Despite the unmistakable eclecticity (no, that’s not a misspelling) in the air, a calm pervaded the Chicago Hilton and The Palmer Hotel as 10,000 writers and poets gathered to reflect on the art of reflection.
I arrived Wednesday afternoon at the 2012 AWP Conference for a five day respite from the non-writing hunk of my life–wishing it more a slice, or better yet, a sliver–in what I hoped was a hip, understated pair of boots and avant garde scarf. Between workshops, I found ample opportunity to study the bumper-to-bumper shoes snuffling toward a privy vacancy. Writers are ageless risk takers when it comes to shoes. I could go on, but no more about shoes.
Are these my people–this assembly of academics, poets, bloggers, and literary peddlers? Yes. No, I don’t hesitate, though I’ve found no one like me. To my chagrin, my boots are more safe and sturdy than cool for the daily fourteen block round jaunt from hotel to hotel. But for the past four days my heart’s been undisturbed, given a stay from the usual demand to make intelligible my compulsion to position eyes and ears and skin on the silent, unwavering page.
We cheered at Literary Death Match–our own Saturday Night Live-esque game show–our fearless gurus demonstrating deft, on-the-spot critiques on content, performance, and “intangibles.” First, a writer (contestant) reads, the audience sighs, laughs, whoops, falls silent. In love for the moment with the loomer weaving a new pattern for us, wondering if our own fabric luminesces like that. Is it so textured, so profound? The Ring Master Todd Zuniga parses out arbitrary points, contestants are eliminated (don’t we all face rejection with our chins up), favorites chosen. Mine is Darin Strauss recanting his nerdish I-then junior high self. Wow.
In the end a winner is slung with a metal to take home and, well, attempt to explain to whomever loves her or him, that the checked flag has waved on this frivolous, surely-it-must-be-a-tinge-narcissistic (picture the writer on a first person point of view five day binge) vacation.
If you at home are listening, I will tell you, because I’m too tired to show you anymore, too saturated with wisdom and rumination and method and je ne sais quoi: it is a time of examining the moonlight bouncing off the pebbles we’ve been kicking along with our funky boots.
I still don’t know if writing choses us or vice versa, but I know most of us are happy to be chosen. So for a few days, we circle wagons and suspend the disbelief of those born without the impulse. A tailor of words, we are. And, by choice or necessity, we’re willing to hop a plane to lend an admiring ear and a flashy heel.