Today I saw a man dressed as a gladiator with black sneakers; I also saw a woman wearing white, fluffy bunny ears. I heard jokes about a dark colon and James Franco and getting beard burn from a novel. I listened to a man with a voice not unlike Sam Elliot’s describe good writing as “writing that will skullfuck you in its awesomeness.” I was at AWP. (And to give credit where it’s due, that lovely descriptive phrase was spoken by Ben Percy.)
This is my first year at AWP, and I feel like it’s long overdue. It’s also just a tad overwhelming, what with the 11,000 attendees and three stories of conference center space filled with info on different lit mags and small presses, and panels of writers talking about topics as varied as marketing with new media, and Southern writers in exile. I’m still processing everything I heard today in the four panels I attended, back to back and somewhat caffeine deprived since I couldn’t find a moment to grab coffee in between talks. But so far, I’m happy that I decided to attend. It helps of course that the conference is in Boston; I just hop two buses and there I am, and I even get to ride by two of my past favorite Cambridge haunts on the way to Hynes (shout out to The People’s Republik and the Cantab Lounge! I miss you, but right now, I’m too tired to drink.) And I think it helps that I waited until my ’30s to attend because I’m confident enough to just go do what I want to do at the conference without worrying about it. Younger me would have wanted a buddy to go to talks with, if only to have someone around to chat to during quiet moments. Now, instead, I use Twitter (shout out for our blog’s Twitter account!).
But I digress. There are many great panels to come in the next couple of days, and I look forward to all of them; I am also telling myself that I’m looking forward to schmoozing at the book fair because if I don’t tell myself this, I won’t do it because it makes me feel so awkward. But again, the benefit of age is that I care less how awkward I appear, and sometimes, I even think I should be awkward on purpose to make things more uncomfortable for the other guy. Oh, the possibilities that would unfurl!
I’ll admit, I’m not feeling completely fired up and inspired to come home and start right in on a new – or old – story. However, I think that’s because I’m so exhausted. One and a half hours a day on public transit, plus traveling in nasty weather, plus a baby waking you up a couple times a night will do that. But I have a new list of must-read novellas and novels to add to the stack of books I never seem able to finish, and I got to hear Julianna Baggott, Meg Wolitzer, Erin Belieu, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Lydia R. Diamond speak today. I learned about marketing a book on Pinterest. I had a minor panic attack at being one among thousands in a sea of writers all hoping for the same thing: exposure, success. Not all of us will get it. So for these few brief days, we’re all rushing around to different panels, trying to determine which of us will make it that far.
Erin Belieu closed her talk on the sexism that still exists within the writing and publishing industry with an Audre Lord quote: “Your silence will not protect you.” I know that she was referring to activism, but I feel like I can apply that quote to my writing life in that it removes silence as an option. You just have to speak up, and what is writing but speaking up? It’s time to get serious and get back to it.