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I would like to eradicate anger and doubt. Of course, without anger and doubt, there might be no essays. That might be why I felt so ambivalent recently about my presence at something called the NonfictioNow conference in Flagstaff, Arizona, an exploration of the essay form by over a hundred writers from the margins to the mid-list. That statement, I know, is condescending and defensive (in other words, angry), intended to insult and insulate. And ambivalence is impossible to eradicate though so many of us in the American middle class make it our business to try. So let me so say the same thing, honestly, in a different way, before I make my escape: there is so much incredible stuff to read here, all the more so because most of it is probably completely unknown to you. (These pronouns--you, I, we, they--are necessarily ambiguous, shifting, dependent upon context.)

 Thanks, Rachelle, for the photo.

Thanks, Rachelle, for the photo.

 

And now I invite you to escape with me and a poet named Rachelle Escamilla. We leave the breakfast buffet behind and drive seventy miles north on Arizona Route 180 (planning to return following 64 along the ridge, and then 89 south, with its craft stands and the oasis-like Navajo Soul Food truck). Rachelle and I once lived in the same apartment in China, with the same emergency rain ponchos and Guatemalan blankets in the cupboards. Well, we lived there twice. First I lived there and then she did, and now we are repatriated and talking about teaching nonfiction writing in China at a conference at the same time. We pay $30 to enter Grand Canyon National Park, drive past the visitors center, and follow something called the East Rim Drive until we get to a small dirt parking and camping area on the right just east of mile marker 244. From there we'll walk another quarter of a mile east to another clearing on the left--we could have parked there except for the sign telling us not to--and walk along the dirt track, comfortable and private, for a little more than a mile longer, leading all the way to a clearing called Shoshone Point. Ambivalence is sort of fateful. You will do one thing or the other. You don't have to go out all the way to the end, to the rock impossibly suspended over nothing, but sometimes you will.