I got up at 5:30 this morning, let the dogs out, made coffee, turned on the news: 4.0 EARTHQUAKE hits at 5:33 a.m. Strong enough to wake people up, they’re saying. No damage to speak of. Life in California.
In other news …. here’s my AWP top 10:
1. Listening to Cheryl Strayed and Stephen Elliott talk about writing nonfiction: If you’re going to write about your family, there are lines that will be crossed — where is your line? What can you live with? Sometimes I think I’m waiting for someone to tell me where that line is. Like I’m waiting for permission. But the reality is this: The line is different for all of us. We all have to decide where our own line is, and live with it.
2. I read Nick Flynn’s memoir on this trip and was sorry to turn the last pages, sorry for it to end. It was originally titled ANOTHER BULLSHIT NIGHT IN SUCK CITY (a title that, sad to say, kept me from reading it until now). He has one crazy story to tell, and he tells it with such grace and power and compassion. Poets really do write the best memoirs.
3. As expected, there were Jonathan Franzen look-a-likes everywhere, around every corner. Here’s a great article about the real Franzen, and why he can’t appreciate Edith Wharton, over at the The Daily Beast.
4. Margaret Atwood. *swoon* She only spoke for about a half-hour, but every word was such a treasure. I wanted to bundle her right up and take her home with me. And I feel the need to read CAT’S EYE again.
5. Just like the DMV, even the most accomplished writers have to show up in person to get their badges. I spotted Stephen Elliott in the registration line. I wish I’d said hello to him, told him how much I admire his work. There was hardly anyone else around. It would have been easy. But I was too scared.
6. I just about stared the skin right off Kathryn Harrison during her panel. We were right there in the front row, Ms. Harrison not 10 feet away. I even got up the nerve to ask for a photograph and, just like a real person, she came down off the stage and obliged. Confession: I now own 4 copies of THE KISS: a signed first edition, an old paperback marked up with orange highlighter and blue pen, a Kindle version, and a new paperback signed, For Teri, with all my best to you. Four copies, and every single one holds it’s own value.
7. Lee Martin. I’d never heard of him, now I can’t wait to read his books. He quoted this line from Flannery O’Connor. Twice. Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.
8. Listening to Fenton Johnson talk about the value of research when writing memoir. Research can uncover the true narrative. I’m glad I got up the nerve, when he later passed by me in the lobby, to tell him how much I loved his book, GEOGRAPHY OF THE HEART.
9. I ran into a favorite teacher I haven’t seen in over a year. We spent 2 hours catching up over a beer and coffee. What are the chances we’d run into each other, by accident, in the midst of 10,000 people?
10. On the plane home, I sat down next to a poet and, no shit, he looked just like Franzen. I AM NOT not making this up. I’m pretty sure he sneered a little when I laid the latest issue of Vogue on the seat between us. Before take-off, a flight attendant held up a copy of Poets & Writers magazine, right in front of us, and said with a giggle, “Is anybody here a poet or a writer?” My poet reached out his hand and said, “I’m a poet, I’ll take it.” And then he looked at me and said, “Not a writer,” like the word writer was bad porn. I can’t tell you the willpower it took to keep my big mouth shut. Alas, an hour later, my poet redeemed himself when he helped clean up the giant mess I made spilling an Entire Can! of Sprite on Vogue and in my own lap. “You,” he said, “obviously have a drinking problem.” We laughed.