It’s the post-AWP edition of Loomings!
The jet lag has mostly abated; I’ve enjoyed at least several lunches since coming home that weren’t Clif bars; I have not been able to teach Roo and Gil to make me Totoro latte art like the amazing baristas at Moore Coffee; the re-entry into Regular Life continues.
Every year’s pilgrimage to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual conference is a joyous/frantic endeavor for me, landing among thousands of other writers from my one-horse town. AWP is an exponential class reunion; unlike the reunions for graduating classes, where there’s a finite number of people invited and the number who turn up each year dwindles, every residency, every reading, every workshop, every AWP itself adds more people to the possible pool of visits to make, coffees and catch-ups and fly-bys and schedule snafus. At every hour between nine a.m. and five p.m., there are more than twenty choices of concurrently running panels, and also a book fair hosting actual hundreds of presses and literary mags and residencies and other writing-adjacent organizations. That’s not even counting the off-site readings after hours and the various beauties of the hosting city. It’s wonderful, especially for folks like me who have to drive more than thirty minutes to get to the nearest bookstore.
But it’s a superfluity of riches. One has to make hard decisions because it’s not possible to do everything.
This year, I decided to err on the side of practicality, and I focused my panel attendance nearly exclusively on two things: useful information for people with forthcoming books (especially vis à vis pitching pieces in support of a forthcoming book, publicity, and supporting others in the same boat) and useful information for people working with undergraduate literary magazines. I came away with many bright sparks and useful strategies.
One of those strategies is one I’m truly terrible at: saying no. At a panel titled “No, Nope, Forget It!: Writers On Preferring Not To,” the poet Sasha West asked us to think in this way: “If I say yes, what noes are hidden inside it?” By agreeing to X, what else must necessarily be given up? By agreeing to go to this particular panel, I said no to close to two dozen others. By saying yes to dinners with close friends, I said no to an infinite number of other events and occurrences. By saying yes to going to lots of panels, I said no to a dozen chance meetings and catch-ups and opportunities to introduce myself to Y acquaintance who was clearly embroiled in a conversation I didn’t want to interrupt the last time I saw them. By saying yes to babying a pulled muscle in my back, I had to say no to loading up on books in the bookfair. By saying yes to AWP, I said no to having any kind of spring break at all, rolling in from the airport around midnight on Sunday evening and standing in front of a class by 9 a.m. on Monday.
Can one experience FOMO while actually at the event? Absolutely. Especially if it’s one like this. But I came home with many treasures, all the same.
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What I’m making:
Not long before leaving for AWP, I made a big batch of shortbread. This time, for the first time, I replaced 1/3 of the weight of white sugar with light brown sugar, and I used a block of Kerrygold butter instead of the usual sticks in the fridge. A week later, it’s still pretty good. The brown sugar means it hasn’t gone particularly crisp/crumbly, but the caramelized flavor is delightful.
What I’m reading:
I’m lightly dabbling in David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries. I would consider this to be much more a travel book or short essays of cultural commentary that are focused on particular places than a book about cycling. The bike, in many cases, is the means, rather than the ends, of experiencing the place. It is a highly interesting way to visit a whole host of places I have not been myself, but it might not be the time for me to read this particular book.
What I’m writing:
In the midst of still chipping away at the manuscript in progress, I’m trying to give myself freedom to have ideas, to spool up possibilities. This is a particular quirk of AWP that I love: being in that space just fills my brain with options. They’re frequently not even connected with the topic of the panel I’m sitting in, but there’s something so generative about the space, the relative quiet of a listening crowd, that both frees up the space to think and also sets new thinking in motion. So I’ve been jotting. It feels nice.
What are the environments in which you find yourself unexpectedly generative?