Friday, April 26, 2013

Chapter 101: In Which I Talk About Hope for the Human Race

I've been having a lot of hope for the human race lately.

Right after the Boston Marathon bombings, an online newspaper posted an old article about the United States bombing a wedding party in Afghanistan. It was almost ten years old, which people noted, and I suspect it was some kind of prank. But the intention of the prank was clear. We did murder those people in cold blood. Why didn't their deaths get mainstream coverage?

The bombings started a flurry of interesting articles about how the US reports its news. How the deaths of a bunch of white people in Boston is a tragedy, but the children murdered in Obama's drone strikes don't get reported. How there's no news coverage when the police kill another black child. The bombing, which ten years ago would be a rallying cry or a troop surge, instead caused a conversation about how white bodies are valued more than brown ones. And how, just because you're American, it doesn't make your life worth more. Condolences were coming in from countries that have been the victim of US oppression. Not for the government of course, but for the people who have no choice when the war is brought home.

That's exactly the kind of conversation we need to be having when this happens. I'm sure there were all sorts of folks, with their varying reasons, saying we should retaliate against somebody. But that wasn't the overwhelming discourse. The discourse I saw was about how we need to stop acting like we're special flowers whenever our country gets attacked. That white kid's life is not worth more than the hundreds of kids Obama has killed. If these Chechnyan fellows were inspired by their Muslim beliefs, then the Boston bombing is just one more tally in the neverending Christians vs. Muslims land dispute that's been going on since the Dark Ages. It's ancient, tedious, and entirely destructive. While it enables people like the Bush family to make money and name giant buildings after themselves, all it yields for the smallfolk is marathon bombings and drone attacks.

I haven't heard any great outcry for Obama to bomb anybody. Part of that is politics. The drive for the Iraq War in 2003 was always terribly partisan, and those who supported Bush's wars saw it primarily as a victory for white Republicans, a way to stick their tongue out at liberals and liberal allies, such as al Qaeda. No Republican wants to give Obama the chance to strut around in a flight suit, so that's why he does the same backdoor bombings that Clinton specialized in. In addition, and this is just a theory, I'm starting to think Americans are finally getting tired of war. We've been at it for twelve years now, and we've started to learn that there is no benefit. Nothing's gotten better. I spend much of my time around young people, and there seems to be a weariness with this state of endless fear and death. I can only call it a cultural maturation, after 9/11 turned us into a nation of adolescents throwing temper tantrums. What matters is that no politician has gained political traction off this tragedy, and that's a good thing, because they sure as hell want to.

The other recent score for the human race: dancing on Margaret Thatcher's grave.

Her death was the opportunity to learn more about her. God, what a vile person. Between invading the Falklands so she could win an election, supporting apartheid, supporting the Gulf War, cracking down on the miners, and privatizing everything in sight, the woman had a level of ambitiousness to her oppression that is unmatched outside of Bond villains. And the news of her death spurred England to engage in an honest and refreshing condemnation of the woman and everything she stood for.

This could have gone the other way. I remember when Reagan died, the Republicans had a week-day long state funeral on the country's dime. While I appreciated the assurance that he was dead, it was pretty disgraceful. This started the lionizing of Reagan's memory that they still use as political currency whenever they deny people healthcare or take away a woman's right to choice. Reagan was, at best, a senile old man who let his underlings do whatever they wanted and, at worst, the typical shady gangster that's been running the GOP for the last fifty years. And English conservatives were out in full force trying to spin the story like their American counterparts did.

The difference is, they weren't dominating the podium, turning Thatcher into a saint. They were too busy engaging in arguments. They were arguing on the comment section of The Guardian with the miners who Thatcher victimized. Instead of blithely naming her a feminist icon and savior of England, conservative politicians spent their time decrying those who were in the streets partying. Is it tactful to party when somebody dies? Not really, but it's about as honest a display of emotion as can be seen. It was also preemptive protest. The conservatives would use Thatcher's name to justify their policies, but the English people won't let them. "Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead" went soaring up the charts, and that's her legacy.

Those who control the means of communication control what is considered normal. They can say that Saddam Hussein was golf buddies with bin Laden and that becomes "truth." But nowadays the means of communication are not so concentrated and what we have here are common people getting into the conversation before the powers that be define what is truth. That's what needs to be done in order to make sure we have an honest conversation about our world today. The first step to having, say, a world in which the lives of brown-skinned children are ascribed value, is to have wide groups of people question the injustice.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Chapter 100: In Which I Blog About the AWP Conference

Hard Times Blues is coming out July 15th!!!!!

