I am at a writers conference in Squaw Valley, near Lake Tahoe, CA. It's a Wednesday in the middle of the conference week, and we were given the afternoon off. Most people are outside, exploring the surrounding area -- the mountains and the valley. Some are resting in their rooms, some are partying with their housemates and workshop mates, others are reading. I should be doing one of those things, but instead I'm sitting in the empty conference hall, trying to work on non-conference related writing and editing projects. I'm really not doing much; I'm brain-dead. The building has been locked up from the outside, and the sun is setting. The house where I'm staying is two miles away, and I don't have a car. I should leave now before the stars and the bears come out. Why can't I leave?
There's a comfort that comes from being always in front of something -- in front of a computer screen, in front of a book, in front of a sheet of paper. The tasks are stacked up and organized (I've developed a brand new prioritization system last month, at a previous writers conference, and I'm still excited about it) -- it's easy to know what to do next. Outside are pine trees and fir trees and aspen trees -- I can see them in the window from where I'm sitting, but outside there are more of them. And outside I can smell them. Outside, the wind brings whiffs of the musty smell from the creek that runs through the valley, the dry cool air from the mountain peaks, the sweet fragrance of wildflowers. None of this has anything to do with St. Petersburg, even pine trees and daisies are all wrong. I'm tired; this week has been exhilarating, the never-ending conversation about writing and literature is not only a very emotional experience, but challenging in the way it constantly requires me to be able to articulate my emotions. I have been going on very little sleep this week, and the preceding months have been equally rough. All I can see ahead is more work; however creative it is, I experience writing is work.
There is, I suppose, an objective reason for me to be thinking about St. Petersburg -- I'm going there again in a couple of weeks. Thinking of it is partially a comfort; in my mind, I see my aunt's dining room table with stacks of books and a glass bowl full of chocolate bonbons in colorful wrapping, endless cups of tea, and I hear the warm cadences of my aunt's voice. I picture the kitchen of my parents' apartment, and the warm spot between the table and the fridge, by the window and the radiator below the windowsill. I picture myself there, with my parents and my brother all gathered together, or myself alone, reading a book, or looking out of the window at the graffiti-covered walls and the yard of the secondary school, abandoned for the summer. I wish I could stop my thoughts there, in the territory where my memories are so pleasant and comforting. But even this indulgence -- or especially this indulgence, allowing myself to write about St. Petersburg, to blog it -- feels ugly and obsessive. For a long time now, thoughts of St. Petersburg have not been a pleasure without also being a self-flagellation. And I have not done anything wrong.