This is a photo of me and Lisa Jones, author of the wonderful book, Broken. (Buy it!! Buy ten copies!!) Note the matching hairstyles and glasses, the beautiful aging hippie look. This photo was taken by an Irish poet.
Now I'm back from Denver. Yes, it was fun. Yes, I brought too many clothes (but a girl has to have choices.) Yes, it was overwhelming just to be around so many writers and so many books and magazines.
I'm sure that all the writers there, including people more famous and connected than me, were all probably feeling some version of the same overwhelm. You can just imagine how much Prozac and Ambien run-off was being flushed down those public restroom toilets. Oh and don't forget the Xanax.
There was a huge room with tables and tables and tables and tables for all the litmags and publishers. It contained more reading material than a hundred compulsive print-aholics could consume in a hundred lifetimes. And yet and still the books and poems and essays and plays keep coming. More more more more more. Fiction, poetry, non-fiction (memoirs were HUGE this year, every other panel was about some aspect of memoir. Which makes me glad that I'm not writing one. It seems like there are enough out there. And there's so much more money to be made in poetry).
Unlike 2001, I managed to keep some sense of perspective about the whole thing. Okay, I'm a tiny puny drop in a gigantic ocean. It's a little ego-deflating to contemplate that fact, but also a relief. I stand back and watch all the young, beautiful, brilliant, anxious writers scrambling after university jobs and grants in this bad economy and struggling to balance career and family and-- I take a deep breath. I'm not going to get one of those university jobs. I hope one of these days, someone dumps a little grant money on my head, but that's not going to create or destroy my happiness either. I'm just here. I'll just keep writing and sending things out and living. Nobody owes me anything. I've already had tremendous luck to be published in The Sun, to have two books to my name. Even though I want more--and I always want more, it's my nature--my cup already runneth over.
The SUN reading on Saturday was well-attended considering it was the fourth day of the conference and everyone was pretty well saturated by that point. Ellen Bass, Frances Lefkowitz, Steve Almond, Krista Bremer and Sy Safransky, and I all read--and everyone was terrific! This is noteworthy because more often than not poetry readings can be dreadful, but in this one the audience was fully engaged the whole time, laughing and sighing and applauding. I didn't sell as many books as I would have liked--selling books at AWP is like trying to sell snow cones in Antarctica--but I sold a couple, and I managed to zip up my suitcase despite the swag I'd picked up in the form of free journals and newsletters.
Frances (author of the forthcoming memoir To Have Not) and I had a great time rooming together, very easy, like old friends, and I met some writers whom I had known only from afar and reconnected with some colleagues that I only see every few years, like Cheryl Strayed (author of a wonderful novel called Torch, and a forthcoming memoir, which I think is called Wild), and Leslea Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies and millions of other books.
I met Lisa Jones in person, the woman who wrote the wonderful memoir Broken, about her time on an Arapaho reservation in Wyoming, with a remarkable Native American healer. We hung out companionably, again like old friends. There is something about other writers (especially women writers) that feels instantly familiar and intimate to me. We share many of the same characteristics of strong self-will and assertion coupled with almost equally strong self-doubt and tendencies to despair. Those women also know the manic-depressive cycle that writing puts one through, from excitement to desolation and back again, and how the rhythm of the work itself sustains you while the dreams of grandeur predictably elate and then disappoint you. We can communicate in a quick shorthand about the process because we've all been through our own version of it.
The best workshop that I went to was one on the 10-minute play, which is apparently the play most likely to get produced these days (in festivals, along with other 10-minute plays). I have long resisted this form because ten minutes doesn't seem like enough time to do anything interesting or meaningful onstage, but this workshop/panel persuaded me otherwise, and now I have some good ideas for 10-minute plays to write.
At another panel, I heard a young successful woman writer explain that she had made a rule always to have thirty pieces out at all times. that meant either five stories at six different magazines each or thirty different stories at thirty different magazines, or--I don't know. But she was serious as a heart attack and she was making a living (and had two small children!) so i thouhgt, I could do better in terms of having things out. the only problem is that it takes so long for my poems to find their final right form--years and years sometimes.
Another good workshop was called "Scars on my Heart", a presentation by Milspeaks, an organization that helps military people do creative writing in order to express the experiences they've had and heal from PTSD as well as offer the non-military world a glimpse into their world. I'm not a crier, but during the reading of poems by children whose parents were serving (or in some cases had died), I found tears rolling down my cheeks uncontrollably. Also when a retired Vietnam veteran read about things that had happened forty years ago--his voice shaking and sometimes cracking in contrast to his erect military bearing. The more I read and listen, the more I realize how much I have to learn about the stories of men and women at war. And talking to Sy and Frances about what we are willing to reveal versus what feels unspeakable to us, helped me understand better my own connection to violence and why I feel so compelled to write about it.
The Sun people had dinner together--I saw my beloved Angela and her husband Brent--and caught up a little. It was chilly, for the record, and I decided in the end to go with my somewhat dorky Land's End jacket because it is both warm and lightweight, but unfortunately not very hip or stylish. However I don't think anyone but me gave a hoot about what I looked like which is another great consolation of getting older.
Now I'm home, we have had the Church of the New York Times this morning which we worship with coffee and eggs and toast. Out-of-town friends are staying in the guest room and other friends are coming to dinner; I've got a big pot of chili on. It's raining again, a big soaking rain. Good for the depleted reservoirs--they must be rising by now--and the happy green hills, not so much fun to drive around in. I'm grateful to stay home and read and write.