AWP: Escape to Work
My work—writing, editing, teaching—is engaging, is demanding, is a series of repetitive motions with too little feedback and pay, is fused to my work as a parent and education advocate, is largely done at home and therefore in conflict/balance with household management, is wedded and threaded to my friends and family and our shared stories. Aside from the occasional dinner out with my husband or a friend, it’s rare that I escape work. Recently, though, I got to escape to work, meaning, to do just one kind of work. On a birthday gift from my siblings, I traveled from the Connecticut coast down to DC for three sleep-full nights at the annual AWP conference. (For those outside my industry, AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and its sprawling annual conference collects writers, editors, publishers, and writing teachers in one place to discuss and celebrate literature and literacy.) For me, with two courses and three boys four and under, a work conference in a mid-Atlantic city in February sounded beachy.
After sending a dozen train photos and videos to my locomotive-loving four-year-old back home, I settled in with friends, fellow writers, and conference roomies, Cheryl Wilder and Claire Guyton. We worked. Worked on our writing lives, blueprints for new projects, time-management ideas, revision decisions, business details, and evaluation of our industry.
(See the photo? See how hard we’re working?)
One panel I particularly enjoyed: The Multiheaded Beast: Challenging Genre in Creative Nonfiction, moderated by Dinty W. Moore. Sonya Huber, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Daisy Hernandez, and Catina Bacote shared their experiences crafting pieces with multiple sub-genres. Aside from possessing immeasurable knowledge about nonfiction writing, all are highly engaging speakers, and I couldn’t take notes fast enough. I teach my students that genre is a tool, and lots of tools are available when writing, so the panel gave me loads of ideas.
A key reason for me to attend AWP this year was the book launch and reading for Selected Memories, the inaugural offering from the books division at Hippocampus Magazine and Books. My piece “Another Version of Us” is anthologized in the book. With grace and openness, editor Donna Talarico welcomed listeners and described her mission: “We feel. Our lives are textured. It’s what makes creative nonfiction such a remarkable genre, and it’s why we at Hippocampus do what we do.” Then, along with Amy Braziller, Jennifer Alise Drew, Sandra Gail Lambert, and Deborah Esther Schifter, I had the opportunity to read live, which, for me, is one of the most rewarding activities in this profession. I left my writing salon behind when I moved to Connecticut, so I left my monthly chance to read to a critically listening audience. Gosh it felt good to do the work of preparing for and engaging in a reading.
And on top of THAT, one of my best friends, Jenni Eaton, fellow writer and teacher, came in for the evening event. After the reading finished, late into the night over drinks and diner grub, we did not work.
I’m back at work, in my mobile office, waiting for the future train engineer to emerge from preschool, listening to a teacher-to-teacher interview so I can share it with my students. Can’t help but feel a nagging loss: not enough time; not enough meals; not enough mornings to sleep past 5; not enough conversations with beloved friends and mentors from VCFA; not enough. But enough, too. Enough to get to go at all, with my mother-in-law and her sister helping to take care of my three little ones; enough to be inside our industry’s architecture, with its human forms, with its words spoken by and to people in the same room; enough to be just this one thing for a few days, this thinker, this receiver of ideas, this reader, this writer.