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Utopia Ever After or There I Was, in Six Lanes of Traffic…

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This is my post reviewing my experience attending UtopiaCon2016, and not really a review at all of the actual writing conference. I approached my trip by planning to attend as many panels and events as I could to make it worth the trip. But I also squeezed in as much sightseeing as I could.

I was scared to leave on Wednesday. I had to tell myself I wasn’t some college student taking a trip to visit a friend a state away. I was a forty-year-old woman who could go or do anything.

Everything went as planned, which was a relief, but I was also a little sad that I didn’t get any extra out of it. I mean, I’m glad I didn’t get a flat tire. I am thankful I never got truly lost. And I am beyond amazed that I only got one mosquito bite the whole time. They must spray the fuck outta that campground.


The Seven Points Campground sits on beautiful J. Percy Priest Lake. I was worried because the website instructed campers to store their food properly because “skunks frequent the campground.” I am very glad to say I never saw a skunk. I did see a deer on two occasions. And one 3-hour torrential thunderstorm  :-/

The campsite I wish I had, right on the lake. An hour after I took this picture, a deer walked right through there.

The campsite I wish I had, right on the lake. An hour after I took this picture, a deer walked right through there.

I had a mantra as I looked out the 10th floor windows of the hotel: I can’t believe I’m in Nashville.

It then evolved into: I can’t believe I am in fuckin’ Nashville.

A curse only meant as a compliment, I assure you.

I left the conference on Thursday feeling like a failure, for reasons I won’t expound on here.

By Friday at noon, it left me confused.

I did learn that husbands will get used to you being a writer, just give them time. And if that doesn’t work, give them bribes.

Everyone else seemed to go to Utopia to create friendships. (Maybe I was too distracted by the musical history of Nashville.) I desired this too. The result was I strengthened a few existing friendships, and made a handful more acquaintances.

A performance at the Bluebird Cafe

A performance at the Bluebird Cafe

But maybe that isn’t what the universe had in store for me. I have been with my husband for nineteen years. In that time I have rarely traveled long distance without him. I left this experience feeling strong and confident. Several people called me brave for attempting to travel and camp all by myself. I replied, “Brave or stupid.” But I did feel brave afterwards. I am the chick who has to have her husband show her how the unfamiliar shower works when I stay in a hotel. And I figured out the showers at the campground all by myself. And I even coped when the lights went out on me, mid-shower. Thankfully, it was not yet after sunset. I figured it was a result of a motion-detecting light (I’ve had that happen before), only to discover that the whole campground was blacked out. (I’ve also experienced that before—the result of too many RVs running their AC at the same time. I don’t want to listen to them run all night anyway. But I did, because most had generators they then ran. Oy vey.)

The gorgeous Opryland Hotel. It was unbelievable.

The gorgeous Opryland Hotel. It was unbelievable.

And I was scared to drive in big cities—big surprise, I still am. But for a few days I made Nashville freeways my bitch. I could merge in on the left side on a three-lane road only to merge over in ¾ of a mile to exit on the right. I regularly drove on a six lane highway—anything over five lanes gives me the heebie-jeebies, although my focus was so much on the road that my hands, wrists, and shoulder ached, and there was a giant dam next to me that I only managed to see one out of eight passes.

Maybe I have to improve myself before I can improve my writing and be a contributing member of a tribe. Or maybe I am just a giant dork. There is always that possibility. Or would that be a certainty?

Side view of the Opry stage.

Side view of the Opry stage.

While others were fangirling over authors, I was fangirling over the Grand Ole Opry. I got so excited that I couldn’t find it. Then I got hot weather, jerky & lemon cake, sick stomach. Then I spent all my time backstage taking pictures and not actually enjoying the experience. I stood on and touched “the circle” at the center of the stage. I did sit in the seats long enough to sort of feel as though I had really spent some time there and not just rushed through. The Ryman was known as “the mother church of country music.” The latest Opry still has pews rather than individual seats. It really felt like a religious experience being there. Last time I had that same feeling was at a Kid Rock concert (Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp, anyone?). Why do I only experience that with music? Not when writing, not ever in an actual church.



Saturday I spent the most time interacting with actual other people and having conversations. By Sunday morning, every time I would talk to myself (perfectly normal when you travel alone), I didn’t recognize my own voice. I had developed a southern accent. My mother had tried to call me the night before. Knowing I sounded “altered”, there was no way I could call her back until this passed.

It turned out to be only a 24 hour thing, like the flu, which made me a little sad. In a way, I liked my free souvenir.

My proof that I have been to Alabama, the setting of The Riley Sisters series.

