In May 1992 my son was 5 months old and I left home, reluctantly (as I always do, in the end), to attend The Writing Institute at Glen Eyrie, a castle-like conference center near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Monte Unger led about six of us in “Magazine Article Writing for Christians.” I hadn’t written anything much by then, so I needed help, and Monte obliged in his fatherly way.
One of the first things he asked us to write, even before we came, was 200 words on the subject “Why I want to be a writer,” along with a headline and a subhead. I still have it. Next he had us revise these pain-stakeningly chosen words down to 100 words. Oh, the hatch marks, the pain of the censor! Then, we had to condense it to 25 words. It was painful, giving up so much. Make every word count, he said. Spend them wisely. He could have taken us down to one single word. He spared us. I wish more attorneys did that.
There’s some pretty poor writing in my notebook from 23 years ago. But Monte was encouraging. “Very Clever” he writes in brackets beside what to me sounds like an awkward title. “Great conclusion.” “Pique.”
Jimmy A is singing “I’ll Meet You In Heaven,” Pastor Scotty Smith in the background, preaching, Charlie Peacock, Phil Madeira, Phil Keaggy, the late Vince Ebo. It’s good. It’s creative.
In the notebook pocket from that weekend, behind a copy of The Independent, a local zine, is a program from Poetry 1997: Voices of Vision, March 11, 1997. It has my name as a Finalist in the Poetry 1997 contest. I read “In My Room, a poem about Brian Wilson. My friend Pete drove 25 miles to the Regulator Bookshop in Durham to hear me read.
Five years after Monte’s workshop I scraped up a few words from the soil littered with sentimental, lame words. “Right,” scrawls Monte across my paper. Poor guy. To have to read this stuff.
Eject Jimmy A. Insert Neil Young. “From Hank to Hendrix.” Wonderful. Effortless. “Right,” I say. In Glen Eyrie, I would go back to my room, alone, no internet, no phone, no TV. I’d sweat out a few words. Walk around the grounds. Tear up what I wrote. Write some more. Read my Bible. Pray. And wish I was home. Wish I had words for what I felt. Wish I had names like Harvest Moon or Entertaining Angels. I was just looking for me, for my own words.