Waltzing Matilda

July 11, 2012

In Australian slang, “waltzing Matilda” means going about on foot with one’s belongings in a bag, called a Matilda, slung over one’s back. The “waltzing” part derives from the German term auf der Walz, the tradition of setting out for a period of time, perhaps a year, to travel as an apprentice to various craftsmen.

This is my Waltzing Matilda summer.

At left is a picture of my Matilda, a purple L. L. Bean backpack. It is inscribed “Lynn” because Lynn carried it the year she was on the seventh grade Purple Team. In August of 1999, emptied of her papers and her assignment book and the other detritus of her middle year in middle school, it was hanging on a hook just inside the door to the basement. I plucked it down one day, filled it with my own notebooks and pens, and took it with me on my first Gallivant to New England, to the Emily Dickinson International Society conference in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was a modest trip as my Gallivants go — up and back in five days.

Since then the pack has come with me on every big trip. The Long and Winding Road in 2002 started out to be Emily Dickinson Camp (what my daughter and her friend called the EDIS meetings) and a stop in Boston for some research, but ended in Vermont and a resolve to apply to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. It’s come with me to Vermont every year since (twice in 2010), twice to Wyoming, to Georgia, South Carolina (twice), and Tennessee.

I carry it with me almost every day, even locally — to sessions at my studio, research trips to libraries, retreats at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Wernersville. I don’t remember now if I was already using purple ink and purple folders to mark my fiction work when I started carrying it, or if it was just a coincidence. In any case, the color purple and this satchel have come to symbolize my ongoing pursuit of growth and success as a fiction writer.

The waltz is a three-step dance form. As it happens, I am going to three writers’ conferences this summer, a record, and a challenge to my energy and my focus.

I leave today for the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference at St. Mary’s College in Maryland. I come back on Sunday, then have a week at home before heading to Tennessee and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. I leave Sewanee on August 5, catch my breath at home, and leave again for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont on August 13. I have different manuscripts for each but the same goal: to learn it all, to move forward, to keep on becoming the best fiction writer I can be,

Waltz with me.

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