There have been a million delays on this project, but, baring some kind of apocalypse, this is the hard date. It makes me want to break out a bottle of champagne. But, you know, college professor's salary. Maybe a space bag of Franzia will do.

For my 102 class, which is an advanced freshman comp course, I had the class read "Working Day and Night' by Andreana Clay, a fabulous essay about how Michael Jackson embodied/rebelled against/played with the notions of black masculinity. It talks about how black males are "adultified" from when their children, taught that they're criminals and an endangered species. They're taught that they won't live past 21. Sadly, this is socially reinforced: I've made it to 29 without being shot by other niggers, with the knowledge that BART police or Zimmerman or whoever might decide to finish the job. The essay discussed how black males are associated with oversexuality and hypermasculinity, and feel the need to replicate these stereotypes so they aren't considered "soft." Of course, since black culture is always co-opted by mainstream American, that bullshit is the norm with everyone. I suggest everybody go watch Spring Breakers. It deals with our glorification of thug culture, how people with white privilege have internalized it as "cool," and is very good.

Anyways, I decided to provide my class some context about the sexualization of black bodies in the States, so I talked about how blacks were treated as medical specimens (with their dicks, buttocks, thighs, etc. used to prove they weren't human), the association of black men with rape, castration as a punishment, the way rock music was co-opted to make white men feel masculine. I noticed as I was lecturing that my voice was quivering, that I was physically uncomfortable. This is a good thing. I think I read so much about these atrocities that I worry I might be desensitized to them. Talking about the horrible stereotypes still applied to black men makes me feel angry and miserable, which is the correct emotion.

Speaking of shitting all over brown people: ten years in Iraq. Not a single weapon of mass destruction found. Lots of dead bodies, though. That whole thing was such a tragedy, such a disrespectful waste of life. And now that we have Democrats in the White House again, we can go back to pretending like wars don't happen, because the Dems prefer air strikes. Those drones they use were probably being developed by CMU when I was protesting their robotics program ten years ago. This fucking country. Ten years in Iraq. Congrats, America. You bombed your way into a recession.

My first published piece of the year: It's on George R.R. Martin's classic story "Sandkings." I've been quite enjoying writing these pieces for Weird Fiction Review. From this point on, I'm entering uncharted territory as far as these essays. I was already a huge fan of Hand and Martin; now I'll be writing about more unfamiliar writers, such as Tagore and Lieber.

Speaking of George R.R. Martin, loved the Game of Thrones premiere. They had me at the dragons. That conversation between Tyrion and Tywin was something I've been anticipating since they announced the show, and it did not disappoint.

Speaking of Liz Hand, she had this to say about my new book, Hard Times Blues:

"With its intoxicating blend of rock and roll and the supernatural, crazed religion and visionary prose, Hard Times Blues is a wild ride down the same shadowy American sideroads traveled by the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Greil Marcus and Samuel R. Delany. A marvelous collection by a strikingly original new voice in contemporary fiction."

Such an honor. I don't really know what the appropriate response is when one of the best fantasists I've ever read has such nice things to say about my work. So I'll simply say it's an honor.


Since attending the AWP conference in Boston, I've read a lot of negativity on the internet about it. How the organizers in Georgia don't listen to anyone. How there's not enough seating, the panels are too crowded, it's a scam for MFA programs, you don't really get anything out of it, it's all a bunch of pretentious writers, everybody's irrelevant, literature itself is irrelevant, it's an exhausting experience, yada yada yada. I guess I can see how tabling at the bookfair can be a little depressing, especially if your publishing company or school requires you to. You have to come down from your lofty perch and realize that you, a Writer, are still no more than a merchant. People will smile at you as they walk by, or purposefully ignore you, or come just to talk about their own business pursuits that you have neither time, nor money, nor interest in. Not selling anything, missing other things you're more interested in, then when you finally get the chance to go to panels you don't really like them. It's a sci-fi convention, in other words, complete with people walking around in costumes trying to get attention. I swear their was a dude there dressed as a centurion. I can see how attending AWP might deglamorize what's already a not-glamorous career.

