Saturday, February 5, 2011


  Okay, time to check in again. Because something has happened.

I got some pretty great news in December. I applied to a writers’ conference called Sirenland, held at a gorgeous hotel (Le Sireneuse) in Positano, Italy (Amalfi Coast!) once a year, thrown by the editors of the short story magazine One Story. Prestigious writers teach workshops, and they open it to only 20 writers: 10 fiction, 10 nonfiction. I found out about this in October, shortly before their deadline, and decided to apply. I didn’t tell a lot of people about it, because again, they only accept 10 fiction writers...what were the odds? So I applied and then tried to put it out of my head. I was mostly successful. Sometimes it popped up, reminding me, You haven’t don’t know the status of your application...ten fiction writers...330 “likes” on Facebook.... And then I put it out of my head again. I’m not superstitious, most of the time, but it never hurts to knock on wood and throw salt over your shoulder and avoid black cats and do what you can not to jinx something. I am not superstitious. I promise. I subscribe to One Story, and in one of their issues they included a postcard with a great view of Positano. I gently set it aside—where I could see it, but where it wouldn’t taunt me. (website:
They said we’d hear by the end of December, so I decided not to think about it as soon as I went home for Christmas, the 18th. On the 21st I visited my grandpa in the nursing home (he has since returned to his own home, and he’s happy) and started singing along with the 93-year-old blind woman who was playing Christmas carols on the piano. My grandma said, “Would you put on a show here?” I said sure. Now, ordinarily, I’m pretty reticent about singing in front of people. (I’m insecure, living in New York where so many people have dedicated their lives to their voice lessons and singing, some making it and some not. I haven’t done that, have no intention of doing that, but I took about 10 years of voice lessons. But I don’t want to be compared to the professionals.) But...well, at a nursing home the residents are old and there’s not a lot to do. They’re not going to be sitting there judging me, if you know what I mean. And I knew it would make both Grandma and Grandpa very happy.

So Grandma calls the nursing home recreation director over and introduces me and says, “Kathy would like to put on a show for us!” (“would like to” was a little too strong, but I didn’t correct her.) The woman got this look on her face, and said, “I’ll be right back!” She zipped away, then zipped back. “Could you do it tonight? We’re having our Christmas party and the lady doing our show canceled.”
Again, if this had been in New York, it would have given me serious pause. For all you know, the residents of the nursing homes were professional singers themselves, and they could heckle you and shake their canes at your lack of breath control or incorrect vibrato technique. But I was in a small town in Utah. No guarantee of no professional singers in the audience, but I was more willing to take that chance. “Sure,” I said.
So my mom and I went home and pulled out a ton of Christmas music, ran through it on the piano (she played) and I wrote up a bit of a program. That night we went to the nursing home party. I dressed in my green sweater with a festive-if-slightly-crumbly red and gold ribbon tied around my waist. Kathleen, the coordinator, stood at the microphone and introduced me, and I walked up there, confident. Sparkly. My mom took her place at the piano. And right before I began, as my mom played the intro to “Silent Night,” Kathleen went to the corner and shouted, “Dessert is served!”

Walkers creaked, wheelchairs squeaked, and lots of people oohed over the desserts. They weren’t spectacular, but I imagine they were nicer than what they usually serve there in the nursing home, so I can’t be upset. It was interesting, though, trying to give a Christmas program when half of the room was paying attention and the other half was far more interested in examining and talking about their white cake with crushed candy cane frosting. Certainly no worries of heckling.

I did my program. There was something comforting in the fact that half of the room simply didn’t care. My grandma and grandpa cared enough for everyone.  Even if Grandma was very annoyed that they'd served desserts at the same time, no one could have touched the smiles on their faces. And that made me happy. At the end of the program I sat back at their table, and my grandma hugged me and said, “They could have waited for the desserts!”

So I was feeling good about doing a nice thing for them when I got home. I went to look at email, with no expectations whatsoever, and saw one with the subject line: “Welcome to Sirenland.”
Could it be?? I mean, it sounded like an acceptance from that—but what if it’s a cruel joke, and you open it and the message says “...fandom!” (“You didn’t get in, but don’t worry, you can now be a fan, and you'll always have this connection...”)
But when I opened it, they meant it. “You’ve been accepted to Sirenland 2011. Competition was fierce.” Something like that. MY REWARD FOR BEING THE NURSING HOME CHRISTMAS PROGRAM! I shrieked and ran upstairs and told my mom. I hadn’t mentioned to her that I’d even applied (because too many times I’ve applied to something, talked about it for days, and then had to say, “No, I didn’t get it” when people follow up—really, people, shouldn’t my sudden silence tell you something?) so first I had to explain what it was, and then hop up and down for a while because I was excited. And my mom was so excited that it took about twenty seconds for her to ask how much it was going to cost me.

So I’m preparing for the conference. I got my flight over (with frequent flier miles!!) and a hotel in Rome for one night before and one night after. I’m finishing some writing to send in for the workshops. I’m practicing my yoga, because they’re bringing in a yoga teacher in the afternoons. (when I found out they were bringing in yoga, on top of everything else, I realized that when it's time to go home I will cry like a small child.) And I am thrilled about it.
So maybe saying “much has happened” is an exaggeration. But one big good thing happened, and in my world, that is the same thing. I got a new digital camera for Christmas so I can take better pictures! I’d better look at the manual.
If anyone is wondering: si, parlo italiano, ma ho bisogno di pratticarlo. Molto bisogno.

That’s all for this entry. Until next time.

A postscript: Does anyone else find Jane Seymour’s “open heart collection” from the Kay’s Jewelers commercial really unbearably ugly? Seriously, if a boyfriend or husband gave me that, I’d have to rethink some things.


Mom and Camera said...

Congratulations!! Sounds like a fantastic adventure and is much deserved. You are a great writer!

Kathryn Maughan said...

thank you Gayle! You must have a notification when I post. I can't imagine anyone checks anymore....

Inkblot said...


Lilita said...

I finally checked in and congrats are in order! Yay! Sounds heavenly (made more so by comparing going to Italy to not going to Italy, not working as a professional, and not leaving SC). No, really, it sounds like so much fun and goodness! Huzzah!

Sandra said...

Kathyrn, I've finished reading your piece for Sirenland - made me happy to be in your group!

Kathryn Maughan said...

thank you, Sandra! Your comment just made my day.