by Mara Jebsen
Or, I Did AWP All Wrong, And This Is What I Learned:
Every year, thousands of writers collect at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs convention. In some great origami-like structure, panels and panels unfold in every direction, and lovers, rivals, business partners and strangers rub shoulders (and egos) in a heady atmosphere of nerves. The scale of it, the booze of it, the ambition, and the camaraderie of it, taken together, give the “emerging writer” an occasion to a) lose her mind b) consider the ickiness of networking; the fascinating collisions between the inner lives of artists, and the surprisingly high costs of costly educations. Here is a sort of dream log-book of my not entirely representative experience, and a list of take-aways.
New York is far behind me, and the bus has clunked down heavily in Boston. Here, the entirety of the available air is taken up with snow that arrives sideways, softly in drifts. The first thing I do, made immoderately confident by my new smartphone, is stride trenchantly off to the wrong convention center; one at which no conventions are being held; one I will find out later is near the airport, and which I sense is near the airport, because of the eerie white nothingness of the landscape, and the deepening sense of ‘wrongness’ growing in my stomach. Snowflakes are matting against my glasses. The hand holding my little weekend bag is red—and I wish I hadn’t come. Off in the distance is a parking lot in front of a hotel, manned by a warmhearted guy in a little toll-booth dealie. I approach him through the blizzard for hours, and when I get to him he chuckles: “You look like you ran away from home.”
This feels correct. Trips that you worry about bring out the superstitious side in most of us. “Is this an auspicious start?” we ask. “Are the signs good?” Being lost is a bad sign. This nice man is a good sign. Already I’m off-kilter and have entered into the zone I call “the agony of interpretation”; the one that will mark two of my three days at AWP. For some reason, the stakes feel high, as though what happens in the next three days will define my attitude towards the literary world that simultaneously allures and repels me, a world I and so many other hope to join.
The man pulls out a series of ever-larger maps, and eventually rights me like a little wind-up toy so I'm ready for Take Two. All my urban slickness rubbed off, I find I'm cowed by the cold and austere geography of Boston.