It’s disorienting to go from five days of writers to the rest of your life with non-writers. What I mean by that is I spend my life (husband excluded) surrounded by corporate America whose concerns are far different that mine.
I was perhaps the only person on Wall Street cheering on the Occupy Wall Street folks.
When you put someone like me into a situation where I’m submerged in books and writing, surround me with people who could talk about authors and concepts for days on end, people who would argue (this happened) with their editor about the fact that “I came into the room” is vastly different from “I entered the room”, you can imagine the thud I felt when I went back to work. It was less of a thud and more the baby being squeezed out of the warm, floaty womb, sliding down and out of the birth canal to land unceremoniously on a cold, hard floor.
Yes, the dire problems of the first world. I know.
Men in peacoats and facial hair, thick, black-framed glasses, somewhere between 25 and 30 years of age, scraggly enough to avoid being a type (in their own mind) ran late into panels with such utter confidence and nonchalance as to plop down in the front row seats that most people were too intimidated to take. Funny, I probably work with these boys’ parents. Those coats cost money, as did the brand of glasses, and their nonchalance from years of being encouraged, of being called “artsy” and a “writer”, not “lazy” and a “bum”. A certain studied confidence is built upon money. The rest of us? Our time is expensive. We know we may only have one of these we can go to. We aren’t late and we don’t miss sessions. Despite being early, we sit back a couple of rows. Sometimes.
Oh, the arrogance of monied youth.
Then the hipster crowd, waifish girls in thrift store dresses, but wait, those are too nice, too clever. Those are the dresses made to appear thrift store, that aren’t. These girls hide behind the same glasses, thick and prominent, like mine, but the lenses are glorious free of concentric glass circles that most of us myopians have. No coke bottle bottoms for this chic set. Those girls drank martinis. My money says that they nursed one.
The hipster boys wore carefully designed careless attire. Their flannel shirts flew the Hollister eagle proud and prominent over their right breast. They were untucked and wore beaten up, good shoes. It took much effort to achieve such carelessness.
These pretty young things weren’t from New York or Massachusetts, but rather Minnesota and Wisconsin, hiding the dizziness brought on by the martini they could barely get down their gullet.
A panel on Vampire poetry I regretfully missed. I wanted to people watch. I saw these people outside the hotels, chain-smoking in fingerless gloves with “Death” appliqued to the backs. Charcoal-rimmed eyes, and a disgust in anyone who would look their way as they wrote feverishly in their small journals, fingers close to the tip of the pen, white at the first digit from the pressure. Dyed-black hair fell in their eyes, only on one side. Eyebrows pierced, maybe a nose, a few lips, all of it showing to the outside, the dystopian view they held within.
Last I noticed the professor set. Aging men and women either gray and natural and proud (both sexes) or aging and fighting it every step of the way. The gray-haired earth mothers versus the raw and edgy, hair-dyed and possibly cropped edition. The men still wore blazers and turtlenecks. The women wore either floor length, hippy-esque skirts, or tight black shirts, with just the right jeans, baggy and perfect, the black boots peeking out, well-worn.
I wanted to be that woman. The jeans, the tight, black shirt, the boots, the focus, the cropped hair. Serious. Determined.
I wanted to sit next to the earth mothers.
Today my husband and I went to the Art Institute because the day before AWP, Teri and I met there and my head exploded. I saw two paintings and a window installation that I had to go back and photograph.
It’s my next book.
How do I know? Because the synapses in my brain were audible. Ding, ding, ding, crackle, ding. Connections between disparate things firing up and traveling faster than the hand and the eye combined.
The speed of sound.
All of us from the naive optimist to the jaded dystopian connect because the most important thing is the books. We wouldn’t have been there if we didn’t care. We wouldn’t have been there if the writing, the reading, the hero worship (okay, maybe just me, but passing Marilynne Robinson in the lobby, a foot between us and making eye contact??), wasn’t so important that when politicians start running on about cutting art and humanities budgets we audibly gasp. And grab a pen knife.
Every last one of these people, from Len who I met sitting at the bar to my posse,
Amy and Laura
Teri and Suzy
every last one of them is a bit of me, and every one of them is so important to the world.
For all of our outer appearances, we are more the same than we ever could be different. Art matters. Books matter.
Yes. Yes it does.
So to fight off the depression I encountered when I was back to work, not surrounded by these people, I held on to what Teri and I saw. I held on to the feeling those paintings left me with and the knowledge that I just tasted my new book although I don’t know what it is.
I held on to the fact that there were 9000 people at this conference, and I could tell most of them that I saw some paintings and found a new book, and they wouldn’t blink. They would get it. Because writers get it. And writers are amazing.
But not as amazing as my husband who couldn’t wait to get to the Art Institute and start off his visit by following me around as I snapped photographs of paintings that make a new book. Because he is all sorts of amazing. And helped me find more.
Go write something amazing.
Go read something amazing.
It’s what we do.