Monday, March 18, 2013

Mama does AWP.

It's taken me a long time to get this written, but I feel like I want to document some moments.

It was my first time and I can't wait until  I can do it again.  This.  The AWP Conference.  If you could help me, we need to convince my husband (and our bank account, somewhere along the way) that it would be a great idea to go to Seattle next year.  I. Can't. Wait.

So the conference didn't get started until Thursday but baby and I were fired up so we went in on Wednesday to get my registration.  The Back Bay parking gods were with us.  We also saw Antiochians right away.  I'd been waiting for the Antiochians.  I'd been waiting for the writers in general, waking up every day during these cold, snowy winter weeks, thinking: The writers are coming.  The writers are coming.  

And so after we got my registration we tried to visit a friend in her hotel room.  Fail.  Nursed baby in lobby and headed up to 25th floor.  Had decided not to put baby back into bjorn since we were going straight to room.  Also, had my winter coat and huge back pack stuffed with baby goods and now conference bible as well as the bag they give everyone that says AWP Conference.  I was looking up and down this hall for a room that didn't exist?  I asked someone as I had finally flopped me and baby and stuff on floor by elevator.  The Boston Sheraton apparently has two sets of elevators -- North and South -- and I was basically in the wrong building.  So much for hometown advantage in the not getting lost department.  With only about ten minutes left on my meter and a determination to not get a ticket, I had my first I cannot see that friend at this moment moment.  We left, got the preschooler and the rest of that day was just a Wednesday.  But between that Wednesday and Thursday morning, the writers came.   

Thursday I dropped two kiddos off.  My husband planning to do the pick up meant I had a completely kid free day at the conference.  I did not go to one single panel and I'm not sure if I should feel good about that.  Basically, after I dropped the kids off, I still had to bathe and buy snacks and get to the train station.  When I got in, I went straight to the Antioch booth where I was late for my shift as an alumni volunteer but was welcomed with a hug by my favorite Texan, Alan Stewart Carl.  The Antioch booth was awesome fun and we got free t-shirts (see Lunch Ticket).  There was a raffle so winners were happy with their conference snack bar gift cards, and we tried to talk to perspective students, but mainly I was ridiculously excited and enjoying spending my first moments at the conference sort of watching it whizz by.  My favorite moment, I think, was when Katie F-S walked by without even seeing us - or tried to walk by.  I would not miss her adorable hair cut anywhere.  She turned around when I shouted.  Alan saw me through the realization that I had sent the wrong amount of cereal for my infant and would be riddled with guilt the entire day. 

And I saw lovely Lisa Cheby! And Laura Gardner! Whose hotel room I was seeking the day before.  And Erica Moody and LeVan Hawkins and Heather Luby! And Tisha Reichle, who I met when she showed me how to pay for my sandwich at my first Antioch residency. 

I felt like I needed to be conference-y.  I had not brought my conference bible though I did bring the schedule.  I had attempted to look at the panel descriptions the night before - like I had also planned to bathe the night before.  Thing is, I had picked out several panels that seemed interesting and had fabulous speakers.  They were all at the same time.  Even if I was at one great panel, I was missing 50 other great panels, so why try?  I met up with friends.  And friends and friends.  I used my breast pump in the hotel room of a poet who shall remain nameless.  I think some of what happens at AWP stays at AWP.   I won't mention my breast pump again. 

I later met Kate Maruyama in the hotel lobby.  Kate, who is like a sister I have only known online and via email.  Kate, who is like an angel or who is an angel.  

A bunch of us went to Whiskeys, and I headed home by about 10, like a pumpkin. Or however that saying goes. 

That's right, it was quite snowy by then. 

