge my body, I do yoga and make some unfathomable number of cups of tea. I am somewhere underwater breathing through the gills I’d put into storage and nearly forgotten entirely. At night my dreams are technicolor.



This is what my research has taught me about why carnivals travel: 

The first reason is that by definition, a sideshow commodifies novelty. Who would pay to see a woman with a verifiable beard perform onstage when they could see her every Saturday in line at the deli?

The second is that by default, carnivals harbor secrets, so they aim to evade the watchful eye.

On the first day I came here, I said to a woman who worked for the college: I can’t get over the smell every time I step outside; this place has Christmastime magic in summer.

She told me she lives in Paul Smiths, so she doesn’t really smell it anymore.

I am always reluctant to stir my surroundings, to make any sudden movements or speak too loudly, especially when things are quiet.

Like the carnival that I discover more and more of each day at my desk, I know in my bones when I’ve taken everything I can from someplace beautiful.

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