I helped staff the Barnstorm table at this year’s AWP conference in Minneapolis this past week. It was my first professional conference.
I think the main takeaway isn’t what anyone told me it would be. Yes, I “networked,” whatever the fuck that means. Yes, I discovered the sweet spot in the rhetorical triangle between sleep, booze, and panels. Yes, I attended panels about publishing and rejection and craft. And sure, I learned some things, but nothing revolutionary, nothing that left me with this surge of creative inspiration propelling me home in a whirlwind of story ideas and renewed dedication to my craft.
No, it was just being in a place with a lot of people who love the things I love that did that. It wasn’t anything anyone said or anything I saw. It was just this unspoken vibe of community. I imagine this is what families feel when they get together or class reunions or Sunday church-goers. This sense of shared experience, this collectivism, for lack of a better word. We spend so much time, or at least I do, in this very solitary pursuit, writing at strange hours alone, fielding submissions and rejections through impersonal guidelines and cryptic dismissals, and it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole world of people out there doing the same things, loving the same things, trying to connect us all together.
Not that I’m also not discouraged as well, spending four days surrounded by 12000 people who are also trying to do what I do, who hunger for triumph and success as much as I do.
Trust me, there were a lot of Highlander—there can be only one—jokes bandied about. Luckily none of the writers brought swords.
You didn’t think a post about AWP was going to be all hugs and snuggles, did you?