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I made my way through old issues of and I was always driving out to the Barnes and Noble and looking in the backs of books and finding all the writers had gone to the University of Iowa. Checking in meant I was there to make sure they were following the rules.
I was not a welcome guest in most places and by May I quit, just as the dot com bubble was bursting, taking most of the traditional economy down with it.
I pulled back the covers on the bed, worried what I might find, but the sheets were clean, free of stray hairs, giving off the faint scent of bleach.
At the pool, I found the two people I had most come to see.
I had met them two years before at a writers’ conference in Eastern Kentucky and I thought them among the smartest people I had ever met. “You made it.” He rose from his chair to greet me and shake my hand. We were all there to take in spring training baseball, an annual trip organized by Lee and Hal.
“You’ve come down to hang with us old timers,” he said with a smile. I’m happy to be here.” He introduced me to the other regulars on the trip, a smattering of writers and academics from the Triangle area of North Carolina, and I shook each of their hands. The group consisted of both die-hards and apathetic fans.He told me not to worry but to focus on my writing if that was what I really wanted to do. So I spent my mornings writing and my afternoons looking for jobs.During one really tough day I took an automated telephone interview to work as a clerk for Best Buy.The novelist Lee Smith and her husband, journalist Hal Crowther.They were the ones who had invited me into the fold.After a series of yes or no questions, the computerized voice of a woman told me I was eliminated.I put the phone down on my desk, where my computer screen glowed with some story I was working on, and I cried into my hands. My rejections for graduate school came in the spring.I hadn’t published a single story and yet in a few hours I would be at a baseball game with these people who I knew, within 15 minutes of meeting them, that I wanted to be someday.* * * * I went to graduate school because I wanted to be a writer. I did not read women then partly because I was an idiot but also because I was trying to understand how men wrote about men.Across the street a Live oak draped in Spanish moss fronted Spring Bayou, where the sun glimmered off the water’s surface. I was meeting friends, mentors really, older writers who, for reasons that continue to elude me ten years later, had taken an interest and reached out to help me. These were very successful people and I wasn’t sure why they would pick this run-down and out of the way place to stay but they’d said it had something to do with its charm.Dubious, I walked into the office of the Tarpon Inn anyway and collected my key.