By John Baskin
It was the first (and probably last) annual Nowhere Else Writing Workshop competition in which I asked participants to write an impromptu paragraph of their day thus far; coming into Nowhere country, if you will. Fifty bucks for the best one. The surprise was that the Orange Frazer Press staffers couldn’t decide on just ONE paragraph, and chose three instead, while fretting mightily over another large handful of good impromptus.
Marcy voted for Conrad Detwiler, in spite of the unsavory whiff of nepotism (one of the clan of Nowhere brothers).
“Made me laugh,” she said.
Sarah liked Joules Evans, who said the festival was “like the yellow bus pulling up to your drive on the first day of school.” And there was Dave Fournier, who started out from Philly with Josh Ritter but soon abandoned him on the side of the turnpike.
“No traveling companion should expose the other so quickly,” he said, by way of explanation.
There were many nice lines. “As long as it doesn’t become the Somewhere Else Festival,” said Elizabeth Copas’s mother, taking note of the storm clouds on the way in. “My parents had risen at what I would guess was the Hour of Responsible People,” wrote Kelley Bell, and Ann Bell Worthy said that if you listened closely enough, you could hear the Nowhere grass growing.
DeAnne LeBlanc, staving off a six-hour drive, complained of getting older, then watched her children stir awake and said, “I fill with joy that they will soon experience the beauty of music that I fell in love with when I was eighteen years old. Life, full circle.”
And Kathy Jones: “The harmonies feed us.”
Dave Sheffield from somewhere in Ontario said, “Dear Ohio, you’ve exceeded my expectation…” And: “Thank you for your patience.”
Ohio IS a patient state, and our natural prose style is cautious, a bit sedate, but we tend to have good manners, even if it costs us. “If you’re looking for fun and do not particularly need wind, sand, or an ocean, come to Ohio,” our friend Laura Pulfer said once, suggesting a slogan. And among other things, we have Nowhere, which is more Somewhere than you’d first think. The workshop attendees seemed to think so.
Here’s three good ones, among many good ones…
It feels like Nowhere Else. Or maybe somewhere else? Some other time? Driving over the hills and through the woods—not to Grandma’s house. Butterflies. That’s what it feels like. Not the literal kind. The kind that do somersaults in your belly when you were seven years old and the yellow bus pulled up to your drive on the first day of school. That’s what driving to Nowhere Else feels like to me. Butterflies in my belly. The kind that try to escape but sit stuck in my throat on their way out when the teacher says, “Joules Evans?” Present. That’s what it feels like. Being here. It’s a gift. To be here. Here again. Still here. Here is like Nowhere Else.
Fourteen hours in a truck, plus tomatoes, plus five hours of sleep, plus a quad-espresso
X-hot cream equaled a seminar whose speaker said beforehand “…Don’t know; I make it up as I go along.”
An hour out of Philly, it was Josh Ritter. I was heading Nowhere with no one, and his easy Southern drawl seemed to be a good first companion. His stream of consciousness ramblings about memory, God, and love became a thin blue stream, flowing alongside and intermittently merging with my own flow of contemplation. Josh raised me to Zion and then crashed me suddenly back on the Pennsylvania Turnpike with the words “Only a full house gonna have a prayer.” He knew the house I was speeding away from was empty, and I hoped I might be heading towards some kind of prayer. No traveling companion should expose the other so quickly. I stopped and politely invited Josh out of the car. He sheepishly apologized but it was too late. He grew smaller and dimmer as I drove off down the midnight highway. My car was now filled with unbridled cowboys and cowgirls, and their incessant punning about their trucks, dogs, drink, and exes soon had me heading Nowhere in an easier fashion.