AWP Special #4: Breakdown of the Blitz

AWP, or Amazing Writerly Playtime, is pretty much the most awesome thing I’ve done all year. This may not seem like much of a statement, considering 2014 has been two months of penniless frigidity, both financially and phallically speaking, but I do mean it! Even though New York is the center of the publishing world,  it’s absurdly expensive, and being a writer gets nestled in with being an employee, a commuter, and a person who waits on really long lines. Indeed, I would argue that being a waitress is not just a quintessential New York job, but also a microcosm of being a New Yorker, because you’re always fucking waiting. Waiting for the super to fix your ceiling. Waiting to get paid. Waiting for the train. Waiting, like Rose from “Titanic”, for an absolution that will never come. Attending an event like AWP that focuses solely on writing and the writing world, and is teeming with like-minded passionate writers are is inspiring infinitely inspiring. This is real, you think. I can do this.  

Of course, there’s something horribly depressing about being in a panel about story cycles and linked stories in which you and a hundred and fifty people are crammed into a windowless room with people sitting on the floor, perching on tables, and leaning on the window in the hopes that they’ll hear just one nugget of brilliance that will make them a better writer. While I may have gotten As in high school English, and am told by people who aren’t writers that I should be a writer, there are millions of other people in the same boat who will also fade into oblivion with nothing but full flash drives and weak livers.

But the panels have been great. I’ve nearly filled up an entire Muji book with my urgent notes, glimmers of ideas, brilliance gleaned from hours and hours of listening. Sitting in panel after panel may seem mind-numbing, and yes – at a certain point even the words of great writers turn to static and you need to step into the street for fresh air. But it’s more just the immersion in thought and the energy of people wanting to talk about writing that makes you realize that this is, indeed, a thing. It’s a connection to the art in both past, present and future, and it’s a connection to you, yourself, and the writing you do. Being here has made me aware of the fact that even as a dweller of the city of purgatory, this thing I love and want is possible.

If I could impart one thing and one thing only from these panels, it’s that age leads to wisdom. On the majority of the panels, there’s always been one writers who’s a bit older and far more prolific and established than the others. They speak slower, with more confidence, and don’t use filler words such as “um” or “like” or “you know” when speaking. I watched one young poet yesterday who, though effervescent and intelligent, used eight such words before reaching the first verb in his first sentence. Contrast this with Anne Waldman, whose mere presence behind a podium makes me want to shit myself and leave the room to go write for three days straight. As someone who’s been attempting to write based on her life since high school, it’s made me realize that maybe there is something to be said for life experience and time-accrued wisdom. 

With the good comes the bad, though, and the whole reason I’m able to write this blog right now is because I just stormed out of a horrible panel about travel writing. Four white males aged 30s to 60s sat there and talked about being monolingual travel writers. “We’re not academics,” said one, “we’re travel writers.” This is stupid and offensive, and I do think one problem of many panels is that being a published writer doesn’t necessarily mean someone will be successful at imparting knowledge. In turn, many of the panels have digressed into the panelists simply talking about the plot of their own works, and reading from them.

The last thing we need is four more white male travel writers. Yes, the travel writing panel was moderated by an Asian American female, but all she did was ask questions. She didn’t introduce herself as a travel writer but as a professor. I attended several panels on translation, one of which was largely in Spanish, but they were sparsely attended. There are about sixteen black people here, bringing the total number in Seattle up to twenty two. Though I do think that the conference has done an admirable job of attempting diversity, it’s not there yet.

I’d write more, but I’m going to see Anne Waldman speak for the third time.



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