When I was 21, I wrote an essay for a prominent weekly equestrian publication, lamenting that it would be the first time since I was a young child that I would not be attending the National Horse Show in New York City.
The piece was dripping with sentimentality, touching on everything which made that venerated, almost holy (and now diluted) equine gathering the tradition-laden soap institution it was: the gravitas in the announcer's voice, the celebrities and silver trophies, the horse vans unloading on 33rd Street, Olympic riders in the flesh!
I had all kinds of sound, logical reasons not to be there that particular year, and had sent off the piece – in the way things were done in those olden days – typed and folded and inside an envelope, as requested, on deadline, five weeks in advance of its anticipated publication.
Then, in the last two weeks when it was possible, my horse unexpectedly racked up enough points to qualify, and not only would I be at the National, I'd be there as the proud owner of a competing horse (alas, a professional rider would be aboard instead of me, but still). As I wandered around the National that week, I had a bit of explaining to do, since although I had phoned the magazine, it was not possible to make changes, and the editor of The Chronicle of the Horse had run my piece* on the first page of that week's special National issue. Oops.
I thought of this today because last week I wrote, with a bit of a whine, about not attending the AWP conference in Chicago this year. Wouldn't it be great if it turned out that I wound up in Chicago after all? Just like the National Horse Show 20-odd years ago?
Yes, it would be great. And false. Alas, I'm home and today, in a weak moment, I scrolled through the AWP conference schedule (hey, these are the things one does when socked with just the right combination of symptoms: cold / sore throat / laryngitis / coughing / sneezing / headache / body aches / clogged sinuses / sweats / chills / (huh, no fever) / earache).
Lots of presentations, seminars and panels sounded enticing, like these.
~The Meandering River: An Exploration of the Subgenres of Nonfiction. Because if there's one thing I love hearing at a conference, it's new fish in the nonfiction bucket.
~A Room of Her Own Foundation: Show Me the Money. Obvious.
~What's in the Magazines: A Conversation about the Work Being Published in Literary Journals. Because usually when I think I have it figured out, I realize I know nothing.
~"Memory of Wounds": Memoirists Tell Truth, Lies, and Memory. The question is, I suppose, which are which and how does the writer tell the difference?
~Must a Memoir Read Like a Novel? I want to know the answer to this and I suspect that up until recently it was a yes. Now, I get a feeling it's changing, which is good for me, because my memoir-in-progress is essayistic, segmented and elliptical.
~Different Directions: Compiling Different Genre Anthologies for Different Markets. Because I love, love, love anthologies.
~Shameless Promotion: Get the Book to the Readers. I had 12 years in public relations. Now I'm coaching authors to do their own publicity. Still, I'm always learning.
~A Different Conversation; Teaching Creative Writing One-on-One. Because I get asked to do this, and I like the interaction, and want to know more about it.
~XX Marks the Spot: Women and Travel Writing. Because when I was lucky enough to be traveling a lot, I wasn't writing much about it. Now, if only I traveled, I'd sure want to write about it.
~Women of a Certain Age: Reprise. Not saying I'm there yet. Doesn't hurt to think ahead. Besides, much of what I love to read in nonfiction falls into this group of writers.
~Writing in Multiple Genres. I don't do much of this. Yet.
~The Voice Over: Creative Nonfiction on the Radio. Who doesn't want to have an essay on NPR?
~The Mama Drama: The Challenge of Writing About Mothers in Creative Nonfiction. Because I wonder why I write so fluidly about my father and so haltingly about my mother. (Besides that my father's dead and can't give me the cold shoulder at holidays.)
~Smart Girls: The Ambition Game. Because it's always a tangle -- writing and kids and earning money and marriage and wanting more.
~Metaphor, Selective Memory, & Misdirection: Poetry as Autobiography by Other Means. Because one day, I want to write a memoir in poetry. Hey, you never know.
~Avoiding Sick Mothers, Absent Fathers, and Losing Your Virginity: The Tropes and Traps of Nonfiction. Okay, I've never written about any of these, but I have written about sick fathers, (metaphorically) absent mothers, and losing my romantic innocence. Same thing, no?
~Literary Mama: A Model of Grassroots Literary Community Building. I heart Literary Mama. And everyone on this panel.
~How to Make Money Writing Right Now. Do I need to explain?
~Signing Your Life Away: Protecting Your Rights in the Age of Electronic Publishing. Does this automatically negate the above?
~Getting the Creative Writing Job: How We Did It and How You Can Too. I'm told it's impossible, without a traditionally published book on the CV. But you never know.
~Writing Your Passions: Forbidden Topics. Ooh. Why not?
Soon, if my erstwhile AWP-attending friends whom I've recruited to do some guest blog posts (you know who you are!) are not too tired or wifi-deprived and don't partake of too much wine at the evening receptions, then I'll perhaps vicariously get a sense of being there. And you can too. Stay tuned.
As it turned out, I attended the National Horse Show every year from around seven years old, until the National left the NYC area in the late 1990s – even when I lived in California, even when the National decamped Madison Square Garden for the NJ Meadowlands, even when I had to call in sick to work, and even when I had nursing babies. Over the years, I went from attending as a horse-crazed little girl, to a competent amateur rider, to friend of the competitors, to owner of a winning horse, to journalist covering the events, to public relations consultant for the 100th National, and eventually to a mother sharing her left-behind passions with her young sons.
I'd like to be at AWP this week. I guess I'm still at the fan / friend stage, though I'm working on admission to the competent peer group, and who knows, maybe one day I might get the chance to move into another category (I'm working on a 2010 panel proposal now).
But hey, on the other hand, I escaped the flight delays and the Chicago weather. Did I mention that here in northern New Jersey, we had 50 mph winds today?
*P.S. The Chronicle's online archives don't go back that far. Which is probably a good thing. I shudder thinking how I'd react today reading something I wrote way back then.