I don't know. I don't spend $400 to fly across the country and feel miserable. I went to soak up the experience, to hell with whether I got an agent or whatever reason people say they go to these things. And I got inspiration for some stories, and felt a sense of community, which is more than I can ask for.

On the glamorous life of an academic: I was encouraged by the head of my program to apply for funding from the grad student association, even though I only had six days. They offer $400, which would cover flight and registration. ME: "But, I'm not doing a panel. They say you should be doing a panel." That was why I didn't apply when I went to Canada last year. She told me to apply anyway, and had the recommendation letter in the mailbox the next day.

I still needed a funding paper signed by the department chair, another signed by the chair and the dean of the college of arts and sciences, a personal request letter, and some proof that I was going for school purposes. I wrote up a letter on Friday, hung out all weekend (since the English department shuts down at 3 on Friday), copy-pasted the necessary paperwork from the online .pdf into MS Word, and got a signature from the department chair on Monday. He told me the other document would need a signature from the other department chair. I emailed the dean asking when was a good time to come by his office. He wrote me back saying he was actually the assistant dean, and the dean was some other guy. So, Tuesday, deadline day, the day before I fly to Boston, I go to the dean's office at 6 am. No, scratch that, I went to his office on Monday, where the secretary informed me that she could sign it herself, but I hadn't written anything on it, so she sent me away. So I wrote something on it, and went to the dean's in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. The dean informed me that I couldn't get signatures on a copy-paste, and needed one of those official papers with the pink and yellow paper on the back. He gave this to me, signed it, informed me I'd need the chair's signature all over again, and wished me good luck.

Well, there was no way I was finding the chair. Dude's never in his office. I was informed in the English office that I'd need another Official Paper, to replace the one he signed, and, after I was done with my morning classes, I'd have about fifteen minutes to get this in by the deadline. So I went to the graduate liaison, who took my letter of rec, my personal letter, and said she'd stay an extra half hour so I could get the two necessary signatures from  the chair, and some proof that I was going on university business. She said the other grad students showed her "this email having something to do with tabling." Well, I didn't get that email. Even though I was tabling for Rougarou, I'm not on the staff, so I was not privy to the email confirming the table.

What followed was an absurd scavenger hunt. The other chair signed both papers, and said the first chair could have signed both, which was fine because I didn't have the real papers anyway, and I was roaming around the department looking for the three other humans going to AWP so I could learn about this email.  I randomly ran into one of them, who told me I could just show the list of tablers from the website. So I was in our faculty lab pacing around as the clock ticked own. I printed out ten pages until I got to the one with Rougarou on it. Printed out my plane ticket confirmation. Was assured by my classmate that everybody goes through this their first year at the school. Got the paperwork in at 11:32 am.

There has to be a way to do this that doesn't involve people running around like hamsters on those little wheels. But then it would be easy. And folks wouldn't be so busy getting arbitrary paperwork that they'd have time to complain about stuff like salaries and health insurance. Whatever. Everyone knows schools are about social control. All schools, on all levels.

6 am flight to Boston. Ran into the guy whose office is next to mine. He was attending, doing a reading, book signing, everything else people do when they actually prepare for this. My decision to go was kind of last minute; next time I'll plan better. I finally got to see the Dallas airport after years of Houston International. The people in Dallas made fun of my winter hat. Touched in at Logan around noon.

Winteeeeer! Goddamn, it was cold. The snow was coming down bad, but not as bad as the wind. I got off in Quincy, where the friend I was staying with lived, went in the wrong direction, and the realization that I'd have to walk back a block got me seriously depressed. Now, it was nice to see some good old-fashioned snow, the kind that explains why us Yankees are such miserable people, but I can't say I missed it.

My friend and his fiancee are videogame designers who recently moved to Boston from the Bay. It was pretty surreal, walking into an east coast apartment and seeing all this stuff that just nine months ago I saw in a condo in Emeryville. In fact, surreal is a good way to describe most conference/convention experiences, where you're wandering around, unaware of the sleep you're not getting, the nourishment you're not getting, the calories you're burning walking between panels. I put down my stuff, showered 'cause I was stinkin', and caught the T to the convention center. 

It's been a while since I stumbled through piles of snow, getting water all in my shoes. Every inch of bare skin felt like I was getting stabbed with an icicle. Getting there Wednesday was a great call. I spent a half-hour in line for on-site reg, standing behind seven people at the most, but at least I got it done. People who showed up on Thursday got a 2-3 hour wait, I hear. There has to be an easier way, but, you know, social control.

