“What the fuck am I doing here?”
“I am never fucking going to this again!”
I apologize for the language, but this was a singsong in my head last Thursday morning. It was my first time at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference (AWP) and everything seemed to be going wrong while all of my fears before were loud and sharp and real. And all of the things I was looking forward to had yet to happen.
“What the fuck am I doing here?”
“I am never fucking going to this again!”
The night before our car broke down. When we turned it on after meeting one of Roy’s friends for a drink, it said the battery was dead. But this couldn’t be the case because the battery was only a few months old. Then it said something was wrong with the alternator. And then it was the radiator. And then the car started overheating so we shut it off. We drove slowly to the nearest Tires Plus, which luckily wasn’t far, but we had to keep stopping as the car’s internal temperature kept climbing. The same friends we had just left picked us up and dropped us at our hotel. Now we had to figure out what to do about the next morning.
Roy called another friend, one who wasn’t working that morning, and asked if he could drop me at the conference and then take Roy to Tires Plus. Roy thought it was a belt, which was good news. He hoped it would be done by noon. But I was already in overdrive and on the inside I felt like I was going to freak. I was going into the conference seriously sleep deprived for almost a week and the late night and early morning and all of that stress didn’t exactly set me up to just “roll with” whatever happened that day. I didn’t have coffee or water with me because of the cluster of just getting to the conference. And I was still trying to get a feel for everything before the first panel started. And when it did, a very cold and harsh realization settled over me. I couldn’t understand a fucking thing.
I use a microphone that feeds into a sound filtration device so that I only hear the speaker who has the microphone. It helps me discriminate sounds and figure out what is being said most of the time. But for whatever reason, whether my hearing is still getting that much worse, or the microphone had some kinks to work out, it wasn’t working. The microphone was working in the sense that I was getting the sound, but I couldn’t make any sense of it – it was just loud static. But the panelists were doing everything right and were so gracious about it, I couldn’t get upset. My husband checked in and I told him I couldn’t only catch about a third of what was being said. And in a panel about writing, marketing, brand building, etc. only getting every third word meant I wasn’t actually “getting” anything.
I wanted to leave then and there. But Roy was still in the process of getting the car. The good news was it would be repaired by noon, or 1:00 or 2:00, the time kept creeping up. And the price tag was $200, which was much more than we expected. I felt powerless because I didn’t know if this was a case of Roy being taken advantage of, or if it was actually legit. I always reference what happened three years ago, when something was up with the car’s brakes – I think it just needed new pads, it did not need new brakes. Anyway, he went somewhere and the guy came back with a $1800 estimate. And I lost my shit. Roy tried to explain everything that was explained to him, but I wasn’t buying it.
I called the mechanic and told him to explain it to me, and as he started I asked him questions. I wasn’t just taking his word for anything. I wanted the worst case, best case and most likely. He got fed up and tried to pull the “stupid woman doesn’t understand cars” thing. I smiled, even though he couldn’t see me, and said, “Look, I’m not sure if you’re married, but if you are I’m sure you understand how these things work. I’m the money in this marriage, which means if you can’t make me understand, then it doesn’t happen.”
And so he tried again, and was caught by my mad interrogating skills; one more reason I think I should have listened to everyone else and been a lawyer. Sigh. His ridiculous quote went down to $200, a free oil change and a very long apology. What if this was another case of that? I was irked because right before we left a few days earlier, we had our local Tires Plus check out the car and got the all clear. Sure, they’re not guaranteed, but they should have noticed a frayed belt or something else. I was just perturbed.
The second panel was a little better, but not by much and I felt like I just wanted to walk out. I wasn’t close to tears on the outside – I got my ducts on serious lockdown – but on the inside I was already bawling. Roy arrived just in time for the third panel, but he ended up in one I was thinking about, and I ended up in the other. He told me to just stay put and record and he would take notes in the panel he was in. But when I went to give the speaker nearest to me my microphone and explain it to him he refused to listen. His attitude was a first at the conference so far, and I was too surprised to react like I wish I had. He referred me to the moderator and hovered as I explained how it worked. The directions: Hit on the “on” button and clip it to your clothing [there is a clip] or hold it. I mean they’re pretty idiot proof instructions. As I was explaining the same man I initially approached just said, “I’m not touching that thing!” And he didn’t. He actually refused to do something so easy that allowed me to hopefully hear him because he didn’t understand it. And he didn’t understand it, because he wasn’t listening. I’m deaf, and yet I listen carefully. What’s his excuse?
I texted me husband that I already wanted to leave before it had officially began. And I considered it. I wanted to march up to the podium to retrieve the microphone the douchebag speaker had left there and march out. But then it was getting started and I just had to sit and try not to stew, because I knew I was about to boil over.
The old Michael would have served the jackhole (this is how I referred to him for the rest of the conference) one my favorite lessons: Don’t fuck with a redhead. That Michael would have instantly replied, “Not only will you touch it, but you’ll use it. See I paid admission to listen to this panel, and I cannot physically do so without the use of this device. If you’re telling me deaf people should not be allowed to attend what they have paid to attend, I imagine you’ll be slapped with an ADA (American Disabilities Act) lawsuit so fast your head will spin around twice. Because once just isn’t enough.” And then in a very condescending way, the old Michael would have explained the microphone to the speaker as if he was the biggest idiot on the planet. And the old Michael would have made it clear if the speaker didn’t use it, or tried to turn it off, a scene would be made and his speech interrupted. Because the old Michael was a bitch who got things done, and I hate to admit it, but I sometimes feel like only a shell of that bitch. Sadness.
I met my husband after for the fourth panel and he took notes while I charged my microphone because it wasn’t like it was working anyway. My husband told me to go on to the book fair while he stayed and took notes because I wasn’t getting anything. I did, and I did feel better after an hour of walking around the book fair, stopping by tables of presses and writing programs and looking at books. But those two thoughts that were my singsong were still there. The only difference was the intense urge to run out of the damn convention center was somewhat muted.
I told my husband to go to lunch and take a break from helping me. I had my recorder and so long as he was willing to transcribe later, I thought I could make it work. And I did. And it was the best panel of the day, as far as my hearing was concerned, and I found it very interesting. It was also the last one I would be attending. Roy had his car back, and I made plans to see good friends I hadn’t seen in seven years, and we all went out to dinner. It was a terrific end to a far-from-terrific day. But after that the conference did get better, and it made me realize several things: about my writing, about how to make AWP better, not just for myself but for many others, and that while I had hung up my activist mantle and thought my hellraising days were over, I also saw an opportunity to be an agent of change in a way where I could feel rewarded and do real good in an area where no one is doing anything, but I would not have to accept sleepless nights or PTSD triggers like I would if I went back to being a domestic violence/sexual assault victim advocate, which was my last post years ago…
But all of that is for another post. I’m glad I went to the conference and not just for all of the people that I missed deeply. But because of the wonderful opportunities and revelations the rest of the conference afforded me. And yes, I promise to write about those too, but I had to start at the beginning. I guess it goes to show that no matter how rough a rough start may be, it doesn’t mean that it can’t turn out to be something rewarding and worthwhile.