My proof that I have been to Alabama, the setting of The Riley Sisters series.

The panels and talks I enjoyed the most were ones that were more emotional than informative. Heather Hildenbrand’s “The Audacity of Self-Love” had to be my favorite.

I’m not sure yet if I will return next year. If I do, maybe I should exhibit rather than attend panels. It is so confusing to figure out what the universe wants from you…

By coincidence, I stopped at the gas station across from this store coming and going. It amuses me.

By coincidence, I stopped at the gas station across from this store coming and going. It amuses me.

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
Be Careful What You Wish ForAVAILABLE NOW!
The Wind Could Blow a BugWHERE IT ALL BEGAN!






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Who in the hell would ever want to go to camp?

CAMP-no camping

I thought “camp” was something only people on TV shows did. Then in elementary school, there was this horrible torture they put us through. We were actually supposed to go door to door and talk to complete strangers to sell them crap to raise money to go to 5th grade camp.

What the f*ck!

I was an only child who never slept anywhere except at home (There were only two exceptions to that:

1. Flood of 1981

2. My mom’s hysterectomy

Both times I stayed at my gramma’s house. I was distrustful of strangers. (Still am.) Kids are taught to fear and stay away from strangers. And then you go and tell them to knock on strangers’ doors? You send them off to camp to be taken care of by strangers?

How is this alright?

It worked out in my favor. My mom didn’t want to do fundraisers anymore than I did. She didn’t have the money to send me to camp. I didn’t want to go.

There was a group of about five of us who did not go to 5th grade camp. The ones who went were gone for a whole week.

Do you know what it felt like to stay behind?


It was a small class. We didn’t have to do real schoolwork because that would have made us ahead of all the other students. We got to do busy work, watch videos, do arts and crafts. On Friday, we got to go on a field trip to the Lenawee County Historical Museum. Some would say that was boring, but it was the highlight of the week for me.  I’m pretty sure we probably got to eat lunch at McDonald’s too.

All the other kids returned from camp, with stories about bugs and bats, rain and mud and cold. They told tales of a golden toilet seat being hung around people’s necks. They seemed genuinely happy about these things. Sickos.

I heard gossip that everyone who went to camp got a T-shirt that they were supposed to wear on a designated day. I must have seen one, because I knew that they were purple with gold lettering (our school colors). I happened to have a T-shirt from Sleeping Bear Dunes* that was the same shade of purple, with white lettering. I wore it that day. I did not stick out like a sore thumb as my fellow non-campers did. (I found a picture of me in that purple shirt.  But I have a mullet, so I am not going to post it here.  All those pictures need to be burned.)

Score one for me.

I believe having all the campers wear their shirts all on the same day was a horrible idea. It set apart the five of us who didn’t want to or couldn’t afford to go to camp. Isn’t school supposed to push you into conformity for your society? I don’t think the T-shirt thing would fly these days. Lodge a complaint about the school forcing kids to alienate their disadvantaged classmates, and I think the TV stations would jump all over that.

Just when I though that camp shit was done for good, 8th grade camp rolled around. This time the students were only to be gone for three days. I stayed behind. Again.


I think there were eight of us who didn’t go. Everyone’s reason was probably financial, but I definitely did not want to, even if we could have afforded it.

By then I had hit puberty. I was a raging ball of hormones. The cute “bad boy” I had a crush on stayed behind as well. I had plenty of time to flirt with him. The cute substitute teacher was in charge of us. We watched “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (that might be stretching the definition of ‘educational video’ just a little). I discovered that Keanu Reeves was cute!

I wonder, in retrospect, if I could have just skipped those days of school. How can the school system kidnap you to leave your home and live with your horrible enemies for a week? Can they really enforce the attendance policy if you are not down with that?

To this day, that school district is still tying “camp” to school. WTF? And think of when school is in session, and what the weather is like…in MICHIGAN! Spring and fall, it is always cold and rainy.

But the kids still go.

The school system fools the students and the parents into believing that paying money to live in inferior conditions is a good thing. Fun even.


I am all for “camping.” Going out in a tent or RV to spend quality time with your family (including dogs). I enjoy doing a little rustic cooking and bonding in front of a fire almost as much as the next guy. Spending time in nature can be relaxing.

But paying to hang out with strangers and rough it? Having to do activities they dictate like Nazis?

No, I think not.

I considered having a kid to be a life experience that I should probably do, because I only live once.

Camp? Not so much.

* Sleeping Bear Dunes is my favorite attraction on the west coast of the northern lower peninsula of Michigan, near Traverse City.

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