I probably didn't have to register at all. Nobody was checking badges. I accidentally left mine at home on Friday and got into panels and the bookfair just fine. Really, you can't even have badge checkers for something that big. There's not enough volunteers. There were, however, security guards literally dressed up like cops. I hate when they do that. Unless you got the gun, you're not a cop. Anyway, faux-cops everywhere, who thankfully weren't armed. AWP is one of those affairs, like Dragoncon, that takes over a good deal of the city. I imagine somebody could avoid the conference altogether, just go to offsite readings, and have a blast.

There was a reading at BU about race, and Thomas Sayers Ellis was there. The last time I saw Ellis was when he read at the University of Maryland's "Writers Here and Now" series a few year ago. I distinctly remember the line "All I know is, if I see any nooses, somebody getting they ass whupped," which was cool, as that semester some redneck fucktard hung a noose on a tree, trying to intimidate black students. This was before Obama cured racism, by the way.

Ellis is an amazing performer. It would be interesting to read his stuff on the page, because his reading voice is so distinct, I can only imagine the page is an entirely separate experience. I wonder if it would work as well. So I walked to BU, enjoying all the beautiful architecture, to the Tannery Series' "Race in Your Face" reading. Ellis was great. David Mura was also a fucking beast. He read two stories and one poem, all of which had something true to say about being a minority in this country. The story about the Filipino kid with the Somali girlfriend was just cool. He was also the first person in the Q&A to mention that the "post-racial" America doesn't exist. Rishi Reddi's book about intermarriage between Indians and Mexicans in early 20th century California opened my eyes to some stuff I didn't know. Then there was a slew of amazing, award-nominated, awesome writers who blend together for me because the event was so long, and after a while I fell asleep.

You can have the most excellent readers with the most interesting things to say, but any number past four turns into a marathon. This was a trend with the many, many off-site readings. There are two rules I learned when I was organizing readings: start promptly at seven, end in an hour-and-a-half. Anything longer than that, and you're competing with movies, TV, bars, clubs, or any other ways people prefer to spend their time. And watching people read gets boring after a while. Readings are a hard sell, so keep the length manageable. But at AWP, made by writers for writers, the publishers and magazines would pile readers onto the bill, as if the opportunity to actually have an audience for absurdly long readings destroyed their sense of moderation.

Ellis read with a saxophone player. Cool. During the Q&A he made the comment that he doesn't like poetry readings, and feels the need to jazz them up in order to break the atmosphere. I remembered dude wasn't fond of the academy either, but he still engages in both scenes. No judgment from me. Writers need to promote their work. They need jobs. Henceforth, we end up at poetry readings and teaching positions.

I got back to Quincy and, for the only time that weekend, got to speak to my friend's fiancee, who was hosting me. We talked about our careers a bit and she went to bed. She's a real sweetheart, and it sucks we didn't find the time to hang out. Then I plopped myself in front of their plasma TV and watched Graffiti Bridge on On-Demand. Every time I watch that flick, it somehow gets worse.

Here's the deal. I have much respect for Prince. I respect him even more for the fact that he swindled Warner Bros. into bankrolling movies he wrote and directed himself. But Graffiti Suck and Under the Cherry Suck are just so awful. What's even worse is that Graffiti is the sequel to Purple Rain, an actual good movie. Albert Magnoli took a cult musician, built a film around an album he made, and created a story with both pathos and style. It works as a film. Graffiti throws all that away. Why was Morris, who was a music manager in the first movie, all of a sudden some evil criminal overlord? Why is everything filmed on a cheap-ass soundstage when Prince could have easily done outside shots? Was Ingrid Chavez's horrible acting why they did half of her dialogue as voiceover? The only real continuity with Purple Rain is that Jill Jones is still there, humping all up on Prince while he treats her like shit.

