I’ve Been Doing It All Wrong


Or so I felt after attending many of the AWP conference sessions on the craft and the business of writing and publishing.

It’s enough to drive a person to drink.

Betty Danger's Country Club menu

And then drink some more.

Betty Danger's Country Club menu

The photos are of the menus at Betty Danger’s Country Club in NE Minneapolis, where drinks and food choices are sprinkled between pages of a book. There is also a ferris wheel that you can ride, as long as you are not dangerously tipsy.

Betty Danger's ferris wheel

It took about an hour for Betty to serve up our food and since Steve and I were on bikes and the wind was very hostile and I was hanging onto my water glass for dear life lest it fly away like a crazed bird and I was starving, this level of waiting did not make me happy. But I’ll give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt and assume one of the cooks didn’t show up for work.

But enough of the restaurant review, back to my issues…

I am so fogged up with information from the conference, that I don’t know which way to turn. What exactly was I trying to do with my writing? All the answers I have to that question right now sound so ridiculous to me. I don’t even know what to blog about so I decided to fall back on notes from my journal, written while sitting in a session at AWP that I wasn’t finding all that interesting… and perhaps at this moment, I am not all that interesting either.

But I hope you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt, assume a section of my brain cells did not show up for work and give me another week to rally…


April 10, 2015

My first day of AWP was exhausting! My two morning panels were excellent – one on writing personal essays in the age of the internet and the second on turning adversity into art. After that it was mostly tripe. My friend and I didn’t stay for the keynote speaker as that event didn’t start until 8:30 PM and ran until 10:00. Who planned this? Are they completely and utterly mad? Do they not know that I go to bed by 9:00?

I heard there are over 12,000 people at AWP. It is a bombardment of bumps and elbows and sitting too close to one another. You can’t even move your chair a bit further apart from the one next to you because the chairs are hooked together. Who thought of that torture?

As I sit in my third session of the day, listening to a reading of some sort of story that reminds me of abstract art, all paint splatters and squares on a page that I simply do not understand, I begin to study the hair styles of my fellow attendees. Should I go shorter? What about her hair? Or maybe hers? No, my face is too long and nondescript to pull that one off.

The hair I like the most is long and curly – a wildish mane that makes me think of an Irish lass, standing on a moor, her reddish hair streaming behind her like a flag, her stubborn, strong face staring out across the land, waiting for…

But I will never have that hair. In fact, I will never have that face.

So I look at the short hair on many women — so revealing, nothing to distract you from their expressive faces. These are women with strong cheekbones and impish grins. They look like they know who they are and what they want.

I think of my own hair… the in-between hair.

Which leads me to think of the suburbs, a place I swore I’d never live again. Yet that is exactly where I live.

Yes, long hair is country, earthy, and true. It is Mother Nature. It is Xena the Warrior Princes.

Short hair is city. It is funky and cool, especially if it includes pink and teal highlights.

And suddenly hair becomes this choice.

I don’t want my hair to say “Suburbs” “In-between” “I can’t commit” “I don’t know where I stand.”

I don’t want my hair to say this because everything else about me is screaming this very thing
Nothing special…

And I know these thoughts are wacko. I am trying to decide about something and determine which way to go with my life, which frightens me. So my brain takes the ball and runs with it towards a new hair style, as if a scissors can free me from fear and say something about me that I can’t otherwise seem to define.

My thoughts are a herd of gazelles fleeing a lion. . .

I know that eventually I’ll be able to assimilate and settle in with the oodles of information that came my way during AWP. The most valuable lesson actually came when I realized that my favorite part of the whole event was the Wednesday before the conference started, when I attended an opening reception put on by Rain Taxi. There I met Erin Hart and her sister Julie Hart.

Erin wrote one of my favorite books, “Haunted Ground,” which is about discovering a red haired girl in a peat bog. Because of the nature of a bog and how it can preserve a body, the mystery surrounds discovering who the girl was and how and when she died. I also loved Erin’s book “Lake of Sorrows,”  and need to catch up on some of the other books Erin has written more recently. Julie Hart’s work has been published in such publications as Five Quarterly, Denim Skin, PANK magazine, The Rumpus and Floor Plan Journal. And she lives in Brooklyn, where I want to go to visit my son, and I think perhaps when I do, we can go out for coffee…

I realized that meeting the two sisters was actually the highlight of the entire conference for me. During the conference itself, I was busy trying to get as much information as possible out of the sessions. I had my head down, with my fingers punching my iPad to snag all the gems.

I forgot the other point of being at AWP — to meet and greet the other attendees. It wasn’t that it completely slipped my mind. I didn’t believe I had the credentials for anyone to want to spend their time talking to me. Certainly they had come to meet people who would lend them a hand up the publishing ladder, and I wasn’t one of THOSE people.

But perhaps the only way to become a person worth talking to is to be a person that reaches out and speaks. Perhaps commiserating about the strange, frustrating, yet wonderful world of creating stories has value too.

I do hope so, because that may be as far as all this goes. And I am approaching the point of feeling that that’s okay.  Because living the story to tell contains rewards of its own.


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  1. Maery, there is so much special about you and lots of extraordinary and I’ve enjoyed thoroughly following your herd of gazelles today. I know, I don’t comment much here, but some time ago I subscribed to getting your posts via e-mail when you publish them and I don’t miss reading a single one. I love your writing, your humour, the way you work with words and intertwine your thoughts and I want you to know that. I bet I’m not alone!!

  2. Reading this made me proud to know you. As a fellow AWP attendee, I can vouch that you did a great job of capturing many aspects of the conference, including the way the thoughts run away from you during a session (especially when the presenters are ill-prepared. And I love your comments about in-between hair. They made me realize that I need to go shorter–and that my recent indecision about my hair reflects a greater indecision about my life.

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