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AWP: This Does Not Apply

When I’m negative about a situation, it’s usually not the situation’s fault. It’s me. I need to be far from the situation. I’m not being fed by the situation. I don’t need whatever the situation’s offering. You see how this is going.

So I went to the Association of Writers and Writing Program’s annual conference in Chicago this year. It was my first time.

I returned home yesterday after a few days of panels and discussions and lunches and dinners and searching for friends and catching up and blah. I’ve been spinning all morning about what I want to say about it.

Mostly, I just felt like none of it really applied to me.

Look, I’m not a poet. So there goes 50% of the panels and readings.

And I never want to write nonfiction. That shit sounds harder to get right than fiction.

I’m in a graduate program already. Goodbye, 75% of the expo booths.

I’m guessing most literary journals don’t take YA submissions. So fuck that, too.

And I’m not shopping a book to a small press publisher. So. Yeah. I’ll take one of your lollipops, though, Small Press Publisher. And sign up for your email list because I feel sorry for you having to plow through the sales pitch on Uninterested Old Me.

I only went to a handful of panels. I couldn’t sit and listen that long on that level of discourse. I would stare at people’s exteriors and wonder why they made various sartorial choices. Wonder what they wrote and why it made them harrumph and cross their legs just so. Wonder why all the women (myself included) felt the need to wear very tall boots all the time. Wonder why there were mostly brunette women and very few blonds. Wonder why all the men had the same thick black glasses that remind me of the ones they give you at 3-D movies. (Adrian calls those ‘birth control glasses’ because when he was in the Navy, that’s what you got issued in boot camp if you wore glasses. Boot camp’s about breaking down your sense of individuality, and even lowly spectacles must be uniform. And they’re called ‘birth control glasses’ because, well, you’re probably not getting laid while you’re having to wear them, right? How times have changed.)

Sometimes the audience’s questions made me want to choke someone.

Sometimes I couldn’t hear the audience’s questions.

Sometimes I would feel that I already knew all this stuff but merely needed to go home and fucking work on it already.

Sometimes I would think, “That’s Ta-Nehisi Coates five feet away from me, reading from his novel-in-progress! How cool is that!” 

Sometimes I would be hungry for something but unable to secure it because it was Chicago and what did I know about where anything was? Plus, my phone got no coverage in the Hilton. Stupid The Hilton.

The best parts were hanging with my friends. Seeing people I don’t normally get to see but once a year. Not being in my house. Getting excited about an adventure. Walking around a new city. Hailing a taxi successfully. Eating Greek and Italian food.

I don’t know. Maybe next year I’ll know what to expect and I won’t feel so weird. Maybe there won’t be as many people making snobbish comments about ‘genre’ fiction. Maybe I will be different, in my brain, someone present and ready and happy to receive all this information. Maybe I’ll be less snobbish myself.

4 Comments

  • Carrie on Mar 06, 2012 Reply

    I think it truly was a matter of me not being in the right frame of mind. Being in grad school already has offered me a community of peeps and lots of opportunities for chin-stroking discussions, so I guess I was a bit topped-up on those things. You would enjoy it, Ela, because there's poetry everywhere.

  • Ela on Mar 06, 2012 Reply

    So interesting to see your take on this. I was really disappointed not to be able to go–maybe I can feel a little less bummed now–although getting to see folks like you would have been a big part of the draw.

    Too funny on the snobby comments about "genre fiction" at writers conferences. Except if you're writing such, it surely doesn't sound funny. Between your

  • Carrie on Mar 05, 2012 Reply

    I was a bit surprised to see any YA panels at all, given how highly academic and literary everything else turned out to be. So perhaps next year there will be more relevant panels? Or I will be in a better mood?

  • Kirstin Cronn-Mills on Mar 05, 2012 Reply

    I think I might feel the same. Great post!

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