And snowier Friday when I jumped out of bed, cheerful and excited to get in for the 7:45 AM Antioch Breakfast.  Fucking New England.  It was like I had forgotten it was snowing when I went to bed, or just expected that it was over.  My sweet husband dug me out.  There was no toddler because he went to my sweet mom's the night before.  Grateful I learned to drive in the winter, baby and I were getting to this breakfast.  No question.  We did, and we were only about an hour late.  It was all worth it and I saw some lovelies I hadn't yet seen like Telaina Eriksen and Kristen Forbes and Stephanie Glazier and Danielle Stanard and Jenny Factor and Bernadette Murphy.  And I got to meet Bernadette's lovely daughter, Hope.  I also got to meet Ashaki Jackson.  It was a lot of that feeling you get when you are among great people.  I was sad to be just crossing paths with Gayle Brandeis but grateful to feel her presence. I ate some eggs and fed Will oatmeal with bananas.  Telaina helped me change him on a very narrow counter.      

Then I took baby to a panel!  More like a reading - Page Meets Stage.  I'd seen one of these before and had fun and I was scared of going into a quiet lecture-y kind of space.  Martin Espada has been a friend since moons ago when he was first my professor and I was excited and then there I was in the second row.  The baby was asleep in the ergo when I entered and I hoped if I rocked back and forth he'd stay asleep.  I'm good at rocking back and forth.  At some point it became clear to me that the second row was not the best place for me with a baby.  The speakers were not that far away which was ok.  When things got loud or when people were clapping, I covered his ears.  It was all ok, but we were so far from the exit.  Babies are babies and mine woke up.  And then, Taylor Mali, the host, in his I am not an academic poet bit, says I am not going to call out that baby in the audience.  Um, me?  I looked around.  Yes, me.  Only girl with a baby.  Having been in the second row I wasn't seeing the so many other people who did not have babies.  I guess everyone knew he was there??

I felt ok about it though; he did shriek a bit but only in a kind of conversational way.  Aimee Nezhukumatathil read a beautiful poem, "The Latch" and said it was good that I was there.  I could say more about all of this but it would be a different post.  I'd seen her before, but couldn't remember where and so appreciated her for that moment.  Also I got to hug Regie Gibson after the reading.  We were in a workshop together ages ago and he's a great poet.  All of these poets are great poets.  AWP is just about being among among among.  I'm not sure how to describe this. 

Friday continues with an Antioch reading, seeing the amazing Elaina Ellis, Seth Fischer, Peter Nichols and Daniel Jose Older.  Poems, Stories.  Got to see Carol Potter and Eloise Klein Healy, the first Poet Laureate of Los Angeles.  More feelings I can't really describe.  Will and I ate some banana with Elaina after that.  I think I forgot to tell her how beautiful her Copernicus poems were.  

And then a visit to The Mom Egg booth, where  "lucky" eggs were being given out.  Some had copies of one of my poems so that was kind of cool.  Baby was fussy so I tried to dance around book fair.  Soon after this I was in pursuit of baby's daddy.  He left work a bit early and we met up and I gave the baby back.  I was then child free and ready to tackle that massive book fair, make connections, get free journals -- all of it.  But suddenly I was child free, a little overwhelmed and I think I took some sort of break.  I might have cried a little here.  And then I saw LeVan Hawkins read Chris Allsop's award winning story and things were good again.  Among. 

Oh my gosh, I have to fast forward for you.  More food, revelry.  That moment when I looked over to see my Robert Egan reading a book at the bar.  Meeting people like Stephanie Lindberg.  Meeting some current MFA students.  Paying too much for parking because of a ridiculous mistake and dropping off a friend who confirmed my car has a serious funk.  

Saturday I headed in kid free again.  Because my husband is that sweet and because my mom is that sweet.  I took the train.  It was a great great day minus the god talk that came via the woman that sat next to me on the way in.  She first said she liked the colors of my fleece.  Bright blue and green.  My toddler calls it sand and ocean. The god talk is another story. 

