Is There Life After Grub Street?
In the spring of 2004, I was entrusted with the task of a lifetime: I was to arrive at 160 Boylston Street on a Saturday morning, unlock the front gate and open it so that one of the instructors could teach a one-day writing seminar on novel beginnings.
To you, this may sound trivial, the sort of task assigned to a kid, an intern, to anyone with eyes, fingers, and the right set of keys. At the very least, it is surely not the stuff dreams are made of.
But to me, twenty-four years old and relatively new to Boston, eager to define myself as a writer and veritably frothing at the mouth for all things Grub Street, this was just the opportunity I wanted. The keys to Grub Street! My first big break! I would not let these people down. I would prove to the staff that I was worthy of their trust and, by extension, worthy of this much coveted title, “Professional Writer.”
Wanting to savor every detail about this momentous event, I taped the Grub Street keys to the wall above my writing desk. Each night and each morning, I looked at the keys, readying myself for the time when I would peel off the masking tape, slide the keys into my purse and head over to Grub Street to perform my task.
At one point during the week, it occurred to me to take the keys off the wall and put them in my purse ahead of time. You know, in case I forgot. But I dismissed the idea immediately. Firstly, how could I possibly forget the keys to Grub Street? Secondly, I wanted to relish in the experience when the time came, to feel the slow pull of tape coming off the wall, to hear the keys jingling in my hand, to feel all that power and importance just when the time was right.
Saturday morning came. I dressed. I rode the red line in from Somerville. I exited at Park Street. I began the walk through the diagonal path in the Boston Common, admiring trees, people, grass. I spotted Grub Street headquarters in the distance and began my mental checklist for the day—manuscript pages, wallet, phone, notebook, pens, housekeys…keys…keys…keys…
I stopped dead. No, I thought. Please, no. Oh god NO.
I flung my purse around, shoved my hand inside and began the frantic rummaging. I pulled out gum wrappers, receipts, notes, pen caps, business cards, junk, junk, junk…no keys to 160 Boylston. I closed my eyes. In my mind, I saw the keys exactly in their sacred spot, taped to my wall, above my writing desk. Back in Somerville. In my delight over the anticipation of removing them, I had failed to actually remove them.
I looked at my watch. It was 9:45. The workshop was to begin in fifteen minutes. It was a forty-five minute commute back to Davis Square. If I sprinted, I could make the round-trip commute in an hour and a half, delaying the seminar by forty-five minutes. Bad, but not as bad as forcing it to relocate to a nearby café or the food court. I could do it. I had to do it.
To say that I ran back to my apartment would be a gross underestimation. Reader, I flew. I raced the speed of light and beat it by about three seconds. I rode the T back to Davis Square, sprinted up College Avenue, flung open my apartment door, yanked the keys off the wall, sprinted back down the hill, got back on the subway, and rode it back to Park Street. I pulled off the round-trip commute in just over an hour.
Panting, red-faced, sweating from head to heel, I finally arrived back at Grub Street headquarters, one hour after the seminar was due to begin.
But, funny thing. When I got to the building, none of the students were outside waiting. No angry instructor stood ready to berate me. The gate to the building was already up.
I went inside, rode up the creaky elevator, exited at the fourth floor. The students were all seated, relaxed, laughing, introducing themselves and beginning on the day’s program.
But how…? Who…?
I looked around the room. I spotted Sonya Larson. It turned out that Sonya had signed up for the seminar also. Since she works in the Grub office, she too had keys to the building. She had opened the gate when she’d arrived. No one had had to wait.
I didn’t know Sonya well then, but she had always been friendly to me. I felt comfortable enough to thank her for opening the gate and then also to tell her of my dramatic morning, how excited I’d been and then how angry at myself, and really, in the end, how sorry I was.
“I just didn’t want to disappoint Grub Street,” I told her. “I want to teach here. I want to work here. I don’t want you all to think I’m irresponsible.”
Sonya just laughed. “Oh please,” she said. “It’s not a big deal. You’re totally fine. Have a seat.”
I wiped my brow with my wrist, keys still clenched in my hand. This was not just a relief, but a revelation: I was fine. It wasn’t a big deal. I could still have a seat.
And soon a deeper revelation came to light: In an industry chock full of gates and gate-keepers, Grub Street was one place where I did not need to scramble around for the keys.
