This column explores the myriad ways we can — and maybe should — engage with our creative process beyond actively writing.
My car grumbles against the silver pebbles that make up our path forward. The festival opened about an hour ago, and already we’re five, six rows of cars deep into the mowed lawn. A man in orange period-ish shorts (a very loose interpretation of the pirate theme) waves us towards an open spot.
This is my first time going to the Renaissance Festival despite meaning to go every summer I found out it existed. My outfit is a mid length black dress with cap sleeves and a sweetheart, ruched neckline hidden by a corset-bodice piece I purchased at the Chelsea Market when I was in graduate school. I’ve wrapped my partner’s belt around my waist and am using a pouch my international charging ports once came in to hold my phone, wallet, and keys. My hair is braided away from my face and cascades down my back. I am, truly, in my element.
Medieval, Tudor houses and shops flow out in front of us. They are selling flower crowns and swords, honey and candles. Folks pass by me dressed in corsets and pirate hats, long flowing dresses or skirts that bounce as they walk. It’s hard to distinguish between people working there and passionate attendees who make this pilgrimage every year.
That’s what I love about events like this: the people. The people who wait eagerly for the circus to hit town, who buy season passes and meet up with friends they probably met here, at the festival, years ago. I love people who love things, deeply. Who aren’t shy about their interests, who are unapologetically themselves.
We make our way to the lower shire where the artisans area is. I want to stop here because I’ve wanted a lace-up bodice for a while now, ever since the pandemic when I got really into period clothing and the contemporary people who make it.
Inside Threads of Time, there are rows of handmade chemises, skirts, and trousers. Anything anyone would need to blend into this make believe. I ask a woman at the register if she’s the designer, and she shakes her head: “She’s upstairs, making this stuff right now.”
A woman with gorgeous long brown hair and a forest green bodice, orange skirt, and white blouse measures my bust. She is kind and talks to me about her grandchildren, which I can’t imagine someone as young looking as her having.
“I breastfed all my babies,” she says while gesturing to her chest. “These boobs don’t exist until I put this on.”
Her girlfriend worked at the festival before she started a year ago, but already, she’s taken to it like a moth. She tells me there’s no pressure in here to buy anything, that I can play around.
“I’m here the whole summer and it’s just one big game of dress up. People get to be who they really are, and I get to help them. I just make people smile all day,” she says.
Recently, I received a rejection for my manuscript from an agent I had forgotten about. Her message said she liked my story idea, but didn’t connect with my “tone.” I was expecting the rejection—that’s why I’ve decided to embark on a third draft. But, the mention of my writing’s tone as being the reason threw me for a loop.
My writing, for better or for worse (I think many of my teachers, specifically the likes of T Kira Madden, would argue for a degree of separation between the words and the artist), feels like an extension of myself. And so can my tone, the most vulnerable and unabridged version of my internal thoughts, be extrapolated from me?
I thought about writing the agent back, asking her what about the tone was off-putting for her. What she didn’t like. But then I feared what would happen to me if I knew. Would I begin hiding in my words? Would my writing become unfamiliar? Would I feel the honesty I adore about creative nonfiction slip into a sort of fictionalized realm? Would I stop writing as myself?
The woman laces me up, gently. She begins at the bottom and works her way up, pulling the bodice tighter and tighter together than I thought imaginable and yet I feel no pain. She’s trying to get her grandchildren involved with the show, too. I look in the mirror and I feel beautiful; I cannot stop smoothing my hands over the fabric. The joy from my smile is unmistakable and I keep thanking her for letting me do this. And she keeps telling me, “We’re no pressure here.”
She says, “It’s easy to get overwhelmed. You have to find one thing you love and focus on that.”
Just focus on that.