The buildings at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, are solid, brick, new, clean, traditional yet contemporary, with wide corridors and modern classrooms. At least that's true of the Martha Miller Center for Global Communication and Phelps Hall across the street, which hosted a conference on spiritual writing that attended yesterday and today. Funky student bulletin boards about being a classics major or a German major were well contained in glass-front bulletin boards.
Maybe it's all so tidy because the spring term is over and the students are gone. More likely, it's the Hope College's Dutch Reformed heritage and what must surely be a solid development department. Maybe it was Holland itself: even the nearby coffee shops (Lemonjello, 205) had clean lines, square tables, new furniture.
The Martha Miller Center has a two-story rotunda that sits on a broad street corner. Lots of light, cushioned windowseats, comfy chairs, and cookies and fruit for conference attendees in the middle of the afternoon. I stopped there more than once to catch my breath, read my notes, and help myself to another lemon bar.
Something about the roundness of that room--270 degrees of circular--sucked me in, made me sit and relish the comfort. With so much space by the windows there was always room. With so much light and height it never felt crowded or noisy. It was perfectly okay to be alone there.
Which I was, mostly. This was not a conference where I knew people or met old friends. While I had many interesting conversations, I don't know that I will ever see any of these folks on Facebook or meet them again at another conference. My notes, however, are full of websites to check and especially, books to read--each one a personal recommendation.
Writing has meant ephemera for me, mostly, in my life. Stuff that I, or my children, will throw out some day. Notebooks that go back to fifth grade. Typed poems from college and grad school. A one-act play that I surprised to find was not all that embarrassing to read when I came across it a few years ago. A three-act play called "Heroines" that I would dearly love to read it but can't find now. There are notebooks of fury and confusion from stressful years of marriage and madness. Passages of love and wonder for my children. Bits and pieces where I nailed it, scrawled pages in search of a subject. And blog posts that live in a cloud, here, on The Perverse Lutheran. I like that I can go back and read these, plucking them out by year and month. They remind me that yes, I can write, that sometimes the angel stirs the water for me and I actually slide into the pool in time.
I took all these swirls of ideas to solid brick buildings this week and listened to accomplished writers (Barbara Brown Taylor, Rachel Held Evans and many others) encourage new writers, with generosity, humor, prompts and creativity. Laughed at oblique references to Trumpish distractions. Discovered stuff I truly already knew (situation vs. story, likable narrators with faults and self-deprecating humor, what to edit out). I heard about the realities of modern Book-dom, things like social media platforms and marketing plans.
Read five minutes of my PV Lutheran stuff at an open mic and listened to other folks do the same.
Sitting at home, on my rectangular couch, in my squareish living room, I'm glad for that rotunda. No corners, open to the hall--picturing that place keeps the ideas circulating through my head, even as my feet are braced firmly on the edge of the cedar chest that holds my yarn inside and my beer glass and coffee cup on top. I'm glad I cleaned up the clutter in my house before leaving home. It's not quite up to Dutch standards, but it will do as a place for new and orderly thoughts about writing.