I love to go to Iowa. Not just to glide past the flat lands of corn on I-80, or to roll along the miles of lightly forested hills on I-88, or, as a city dweller, to have the chance to drive my 2000 Beetle anywhere, or simply to savor a McD’s cone alongside the Mississippi River.
When I say I love to go to Iowa, I mean Iowa City, the home of the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival. Since 2001, I’ve gone eight times and taken thirteen courses, so I have my desired schedule embossed in my brain. For you to understand how my definition of why I love go to Iowa has changed, I’ll describe the way it used to be.
In the early years, my ideal day marched like this: wake up at seven, walk forty-five minutes along the Iowa River, eat a quick breakfast in the cafeteria at Iowa House—the campus hotel where I stay, hike a few-blocks uptown for coffee, race to the computer center to type up the day’s writing assignment I’d written late into the night before, sprint over to an author presentation from eleven to twelve, grab lunch anywhere uptown, hustle to a copy center to make eleven copies of my assigned writing for my classmates, attend class from two to five, grab dinner anywhere, attend readings at Prairie Lights book store or attend class functions from seven until eight, meet classmates at nine for ice cream at Whitey’s, drag in the dusk-filled evening back down the hill to Iowa House, organize my day’s activities on the spare bed in my room, drop into bed, write the day’s assignment longhand, turn out light, and snore.
Stay through the week’s course and take a weekend course too! Then, at the end of Sunday, drive home five hours.
Now, I know better. This was my typical day a few weeks ago. Wake up at nine. Eat in bed: cottage cheese, with either blueberries or cantaloupe, taken from home. Gaze at river view out my window. Say a prayer of thanks for being here.
Read a book, a gift from my granddaughter, a text she’d read as a Calvin College student, Shouts and Whispers: Twenty-one Writers Speak about their Writing and their Faith (Eerdmans, 2006). Bask in the words of Frederick Buechner, Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, and more. Turn lights out by ten. Drift off.
After the week’s course, stay overnight. Drive home on Saturday. Stop at a Culver’s for a nutty fudgie sundae.
Try coming to the Iowa Summer Writing Festival sometime. Either pace is possible, depending on what course you take, how ambitious you are, and, I admit, how young you are.
Note: From 1840 to 1857, the capitol of Iowa was Iowa City, a city built specifically for this purpose. In 1857, the buildings were given to the University, and the Capitol was rebuilt in Des Moines.