All of that stuff I’ve told you over the last few weeks, forget about it for a day or two. I just got news of the best sort and frankly, I can’t even think about attachment, dysfunction, or politics now, let alone write about them. Can we take a break? An email I’ve been waiting for just came. I’ve been accepted into Tim Cahill’s Advanced Narrative track – along with nine other writers – at next week’s 28th Annual Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference in Corte Madera. That may not impress you much, but it’s a really big deal to me. A big, big BFD.
You may not recognize his name, but Cahill’s writing grabbed me back in 1994 when Outside Magazine published My Malaria, Adventures in delirium. Or, why I’m on a steak and gin-and-tonic diet, for my health (click here to read it online). A quarter of a century later, My Malaria is still the best writing I’ve read hands-down.
Discovering Outside Magazine in the 90s with its stories from Cahill, White, Quammen, Krakauer, and others, was as exciting to me as Elvis’ new beat was to teenagers in the 50s.
Outside Online says about him: “Tim Cahill is one of the founders of Outside, author of its long-running “Out There” column, and an editor-at-large. He’s the author of nine books, one of which (Jaguars Ripped My Flesh) National Geographic named as one of the 100 best adventure/travel books ever written. He is the co-author of four IMAX documentary screenplays, two of which were nominated for Academy Awards. He lives in Montana, in the shadow of the Crazy Mountains.”
Despite the fact that there weren’t a lot of women on the masthead back then, I wanted to read that stuff and I wanted to write it. So I wangled an assignment in 1995 for the now-defunct Adventure West Magazine, found a cave nearby worth writing about, and did my best to conjure up the structure and interest of a Cahill story.
It was fun, but the magazine soon went under and life, family, and the need to make a living intervened. So over the next two decades I worked as a grant writer, an administrator, a local government official, and a bureaucrat.
Infrequently I turned out freelance personality profiles for Range and Idaho Magazines. I also wrote and edited a mind-numbing 70+ issues of a transportation planning newsletter before I quit (there are only so many ways to write about traffic models and road funding). The only other travel piece I wrote was about a trying 17-day trip to Brazil with an itinerant preacher. But that’s another story for another day.
A few years off from retirement, lately I’ve begun to wonder how I’ll keep myself busy. I may write. Not just any writing, but the kind of writing I fell in love with 25-years ago. And that’s why I’m attending the Travel Writers’ Conference.
Well, apparently my old article for Adventure West was sufficient to open the door for me in Corte Madera. I didn’t have time to write a new piece so I sent it for consideration to the conference organizer. I didn’t have much hope he’d be impressed by an article written that long ago and resolved to appreciate whichever of the other tracks I landed in. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get into Cahill’s class.
Even as I opened the email tonight I chanted, I’m not getting in. I’m not getting in. But I got in. Boy, Howdy, did I.
So next week I’ll get to learn from a man who’s a master of the genre. If he’s a nice man, that’s a plus, but he doesn’t have to be. I’m not going there to make friends (though I’ll be happy if I do). I just want to absorb every bit of advice I can get. From Cahill and the others.
Soon after I signed up (and after I saw Cahill’s name on my friend John L. Moore’s page), I sent him a friend request on Facebook. I was surprised a few weeks later when he messaged me.
I wasn’t sure if it was him or some guy with schweaty balls sitting behind a computer screen in the Ukraine, so I messaged back equally cryptically.
“Hi, Tim.” And waited.
He asked what was up and I think I said I was avoiding working on a presentation for the Legislature and invited him to tell me to stop procrastinating.
“Get back to work then, damnit!” he wrote.
Seems like he might be a funny guy. No matter, I’ve waited twenty-five years to hear what he has to say.
Funny or not, he is, after all, Tim. Freaking. Cahill.