I had never been to a writer’s conference. Too much money and no assurance that it would be good. But DP and I were invited to read as part of a journal we were published in. (It was slightly nepotistic, because we had both been solicited for this journal by a friend of ours, but I do think that if she had not liked our work, she would not have taken it. Moving on.)
We came right off the family visit, had about 24 hours, and then we went to [location redacted]. We drove onto the college campus amidst throngs of newly accepted students. The school itself had no signs, and we had no idea where we were going. An angry parent in a Buick did his level best to take off the front half of my car.
“Should we go home?” DP asked.
Twenty minutes, three illegal right turns made by other people, and 15 minutes of unnecessary cheering by overenthusiastic sophomores later, we arrived at our dorm, only to find out that DP and I had been put in separate rooms. That’s OK, we could still knock on the wall to talk to each other, and the beds were so small we couldn’t share them comfortably anyway.
“Should we go home?” I asked DP.
That was when I realized I left my reading clothes and my reception clothes at home. Fuck. I was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, I was fine for the reception. But I couldn’t read in jeans.
“My mom would rise from the grave and smack me.” It’s my standard line to explain why I am so clearly a casual dresser but also so hung up on formality.
DP rolls his eyes.
“OK, so she would rise from the grave and glare at me. That’s more true to type.”
“Listen, we can go to Target tomorrow morning.”
“True, I could just buy work clothes.” My getup to read was something I would have worn to work. Women who don’t like to wear dresses do these things in business casual.
I encouraged my hair to curl (Averil: there’s this stuff called “Secret Weapon” that defrizzes your hair while dry), and we went up the hill to the reception.
Everyone is wearing name tags and the first person I see is one of my very favorite poets on god’s green earth. I wasn’t surprised to see her because I knew my friend knew her.
“Um, hi,” I said. “Are you [name redacted]?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Um, I love your poetry.” And we stammered into a conversation about how she had lived in my home town and had written about it. I didn’t tell her that she wrote the poems I wanted to write, but I gushed pretty well. Then I went and hid.
DP and I talked to some grad students. I got a glass of wine and thought about how being a grad student and being at a writing conference are so similar. You want to talk to people, to network, to tell them about what you are writing. You want to hide behind your glass of wine. Every single interaction, though, was easier now that I’m shacked up. I’m not also thinking, “Hm, would you date me?”
We sat down and had dinner and then listened to a reading. One of the readers was drunk and kept interspersing beautiful sentences with really terrible sentences. It was sad. Another reader, a poet, gave me an idea for a poem. It was a small conference, and near the end of the evening I found myself next to the poet.
“Sorry about all the rustling near the back,” I told her. “You gave me an idea for a poem.” And the poet had been nervous up front and the audience had responded better to the bad writer.
“That’s great!” she said with a genuine smile. Sometimes my awkwardness is calculated as well as honest.
The next day DP and I read together, which is the first time we have done that. Favorite Poet came to hear us, just as I had hoped she would.
“I really liked your piece,” she whispered to me after I read. It was prose, but it was short, and it moved like a poem. DP read well, and afterward we all sat eating lunch and talking in the sun.
“Should we go home?” I asked DP when the chatter died down.
“Yes,” he said. And it was with a smidge of regret.