I’m super excited. And nervous. And a little crazed, from feeling both overwhelmed and so, so behind. But I’m mostly excited – I think. I’m going to my first ever AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference. It’s next week. I’ve heard about these conferences for the past nine years, but I haven’t ever attended. There was always some medical or financial reason why I couldn’t. And I’m not one to sit and fixate on something that isn’t going to work. Once I know that something can’t happen, or namely I can’t participate in something, I don’t think about it and move on. But this year I’m going…
I’m super psyched for so many reasons: reunions with friends, writing classes, networking, learning, and just being immersed in that creative collective that happens when a bunch of writers get together in one place – I can’t wait. I am going to see a lot of people that I haven’t seen since I graduated with my Master’s (so, seven years). When I think back to graduate school, I was mostly happy. I had reached the point where I was finally comfortable with myself and in my own skin. And then in 2009, after dying, and going through all kinds of medical crap, I find myself in a new skin that I am still trying to get used to. But the people I went to school with were part of the reason it was so wonderful and I felt so comfortable, and I am going to see a lot of them again. And this is a big deal because they’re like family, and also, a bunch of kick ass writers that I respect.
And then there is the whole “growing as a writer” thing, and learning. I love learning, and as a perfectionist I will never be “finished” with trying to get better. I could make millions of dollars and have published dozens of books, half of them made into movies, and I’ll still be trying to be better. (Also, please note this is how many people equate success, I don’t intend for the example I laid out to ever be me.) There are a few timeslots that I still can’t decide between. I’m like, “I need to go to this!” and “OMG, I need to go to this too!” And that’s hard and kind of sucky, because in these cases the events/panels are entirely relevant and something I am currently struggling with, and feature panelists I respect and I consider experts in whatever the panel in question is. Luckily out of maybe twenty-something timeslots this only happens twice. You have no idea how tempted I am to make my husband attend with me (he’s traveling with me, but not attending the conference) so that in these scenarios he can go to one and take notes or record it or something, and I can go to the other. But I’m not big on guilt and not a bully, so I’m not twisting his arm to go for me. (And yes, I kind of want credit for this, because I seriously could, and if I did, he would, but I’m not.)
And of course there is the whole networking thing, which I hope works itself out. I’m not the outgoing person I was, partly due to my now deafness, partly just because – well yeah. I mean I’m friendly, but this introvert just seems to get more and more introverted as the years pass, and it is becoming more difficult with each passing year to fake it. But I’m bringing business cards and plan to be on my best behavior. In my wildest dreams, I’ll meet a fabulous (published) writer who loves my story and wants to help mentor me, because in terms of my book, I don’t remember ever feeling so lost. Writing a book is seriously torture – I have no idea why we (writers) do it, except that we feel compelled to do so. Like it’s not that we want to write, it’s that we have to write – it’s encoded deep within us. Well that’s just great.
For the sake of honesty though, while I am super excited and the good kind of anxious, I’m also the bad kind of anxious. My deafness is very real, and before in graduate school and a few years later it wasn’t. I’m still adjusting to it. And so going to a bunch of panels that will have anywhere from dozens to hundreds of people in a large, open space is in acoustics nightmare. I have a microphone and a device that allows me to shut off the room’s sound and I only hear whatever is coming through the mic, which goes into my hearing aids via Bluetooth. But then it’s a question of sitting in the right spot for the microphone to reach me, and because each event has multiple speakers they have to hold it correctly, remember to pass it to one another. I won’t hear any audience participation because I can’t turn the room on and then turn it off again. And even if the microphone and everything else works out perfectly, I’ll get anywhere from 60% to 70% of what people are saying. And this is a lot better than 0, which without the microphone would be the case, but it still worries me. Will it work? Will the battery run out? Will I understand enough? It always sucks in some ways, but something is better than nothing and I’ll take what I can get.
Then there is also logistics of getting to each panel early, introducing myself and explaining the microphone, and then getting a seat within range. Then after the panel I have fifteen minutes to fight my way to the front (people always want to talk to speakers, so I’ll have to do some cutting), and not say anything I want to, to the speakers or ask questions etc. because there is not enough time, find the next panel in a huge convention center, arrive early enough to do everything I did before… rinse and repeat. It’s the time crunch that worries, not the steps themselves but making sure I can do it in under fifteen minutes. I’ll admit, I’m kind of worried.
The deaf thing worries me as far as meeting new people too. My long hair hides my hearing aids, and I talk just fine, which means people have no idea that I’m deaf. Part of me wants to wear a sign, “I’m not stupid or stuck up, I’m just deaf.” On the back it can say, “Speak slowly, clearly and enunciate. Being louder doesn’t help when you’re deaf.” Seriously, I know I harp on this a lot, but the whole deaf thing is the primary reason I don’t go out and meet new people. It’s hard when you can’t hear a thing, and people just think you’re ignoring them or ditzy or something because you have this vacant expression and don’t contribute to the conversation, because you don’t have a clue as to what anyone is saying.
I’m not even touching all the regular travel concerns like a long list of surgeons to go to, prior contacts etc. because I’m too flipping busy getting everything else in order. We’re driving so we leave tomorrow EARLY. And this planner has not even started packing. It’s not due to procrastination but I have been trying to make sure I am caught up and ready for a 10-day “out of the office” stint when it comes to work, bills, the house, our animals, and of course blogs in reserve, because you’re crazy if you think I’m going to worry about that while we’re gone. Not a chance. I haven’t read the books I swore I would read BEFORE AWP. But something had to give, along with the whole packing thing.
Still this bundle of nerves is mostly excited. In less than one week I’ll see great friends after years, be surrounded by other writers and feed on the creative collective while going to a bunch of things I hope will have a positive impact on my writing and life…
“Take a deep breath, Michael. Everything is going to be great…”
You know that’s my husband’s voice inside of my head. I let his voice have visitation rights when I’m afraid my own neurotic one will be too much of a downer.
AWP 2015, here I come! 😉