It’s a tough question to answer. Here are some options.
The short version is, “A lot of places.” I recognize that this satisfies exactly nobody (apart from the very drunk) but I usually offer it first just in case.Then I add, “New Zealand!” and generally the person I’m talking to, perhaps picturing me in a herd of sheep or switching from Writers’ Workshop to Weta Workshop, says something along the lines of “Oh my God! So cool! What are you doing there?”
“Teaching Fiction Writing at the University of Wellington,” I say.
“Wow,” they say.
Sometimes that’s enough. I like it better this way – I come off sounding erudite, planned, almost the way Allan Gurganus did when I asked him what he did after his MFA and he said, “Well, I had a Stegner and I’d just gotten a story published in the New Yorker, so…” But sometimes they say, “For how long?”
“How long is a semester?” they ask, beginning to get suspicious.
“Three months…” I shuffle my feet and try my best not to look like a vagrant.
“And when do you leave?”
I say, “Um, January. Or December. Depending whether or not I want to be there for lambing season. I hear it’s the bomb.”
“And what are you doing til then?” This if they are my relatives, or naturally curious (looking at you, Alice), or the garrulous sort of drunk, or making conversation while we stand in line.
“Well!” I say, happy to have plans. “First I am going to Boone, NC again. It’s a very nice place. There,” I say, planning to forestall questions, since this person is obviously inquisitive, “I teach a course called ‘From Wonderland to Hogwarts’ twice, two sessions, one in June, the other in July, at a summer camp called Duke TIP. I have written previously about this on my blog.”
“Sorry, I didn’t read it,” they might say.
“But what I didn’t say on my blog,” I add, hoping to deter them, “is that last year I actually taught the son of a certain shiny-haired, very nice but semi-scandal-plagued politician…”
This might work. I think it would with me. I’d probably start to ask things like “Oh my god, did you actually have to have a conference with him?” (The answer is, “Yes, over the phone.”) “What was he like?” (In his Southern accent he said, “Oh, Iowa City? The Hamburg Inn is a dandy place to have a burger!” and I said, “I know, I’ve seen a picture of you there…” and wanted to add “”Remember when you ran for president?” but desisted.)
But I know some people don’t want to gossip as much as I do, and so it could also end with them totally disregarding the last sentence and going, “So what are you doing after that?”
“Ahem.” I cough into my sleeve. “I… maybe I’m gonna go live in a cabin in New Hampshire. Off the grid, you know?”
“That sounds lonely.”
“Yeah. But man, I need to finish my novel. And, you know, get off that grid.”
“Or possibly it’s going to be too lonely. Maybe I’ll go work at the State Fair! Or live with Jeri in New Orleans! Or Kansas with Colin! All I can say is, starting in August I’m gonna be a full-time novelist.” At that, I dust off my hands.
“Or homeless person,” my conversation partner might add.
Dear reader, if you have any ideas for my August – December? If you want to workshop my life? Please, dear God, go right ahead.
PS: The cat is going to live with my friends Meredith and Jordan in Atlanta. While I am very sad – she is curled up adorably on a porch chair, watching me type this, knowing nothing of what’s coming – I am happy that she’ll be accompanying them to their new home. Also I am happy that she won’t have to accompany me to the East Coast and then ??? and then New Zealand. That is too much for one semi-hairless kitty to bear.