The Maui Effect

So I’m here at the Maui Writer’s Conference and I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but this place keeps you hopping, plus I’m hitting the wall. The problem with the Maui Writer’s Conference is that it comes right after the Maui Writer’s Retreat. The Retreat is pretty damn cool: We teach dawn to dusk going sixty miles an hour and then we hit the presenter’s lounge and we party, not until dawn because most of us are middle-aged, but into the night. Then we get up at dawn and do it all over again.

And here’s the thing about dawn in Maui when you usually live in Ohio: It comes at noon. Six hour time difference. So although I do not do mornings in Ohio, I am up at the break of day in Maui, walking the cliff path along the ocean, wide awake and full of energy, swinging my arms, laughing too loud, feeling like a Natural Woman, the Maui Effect. Which is why I hate the cell phones.

Maui, in case you’ve never been here, is spectacularly beautiful. The path along the rocks overlooks perfect beaches and tide pools and gorgeous flowers and aggressively cheerful birds. And along this path stroll the rich and richer, and then also the people like me who got a free ride because they agreed to teach their butts off for two weeks. Hey, I can be bought. And most of us are just happy to be alive walking through paradise, but every now and then, you see somebody on a cellphone, making deals, gossiping, whatever, and they’re always looking at the path and frowning. God’s best ocean is on their right, but they’re yelling at somebody in New York, probably ruining lunch. I will give a free pass to those who are standing on the bridge over the little ravine saying, “My God, Margaret you wouldn’t believe how gorgeous this place is, let me take a cellphone picture and send it to you.” They can live. The others, though, I just want to rip the phones out of their hands, fling them onto the rocks, and say, “Fetch.” Because you know that lava rock is brutal.

But I don’t because I’m a nice person. Well, I’m a nice person when I arrive. By the end of the retreat, I have become one of the Grunts.

Here’s the thing: By the time the conference starts, we’ve been teaching our brains out at the retreat for six days. We were neat and clean and perma-pressed when we arrived, but by Thursday night, we’re wrinkled and sweaty and rowdy and toasted. I don’t drink, there is no alcohol in my house and I never order it when I’m out because I don’t like the way it tastes, but in Maui, it tastes good. It may be the little umbrellas. We were supposed to go to a speech the other night but I ran into a literary discussion—Karen Joy Fowler, Gail Tsukiyama, Gail Parent, Dale Burg, John Saul, Mike Sack, Janie Foley, and then Andy Cohen because you never know when you’re going to need an agent—and we were having this deeply intellectual discussion about the worst pick-up lines anybody had ever tried on us, and by the time Bob found us, I had three little umbrellas in my hair. He said, “That’s not good,” but you know, it FELT good. And I checked in the mirror later and it turns out I look DARLING with little umbrellas in my hair. But probably only in Maui.

So anyway after a week, we look like we’ve been rode hard and put away wet, and then the Conference instructors come in to join us at the introductory meeting, all neat and clean and perma-pressed. Now at this meeting, we are all supposed to stand up and tell what we’ve accomplished that year. And the shiny new people, most of whom are editors and agents, get up and tell about all their successes and name drop and establish their professional presences and pretty much pitch the room. Meanwhile, in the back of the room, the Grunts are growing restless. Occasionally we hoot. We are not pretty. Which means none of those agents and editors will ever work with any of us again, but by then we don’t care. We’ll care when we get back to the real world, but now we’re in Maui, so screw ‘em if they can’t take a joke, pass the rum.

So everybody tells what marvels they’ve been all year, and then it gets to us. Bob stands up and says, “I’m Bob Mayer and I write books,” and sits down again. This is a major improvement over last year when he stood up and said, “I’m Bob Mayer, and I can kill you with my little finger,” so the general consensus afterward is that collaborating with me has made Bob a kinder, gentler Surly Bastard. Then I stand up and say, “I’m Jenny Crusie and nothing interesting has ever happened to me.” And the Grunts all boo so that tells you how much love I get here. Then Elizabeth George stands up and says, “You probably don’t recognize me because I’ve had massive plastic surgery in order to escape the paparazzi, but I’m Angelina Jolie.” Then Karen Joy Fowler stands up and says, “No, I’M Angelina Jolie.” Then Gail Tsukiyama stands up and says, “No, I’M Angelina Jolie.” Then Jane Hamilton stands up, turns to Elizabeth George, and says, “And I’m Jennifer Aniston, YOU BITCH.”

Well, you had to be there.

So now it’s Sunday, and we have to do a TV interview and then I have to teach for two hours and then we’re going to work on the book (Agnes) and then go hear Gail Parent talk which I can’t wait to hear because she may be the funniest woman on the planet and she’s definitely a spiritual sister. We were talking about being divorced and she said, “Sometimes I go home and look at that big king-sized bed and think, ‘How did two people ever sleep in that?’” and I laughed and then went upstairs to my king-sized bed and thought, “My God, she’s right, how could two people sleep in that?” so she’s not only Funny, she’s Insightful.

Of course it hasn’t all been working and drinking and talking about king-size beds. I walked the path the other day and passed a woman who was NOT on her cellphone and who looked exactly like Jayne Ann Krentz. And then I stopped and thought, “Wait a minute. That IS Jayne Ann Krentz,” so I said, “Jayne?” and she said, “Jenny?” and we both looked around to see if SEP was there because neither one of us had a stitch of make-up on.

So anyway, I know haven’t blogged in awhile, but as you can see, I’ve been busy. And now I have to go listen to another speech. Possibly with a little umbrella.

And aloha to you, too.