It’s been almost ten years since that spring day. I have gotten involved with Grub Street in just about every way a writer can. I’ve taken flash fiction workshops, short story workshops, novel workshops. I’ve taken day-long seminars and weekend seminars. I’ve been part of several multi-term ongoing workshops, one group so devoted to each other’s work that we called ourselves “The Council” and re-upped for the course season after season, year after year.
As an instructor, I have taught short fiction and long fiction. I’ve worked with novelists just getting started and those just readying their work for the marketplace. I’ve taught teens in the one-day young adult writer’s program and in the summer fellowship. I’ve had the quirky pleasure of teaching adults in one workshop and their teen children later that year, in another.
I’ve stuffed envelopes for The Muse & The Marketplace conference. I’ve been a “Grub Street Ambassador.” I’ve blogged for The Penny Dreadful and written for the Grub Street Free Press. I’ve bartended at Grub Gone…parties. I’ve posed as “Whitney Scharer” and attended the AWP writing conference. I’ve hosted Grub Street’s open mic, The Riot Act, and had the dubious honor of turning the lights out on writers who read their work for longer than five minutes.
For two summers I was captain of the Grub Street softball team. I recruited writer after writer to our team, The Wordslingers, and after two years of losing every single game, this hard-scrabble group of novelists eventually made it into the semi-finals. To this day, my big toe is still partly broken from tagging a runner out at home plate. It is the only part of my body that has ever been injured by involvement Grub Street. I can’t say I mind the pain.
This fall, I will be leaving Boston. My partner is beginning a graduate program in Pittsburgh and I’ve made the difficult and complicated decision to join him on this adventure. Difficult, because of Grub Street. Complicated, because of Grub Street.
Leaving Boston means leaving my students, my colleagues, my mentors, my employers, and an entire social network consisting of the greatest friends I have ever known.
It means leaving the best workshops in which I have ever had the honor of participating. Workshops made up of fellow Grubbies and with names like “Chunky Monkeys”, “Little Buddies”, “The Council”, “The Tea-House Council”, “The Novel Group Formerly Known As…”. Workshops in which I have laughed some of my heartiest laughs and cried some of my most frustrated-writer tears. Workshops in which we have all dared to be generous, dared to be honest, dared to expose our passions and obsessions, our bad habits and our secret yearnings. Workshops that have all sprung from my connection to Grub Street and, much like the organization itself, challenged me consistently to be better, to be better, to be better.
I’ve spent a lot of time these past few months wondering what will come next. Wondering if, in fact, there is and can ever be Life After Grub Street.
I have finally come up with the answer: No.
There is no Life After Grub Street because there is simply no such thing as “After Grub Street.” As some in the office say, once a Grubbie, always a Grubbie. But on a very practical sense, as Grub Street continues to expand, so do its possibilities for connection.
Though I will be living in another state, I will be continuing my involvement with Grub Street through online classes, Skype, phone consultations, and through this blog.
I will be far, but not so far that I can’t return to teach a one-week writing intensive or a weekend seminar, or to participate in the Muse & The Marketplace, or to return for summers and continue teaching in the teen fellowship, or just to come by and visit, which I hope to do often.
Indeed, there is no life after Grub Street. Nor would I ever want there to be.
As for that spring day in 2004, I learned a lot that morning. I learned that Grub Street is a place that says, “Come in. Your seat’s waiting.” And Grub Street is a place that says, “Oh please. You’re fine.” And, because life is complicated and unpredictable and often difficult, Grub Street is a place that you may not always get to when you want to.
But if you are anything like me, you will run hard and fast and try your damnedest to get there in one way or another, however and whenever you can.
I am a fiction and nonfiction writer, based in Pittsburgh, PA. My fiction has been honored with fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and the Somerville, MA Arts Council, as well as awards from Briar Cliff Review, Glimmer Train and Moment Magazine. Other fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Salon, McSweeney's, Post Road, Salt Hill, The Offing, Hobart, Barrelhouse, Literary Mama, Tahoma Literary Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Tikkun, Virginia Quarterly Review online and several anthologies including Best of the Net. I am also Founder of The Review Review, a website dedicated to reviews of lit mags and interviews with journal editors. The Review Review was listed for seven consecutive years in Writer's Digest's list of 101 Best Websites for Writers.See other articles by Becky Tuch