In August of 2005, I met someone who would turn out to be my kindred soul, my brother from another life, and a friend unlike any other. It was my first year at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, that place of much beauty, equal pain and a creative energy that all but makes these things inconsequential. I ran into Charles Rice-Gonzalez in the famous “barn” where writers go to linger, mingle, read or be read to, and to dance. We were not in the same workshop; Charles was working with the inimitable Percival Everett, I was working with the equally formidable Lynn Freed. We met because, I think, the universe felt that we needed to find each other. Over the next ten days, we drank a lot of wine, talked a lot of dreams and shopped at TJ-Max. Over the next few years I had the good fortune to see parts of Charles’ other life, at BAAD, meet his amazingly talented and generous partner, Arthur Aviles, and enjoy his hospitality in their home in the Bronx.
We were lucky enough to meet each other for a few more years at Bread Loaf, to bond in the way that only people at Bread Loaf do, and discover our various commonalities: ironing our clothes with religious zeal for instance, rolling with the punches, holding the bad in until we could share it in private, letting the sunshine out.
Charles has helped me be myself more than I had permitted myself to be myself, and he has taught me a lot about blooming where we are planted. But the one thing that he said to me that I have carried with me every day is a comment he made about our writing life. We were standing outside, the clear Vermont skies above, a cold nip in the air, the heat of a blessed life lighting us up from within. With a glass raised in a toast he said,
“No matter where we get to, when our books are published, and everything falls into place, no matter what happens, this, right now, is who we really are. We are the people who hang with everybody. We aren’t better than anybody else here, or worse than anybody else here. We are part of this journey. Let us never forget that.”
So perhaps we were a little high on our creative life right then, or the mood was right for deep thoughts. It was sound advice then and it is sound advice today. For all of us writer-types, we are like the dusty starry particles in the sky. If you look up from below, we make something beautiful – some of us shine brighter, other less so, but it takes us all to make the whole a thing of beauty.
So today I want to salute a guy who has the talent and the guts to tell the stories he does, and the humility and wisdom to make him also a beloved fellow-traveler and friend.
Happy birthday, bro – may the coming year be good to you.