I fought AWP and AWP won. (AWP being the ginormous annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.)
I wasn't planning on it. However, early in the evening last Thursday, as snow pelted New Jersey and much of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic coast, unraveling on Facebook were posts by writers from all over whose cancelled flights and delayed trains made me wonder: might the headquarters hotel attached to the Washington, D.C. Convention Center—the only place I would consider staying (bad knee issues), the place that has been sold out for six months—have cancelled rooms available?
It did. And with a hotel rewards membership, and my AAA card, for a price below the AWP group rate.
I didn't have any Friday deadlines, didn't need to teach again in person until Monday, couldn't think of any more excuses. Besides, sometimes a writer woman (who works mainly alone at home) just needs to get the hell out of Dodge and see a few other writers—or maybe 12,000 of them—in person.
Which explains why, less than 12 hours later, I was in my car at 5:00 a.m. on a frigid Friday morning, bound for D.C., a four hour drive. Lucky me, I like to drive, love a road trip, and had a book and the Hamilton CDs already loaded. As I cranked the heat in the car, sipped hot tea my husband had handed me after walking me across our icy driveway, I had a lightness that never normally accompanies me when venturing to a writers conference: a feeling of possibility and adventure borne I guess from something I don’t get enough of: serendipity and spontaneity.
I'm a planner. An advance planner, someone who likes being organized, knows what's coming up on my schedule. But more to the point, when I head to a conference, I am typically armed with a carefully thought-out mental and physical list of tasks I have self-assigned. Tasks I tell myself I must do, so that I'll feel the expense, time, and opportunity pays off: connections I should make, people I should talk to, panels I should attend, secrets I should, once and for all, uncover and finally understand about this writing life.
Notice all the shoulds?
Which may help explain why for months, maybe a year, I had been resigned to not attending the behemoth AWP Conference last week, for all the usual (cover) reasons—budgets, time, my lousy knee. The conference is too big, too tiring, too much to handle -- all those far-more-accomplished-than-me writers all in one place being too much of a reminder of all I think I SHOULD have done in my writing career by now, and haven't.
Driving through the lightening darkness last Friday morning, however, without my usual "should" agenda, having not even skimmed the conference schedule, something shifted. I felt released from my usual mode of attack. What if, I asked myself, I had no plan? No list of things I should accomplish, people I must find? What if, instead of arriving burdened with lists of items to tick off, I simply tried to enjoy the conference? Enjoy others? Enjoy myself?
What if, when I arrived, I did just what seemed appealing? Went to panels that sounded interesting, or where colleagues were appearing, just because? What if I got to hug online friends I'd been wanting to meet in person, but if not, not? What if I wandered the daunting book fair—where the tables of publishers, journals, MFA programs, and vendors stretched across a double-football-field-sized space—with an open mind, and not a tightly clutched list?
Reader, that's precisely what I did.
I arrived in D.C. mid-morning on Friday and from then until the crazy, zany, octopus-like conference wrapped up on Saturday night, I did not do one thing that, had I meticulously planned my trip in advance, I worried I should do.
I simply drifted to what called to me, listening to my gut. Yes, I saw writing friends and colleagues, made new connections, met a few folks I've long wanted to meet. But without agenda, sans lists and shoulds. I approached the book fair as if it were an amusement park (or new shoe store!), listening to my feet and gut, picking up random new information as if I'd accidentally struck gold (and of course, gathering swag - see pic above!)
Over the two days, I maintained a newfound sense of, whatever happened, happened. And I had perhaps the best conference experience of my life.
I'll be back later this week with some of my favorite take-aways and tidbits. That I am planning on!