The first movie had THE REVOLUTION, a tight unit of New Romantics held down by Wendy and Lisa, two badass Amazons who wouldn't take The Kid's shit. This movie has The New Power Generation, a bunch of nondescript, identical gay black dudes. Which leads to the worst offense: the music isn't even good. The OST did yield "Still Will Stand All Time," a gospel ballad that's one of my favorite Prince songs, and is used in the movie's ridiculous climax. And "The Question of You," which is pretty average on the record, though Prince kills it live. The rest of the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack is garbage. If Prince had just waited a year, he could have improved the whole experience by using Lovesexy as the soundtrack. I guess Graffiti Bridge made an impression on me, because I named a main character in one of my stories after the love interest. But seriously. Fuck Prince for making that movie.


Fucking snow.

I got the family reunion started early by going into a bookstore to ask directions and saw a former classmate of mine from Mills. Ran into some other Mills folks after I got in. Went to a panel about redefining masculinity in the literary world, with all trans folk on the panel. Somebody asked an interesting question about how we could open a space in children's lit to question masculinity. And somebody pointed out how much they loved Peter Pan, a novel that is all about the rejection of manhood. We associate the male with the adult (nobody is told to "woman up"), and in rejecting adulthood Peter rejects masculinity. So these spaces exist, they're not blatant (yet).

It was during this panel that I started writing in my book. They gave you a frickin' Bible filled with ads and panel descriptions, hours of reading in itself. I began scrawling notes for different stories.

Hmm. I went to a panel about college lit presses and how to maintain them (ie. asking people for money). Went to one school's "odes and psalms" poetry reading. Attended a pretty interesting panel about making book trailers. I don't know if book trailers actually sell books, but I want one. I just dig it when one form of art, like a book, breeds more art.

Amelia Gray did a panel. Missed it. Alissa Nutting. Missed it. Found out after it was done that Carole Maso was there. Carole Fucking Maso. Missed it. Missing things is predominantly what folks do at AWP. There were more panels than anybody could possibly attend, so even if you went to panels from 9am through 5pm you're only experiencing 1/15th of the conference.

I wouldn't say the convention center was overcrowded, as it was palatial enough that you could find space for yourself. At times there was a little Woodstock '99 action going on, like that piss all over the men's room floor. Poor janitors.

Not nearly enough panels about genre (or "fabulism," as they called it). It was interesting, in the midst of a million panels about indigenous writers and POC and all these obvious efforts to be inclusionary, those prejudices show through. Even the fact that they call it "fabulist" instead of fantasy. The only good thing about that term "fabulist" is that it sounds slightly gay, like a genre of writing by and for drag queens. I don't know. I write fantasy. Any other term seems like obscuring it. Every time I've called myself magical realist/fabulist/weird/elfpunk/elfcore, whatever your preference, it's to disguise the fact that I write fantasy. Because "fantasy" makes people imagine garbage stories about dragons, whereas I write great stories about dragons.

Ran into my friend Jon "Phenomojon" Tucker, who was tabling for Split This Rock, a kickass youth poetry and activism program in DC. Ran into my old professor Faith Adiele, who was doing a panel on writers of color. I told her I was in Lafayette, which is three hours north of New Orleans. Dudebro sitting next to her informed me that Lafayette is actually west of New Orleans. Learn something new every day. Whatever. I barely even leave my office.

Ran into a young lady who used to live with me at the hippie house, and had just graduated from CCA. We were both at the Dark Room Collective retrospective. Seeing all those successful writers up there talking about their times organizing readings at Cambridge made me have all sorts of fantasies about the "Cyberpunk Apocalypse 20 Year Anniversary Retrospective," where me and Dan McCloskey will be up there fondling our Nebulas and going on for ten minutes about what DIY really means and how we redefined the nature of DIY and how we hate the academy, even though we'll be teaching at Berkeley and Pratt, respectively. That'll be at AWP 2028. I've already got the proposal typed up. See you there.

Anyway, my friend and I went to a reading at a theater in Cambridge. It was fun and all, but, I don't know, just pick four readers and give them the mic. It was, like, twelve people. I'm not buying anybody's chapbook based on 7 minutes. Though the truncated reading time does make the cream rise to the top. In all that buzzing of words, hearing a great line was like a smack in the face. My favorite part was when someone passed us a flyer for their reading afterward (readings upon readings!), which they assured would be more party than reading. I appreciate the honesty. I considered going, but I was already a bit drowsy from all those little plastic cups of white wine.

