Friday, March 14, 2014

Best Parts of AWP: a reflecton

I've been back from the AWP conference in Seattle for nearly ten days now, and am still digesting the experience.  "Digesting" is an apt description, as the conference was like a huge writers' banquet, a groaning board of literary delicacies and delights that left me so full I could barely stagger to the plane when it was over.   Have you ever felt as though your brain was literally stuffed?  That is the sensation I had on the way home (and probably the explanation for some deeply strange and vivid recent dreams).   

I love the experience of feasting on ideas - and I equally love the post-feasting time, when I "de-stuff" by turning over the new information in my mind, reflecting on what I want to keep, what I want to understand better, and what will matter to me in the scope of my creative life. 

Here is selected list of what I want to keep:

* At a panel on "Writing and the Sacred" with the great spiritual writer Kathleen Norris, this quote:  "I take my seat not at the dais, but at the common table." Not the power and the glory, but the human and the humble (and the source of all truthful writing).  And this, connecting the structure of the trinity to physics: "Quarks come in three, and they're indivisible."

* A memoir reading by Literary Mama contributor Kate Hopper, author of Ready for Air, at a beautiful neighborhood bookstore and cafe (yes, they still exist - patronize them!).  The intimacy and warmth of the gathering, the irreplaceable magic of one person telling a story to a group of attentive strangers in a small, brightly lit room filled with books.  And the spell of the story itself, about motherhood and birth, hospitals and hope, love and medicine and maternal strength  - a highlight.

*A literary reception in a Seattle apartment (Air B&B is a wondrous thing) with the dynamic editors of the new e-publishing venture, She Books.  The offer a curated collection of short fiction and nonfiction e-books, written by women, for women - and all of it brilliant.  

* Joining VIDA, the activist organization that tracks the numbers of women writers in top publications around the country.   One look at their eye-popping pie charts tells the whole story.  Because of VIDA, many editors have made a commitment - and many have followed through - to publishing more women writers in their pages.

What else did I learn?  Never expect good coffee in a hotel, even in Seattle.  Don't bring too many books to raffle off (no one wants to drag books home on the plane).  Arrive a day early if you want to see the city, because the rest of your time will be spent in a fluorescent-lit convention center, rushing up and down escalators to packed conference rooms.  Say "yes" to unexpected invitations, as they will turn out to be more rewarding than half of what you had planned (see reading at bookstore, above).  Don't try to do everything, you can't, so let go of worrying about the hot panel you're missing on the third floor.   Jot down the best parts of the day in a notebook when you get back to your hotel (you think you'll remember anyway, but you won't).  

Oh, and one more thing.  Relish the connections you make, not because of what they will do for you, but because the connection itself nourishes you.  Those moments of vibrating sympathy remind you of who are you, give you something to draw on when you wonder why you write, and for whom.  Remember the whispered conversation you had with the first-time memoirist, as you sat side-by-side in your folding chairs, waiting for a long-winded speaker to sit down; the glass of wine you shared with the famous poet as she told a story about her difficult mother; the laughter in the room when a quiet young writer, daring greatly, told a joke to all assembled - and it was damn funny.  Those are the things I brought home with me, too, and those I'm going to keep.