I got in and saw the amazing Jenny Factor at the Antioch booth.  I asked her which panel she would go to that afternoon if she were me and she sold me on one on literary friendships and correspondence.  She asked me if I would use her IPad to record it for her so I thought that would be fun.  I also got to meet the amazing Melissa Chadburn! 

I wondered around in the book fair for a while and met a few small goals I had set for myself.  But when I stopped at The Rumpus, they were out of write like a motherfucker mugs and that was sad.  I want one deeply.   

BUT then I had lunch with Kate and this was an amazing experience within an amazing experience.   

I picked up Jenny's iPad and set off to that lecture. 

Which was amazing and inspiring and Lisa Cheby's beautiful face walked in.  Hearing Frank Bidart talk about Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop's friendship and his friendships with them both was just amazing.  Another panelist whose name I should know spoke about Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and how she was in class with them both and how they hung out before workshop in Harvard Square, drinking martinis and talking about their therapists.  (I was inspired enough to drink some martinis later that day and I must say I did write poetry the other day for the first time in seven months. I'm going to cancel my next therapy appointment since all I really needed was AWP.) 

Big thanks for Jenny (always) and gave her IPad back - with a disclaimer that I wasn't sure about the audio.  She was talking to Annie Finch whose poetry I love and who I saw on a panel at the Mass Poetry Festival last year. So I said HI.  She has a book that just came out, Spells, which she took me to visit and so yes, I bought it and asked her to sign it then.  I've been sort of drinking it in over the last seven days. 

Fast forwarding, there were drinks (aforementioned martinis) at a place I'd never been and dinner at Scoozi where I texted across the table about house rules because we were getting too talky about the bad date beside us.  House rules means don't talk about someone if they can hear you.  My husband and step dad created this term to keep me and my mom in line; that's another story.  When the date left, girl put on headphones before even leaving the table.  We ended up going back to the hotel bar at the hotel where there are two buildings and actually we weren't in the bar but in that random Starbucks spot off the lobby.  We pulled 3 small round tables together and brought down free wine from the AWP reception on the second floor.  Where I met Alyss Dixson!

I had missed key notes by writers I admire and adore in huge amounts --  Cheryl Strayed and Ann Carson.  But how could I have chosen one over the other?  I pondered this while basking in the faces of friends I never get to see and eating chocolate covered espresso beans.. 

I gotta tell you that I'm typing with a right hand, holding baby on left leg and just git spit up all down my left side.  It's gross.  And now I remember why I had given up dry cleaning. 

Anyhow, we were there and somehow next, Alan introduced me and Kate to Roxane Gay, who was hanging out in the barslashlobby.  That was great fun and we chatted about Yo Gabba Gabba and I might have pretended to be DJ Lance Rock in the intro song.  It was getting late.  Roxane, Kate and Alan are all very sweet people.  Like all of the people I saw or met or already knew but got to spend more time with.  I'm sure - quite sure - that I have forgotten to list someone I saw or met who is incredibly sweet.  And I am sorry for that!  I'm not sure why I love writers so much.  There are so many people I love deeply that are not writers, obviously.  Anyhow, I'm glad for this tribe and actually quite sure I know why I love them so much.  

AWP ended with some of us saying so long to some others in the Starbucks spot, four of us walking down the street and two of us heading down the steps to the green line at Hynes, each of us headed in the other direction.  It was weird, waiting for my train on the outbound side, knowing she was waiting on the inbound side, each of us not knowing when we'll be together again.  I know I am not sure of which direction my writing is going but I'm excited to get back to the work of it and do so with a renewed resolve and inspiration.  I am realizing AWP was sort of all about hugs, less about panels, though I'm sure that one year I'd like to do that too.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention something.  I talked to women about abortion and loss.  Some talked to me about their experiences.  Some just hugged me.  Some talked about how important it is to write about.  Some told me they couldn't write about it.  Many of us talked about how blessed we are to have the creatures we have.  Some of us cried. 

It's taken me a long time to write this but the whole thing just made me feel so grateful.  


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