AWP--A Year Later
Last year I went to the AWP conference in Denver. I am not going to recount the events that took place there. I already wrote a piece about how dirty I felt leaving the three-day all-you-can eat wordy buffet, sort of like I feel these days anytime I have to buy something from Guitar Center. That piece is available here: http://tinyurl.com/3tjz9s7, for those so inclined. But I still think about this trip and the conference often enough that it makes me want to examine why is was so...traumatic.
Maybe that's not the right word. But it did mark a clear delineation. I think this is the trip where I accepted that I'd never be (i.e., that kind of) a writer. The first (and most obvious) reason is sour grapes, a charge I will not deny. When you spend three days surrounded by people who have everything you want (book deals, acclaim, etc.), you'd be some kind of zombie subhuman robot-type not to feel pangs of jealously, especially after you've just spent three plus years chasing after the writerly golden chariot. It becomes since they don't want you, you don't want them. And I get that, really I do.
Still this admission doesn't negate the realization that I just might be better off.
You don't get rich playing another man's game. This is one of the rules I have lived by. You have to do what you do well. When I was a kid all I wanted was to be a baseball player. I practiced more than any other kid has ever practiced baseball, day and night, running bases by myself in the park, throwing the ball in the air, hitting in the batting cages until my hands literally blistered and bled. And I was, at best, mediocre. And at worst, I wasted a lot of years (a prevailing lifelong theme) where I could've been honing a craft I was actually good at, like, say painting, or even this.
The AWP conference was a round hole I was never getting into. Which isn't much of a surprise. One of the defining characteristics of artsy types is that perpetual square peg status. But rather than focus on the negative (my usual propensity), I see this now as ultimately a good thing.
I was reading the only book of poetry I like the other day, You Get So Alone at Times It Just Makes Sense by Charles Bukowski (in the bathroom, as all Bukowski is meant to be read), and he has a poem. Not exactly about AWP but the sentiment. (Seriously, can you image Bukowski at AWP?) The gist was about rejection and magazines like Harpers, and if I wasn't so lazy (and my house wasn't so big), I'd walk downstairs and get it and repeat some of the lines. That's not the important part. What is is Bukowski's resolve in the piece to do the only thing he can: be Bukowski. And I know there are poet/writer friends of mine who cringe at my championing Bukowski above the Bishops and Plaths and Roethkes, and I am not in any way saying Bukowski is better. That's the point. I don't know what constitutes "better." I've had enough schooling to know ol' Hank ranks somewhere down the list, and is considered in the annals of academic anywhere from "mildly competent" to "plain awful." Still, I still read him, and now that I am out of school I can't think of a possible scenario where I'd choose to read Elizabeth Bishop, however skilled and technically proficient she may be. Point is, I want to be Charles Bukowski.
A year later, after the bitterness (and mild depression) with which I left AWP in Denver, I still try just as hard--in fact, I am probably trying harder than I ever have--and I want the accolades and acceptance and all the other dirty parts that come with outside validation just as much; I've just realized that there is only one road (i.e. back alley) where I can find it. And that's sorta...comforting.