AWP Day 3

(sorry again that this is one day late…)

I sleep. I remember to relax. I attend readings and panels and find my stride again. And perhaps best of all, I grow brave enough to raise my hand and ask a question. I can almost taste blood in my throat and certainly, my heart drums in my ears. I do not consider myself she but I do consider myself vulnerable. Asking questions almost always involves explicitly or subconsciously stating a belief at the same time. The panel is on “Joy: The Last Taboo in Creative Nonfiction?” and I feel myself rambling when the panel’s moderator calls on me though I continue.

“I’m curious if the panel members have anything to say about our duty as writers to move beyond grief to consolation (which is inherently linked with joy) using our chosen medium so that we’re contributing something to the world that has literary staying power? Or, our duty as readers to expect more and the duty of publishers to demand more? There is nothing more discouraging as a writer than looking at the list of best selling nonfiction and seeing how much of it is limited to humor (be it dark or otherwise) for the sake of entertainment…[Am I still talking?]…Humor is not the same as joy and I’ll be brave here and say that Augusten Burroughs’ book pokes fun and entertains but it fails to make meaning…[Don’t blush, be firm.]…Yet it’s a bestseller and is going to be made into a movie. But where will his book be in five years? Ten years? I don’t think it’d made any lasting contribution. What kind of morality is involved with the quality of our writing?”

I have to stop and catch m y breath, then I look at the panel and indicate that I am done. It feels as though I’ve leapt off an Olympic diving board, but someone forgot to tell the world I didn’t quality, got cut in the heat of it all. But alas, the panel respond. I’ve struck something, somewhere, at least.

And later, there is a side conversation with a panel member. His nametag reveals the publication he works for but I miss the cue (which is best, anyway) and just be myself…I analyze his speech, comment on his contributions, and say something like: “Now if you look at the moment of trepidation you took us, too, that’s what I think you’ve got going for you. I’d follow that narrator for the rest of the chapter because I’ve looked away from great joy before, too. And your readers are going to wonder the same things you hint at – is joy just too bright to look at? Too scary?”

I am just being myself and we are going, talking, comfortable for five minutes amidst the chaos of the overwhelming numbers of people and panels and words and questions and connections. The point of the conversation is to find a deeper truth, plain and simple, and I love it. I rambled to him yet again, but the panelist interrupts and says:

“Are you a graduate student?”

I explain the Pacific MFA program, yes, I say, Yes.

“What are you working on?”

I explain my book, the vignettes, my fascination with growing up girl in America. I tell him how long my pieces are, what they tap into, what I’m attempting.

He nods, says he wants to see my work, tells me about his publication (one of the top narrative nonfiction journals in the country, which explains the nametag I somehow missed during the entire course of the panel and conversation) and it’s just what I need to hear, just the type of publication I want to be in, and then we are shaking hands and swapping business cards and I promise, promise to send my work to him.

Hello world! I am me again! God, this skin feels good, this heart my own, the one that knows best how to be itself, the one that breathes easy, it’s faith in the way of things just as it should be.

Nighttime is an entirely different matter. Cass and the crew and I go to Djangos to hear our friend Jeannine Hall Gailey (J9, as we call her) read from her book Becoming the Villainess, alongside 20 other poets. The bar is ashot and smoky as a prescribed burn, my lungs on fire from the inside out, my eyes like weeping cotton balls, my throat a stinging pain. J9 reads through the haze (though herself allergic to cigarette smoke) and I am reminded again, how inventive and clever her work is.

Later, sheer hunger and plummeting blood sugar levels drive me to the restaurant above the reading, the air clean as day but the live DJ mix pounding like a hammer on nails into my brain. Warning: System Overload. I try to make reservations for eight with the bouncer, who frisks men and women alike, armpit to kneecap, his hands like felt mallets tapping their way over fitted and baggy clothing, firm breasts and hipslung pants.

Alas, eight is too many and I give up, preferring the sidewalk to the small cacophony of after party praise. It has been a good day – an invite from an editor and more importantly, real and intelligent dialogue. Also, at J9’s reading, by way of bar side chat and Cass’ mad networking skills, she meets one of my anonymous blog readers. A fan!

“Katey Schultz!” She smiles through the smoke, perfect teeth and all writerly love about her. “Katey Schultz! I know who you are!”

I smile. Finally, I know who I am again, too.

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