Monday, March 3, 2014


I went to Seattle for the AWP Conference, which is the conference for all things and people literary. Writers, writing students, writing teachers, publishers, and general assorted bookish types all gather together in one place to let the written word ooze from their pores. I went because I wanted to meet my publisher, promote my novel, and pick up some heavily discounted paperbacks at the terrifyingly huge bookfair. I also went because my family lives near Seattle, which means I’d have free lodging and large meals my mother would insist I eat because she thinks I run too much. She’s silly, if well-meaning.

If it were not for these reasons, I would go nowhere near the conference. I hate conferences in general, and conferences involving writing in particular. Large groups of writers make me suspicious; talk about writing too much and you may not end up doing any writing. Panel discussions make me squirm, and reading events make me want to stick corncob holders in my ears. There’s this style of reading everyone has, you know? The strangely accented syllables, the oddly drawn-out vowels, the dramatic pauses and emphases in seemingly random places.
I hearrrrrrrd aflybuzzwhen I diiiiiiiied the stilllllllllness ROUND! MY! FORM! was LIKE! thestillnessin. The. Air? Betweeeen heeeeaves…of AAAAA (storm).

Plus there’s the AWP type. Just picture her on the plane on her way to SEATAC. She’s wearing boots, a leather jacket, lots of black. She’s writing in a burgundy moleskin notebook. She thinks for a moment, reads what she just wrote, thinks a little more, then puts down the notebook and pen and picks up the novel she’s reading. Her page is being held by a bookmark made of real tapa cloth, given to her by a poet friend in grad school. She will become utterly engrossed in her book, frowning in deep thought, then laughing out loud and dog-earing a page. One suspects she shudders if you say “ebook” to her. When she finishes a chapter she’ll pull out her own book and flip through it ostentatiously, deciding which of the stories she’s going to read that night at the hip-and-funky bar in the edgy-and-cool part of town. She decides on the story written in second person. Second person—it’s so special. (She reads this special story right before another writer reads a prose piece full of imagery meant to describe how it feels to be lactating, and though she looks attentive throughout the other writer’s reading one imagines a private smirkiness that her own story was far better.) She tells herself not to go overboard at the bookfair but she ends up buying so many things she tells people, sighing heavily, that she has no money left for food for the next three months. It’s hard to take, isn’t it, all that self-conscious preciousness.
Oh wait. That’s me, isn’t it.

A few months back there was a bit of buzz about an essay some guy wrote making fun of the marathon runner mentality. It was a mildly amusing, occasionally on-target bit of satire except for one particular section in which the writer sneered at the supposedly narcissistic way runners parade around in their little outfits so that everyone will see them running and awed by the sight. This was the one thing that made my running friends irate—for good reason. No one runs long distances to impress other people. No one. Now, granted, most of us will certainly welcome impressed looks and gushy praise and “badass” designations, but I don’t know any runners who care whether or not anyone is watching them run. Likewise, any perceived preciousness or pretentiousness of the writing community is not borne of a desperate need to be perceived as writerly. This is how they—we—really are.
The running/writing comparison doesn’t work in other ways, however. I run for me. I will never win a race of any kind, and if I should happen to, say, place first in my age group (it has happened, believe it or not), that’s merely a sheen of icing on an already richly satisfying cake. I’ve only been running for a small fraction of my life; I’ve been writing for considerably longer, and even though writing is done in solitude, I don’t write just for myself. I write to be read. While I enjoy the process, if my writing isn’t read, it’s pointless. This means I do, in a sense, have a desperate need to be perceived as writerly, which means I desperately need those folks at AWP, lactating imagery and all.

It would be thus reasonable to suppose that my dislike of writing conferences stems from my own pettiness, my insecurities, my anxieties that people won’t realize that I Have A Book and my fear that they will realize it and not care because ooh lookit Mr. Genuinely Famous Author just walked by followed by Ms. Hugely Talented Up-And-Coming Young Writer. I don’t know about that, though; I like to think I’m reasonably honest with myself about what I’ve accomplished, and I know it’s not as though, now that I have a book, I am able to bypass the riffraff and saunter past the velvet ropes right into the authorial VIP lounge. I have a small book out from a small independent publisher. I’m not having lunch with Annie Proulx any time soon.

And you know what? I’m fine with that. After all, it sure beats not having a book at AWP. Yes, I realize that’s a petty thing to say. Hey, I waited a long time for the privilege of being this petty; grant me my moment, will you?



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