My friend went home. I met a poet on the bus and went to a bar called Bukowski's. As far as bars named after dead writers go, I preferred it to the college bar in Pittsburgh called Hemingway's. Found out that New Englanders take their beer seriously. Went dancing. AWP had a nightly dance in the hotel for those who didn't feel like walking to the clubs. The DJ was a young guy who must have been tickled by all the middle aged college professors grinding drunkenly on each other. First hour was open bar. That served to get everybody wasted enough that the idiots (ie. me) would pay ten bucks for a bottle of Corona. Got drunk. Danced. Went home.


Conversations at AWP start thusly:

PERSON: How's it going? (shakes hands) I'm Toni Morrison.
ME: Elwin. Nice to meet you.
PERSON: Poetry or fiction?
ME: Fiction.

Didn't actually meet Toni Morrison. Would have been cool if I did, though. As a lover of all things subcultural, I thought it was pretty cool how AWP had its own language of discourse. "Poetry or fiction?" Of course! Like our academic concentration is some kind of military unit.

I ended up sleeping in, then devoted a good deal of my time to tabling for UL's grad program. I took turns manning the table with the program director, Marthe, and my classmates Chris and Emily (or womaning the table, in Marthe and Emily's case). My knees hurt. We had a pile of cheap Mardi Gras beads and a battery-powered alligator that roared if you smacked it a few times. The bookfair is like a dealers room at any convention: people try to sell you stuff. Which would be wonderful, if I had money, but I didn't, so there you are. About half were from MFA programs, were are no longer relevant to me. But it's good to see that literature is still a big thing and people care so deeply about it. I don't really care if the "mainstream" likes books.

That seemed to be a major theme in a lot of the panels. "Is ___ Still Relevant?" It seemed a lot of people were nervous of the idea that American culture is devaluing literature, afraid their appreciation for such things is shrinking into a circle jerk. To be honest, I don't know if Americans ever cared about literature. They read what they like. This is all part of a palpable fear in the humanities, what with shrinking job options in universities, and the fact that the new generation of students are going for degrees that actually offer some job security, thus all English academics can feel their world shrinking. The angst over the appreciation for lit is only important insofar as it enables writers and academics to make money, which is a whole separate issue.

And there were plenty of panels about "How to Get Funding for _____." I don't know. I'm just not in panic mode. Do what you're into. If it's good, it will be relevant. If you have to do it on a shoestring, then focus on quality of content over quality of production. When I was a socially minded person, as opposed to the raging narcissist I am now, I would work on social justice campaigns. You know what was always the worst part? Canvassing. Begging people for money. Same goes for the arts. I don't like that so much time is spent pleading for cash from the shrinking pool of people who have it. Eventually that well's going to dry. Then what do you do?

Spent time gawking at the beauty of snowfall over ancient buildings. I ate a cold Trader Joe's salad that I think was supposed to be microwaved. Saw Samuel Delany read. It was awesome because he was reading gay erotica. More awesome because he looks like Gandalf. Gandalf reading gay porn. In all seriousness, it's great that one of our living legends is still out there, giving readings and publishing and sharing his knowledge.

I read that Laura Kasischke was doing a signing down at the Sarabande table. Their intern at the table told me she cancelled. It was pretty interesting talking to said intern because of how enthusiastic she was about the publishing industry. How the next step for her is to leave Kentucky and go to New York. Reminds me how this whole "writer" thing is a culture. Of course you move to New York. Of course you hang out at cafes in Williamsburg. Of course you throw readings in warehouses. Of course you go to AWP. There's so much involved that really has fuck all to do with writing. But it's your culture (bugger it, let's be honest, my culture) and you engage in these rituals, worship your idols (New York City) because you find comfort in it.

I mostly went to readings, because they inspire me to write. Poetry readings  anthology readings, grad program readings. Hearing others' creativity inspires me, and yes, I steal a line hear and there. I was also writing during panels. If one was especially boring, that's when I wrote the most.

I went to the "I'm So Tired" reading at Trident Booksellers & Cafe a block over. It was sponsored by OH NO books, of which a friend of mine from Pittsburgh is an editor of some sort. The upstairs cafe was painfully crowded. Saw Ben Kopel read again for the first time since our EPIC reading in New Orleans. So good. It reminded me of driving through the Carolinas with Ben and Dzig a couple months ago, and Dzig geeking out on Ben Kopel's poetry. He said it was really masculine. Good description. Masculine word choice, rhythm, and delivery. That dude straight up barks his poems. Among the 8,678,698 readers was a lady reading her version of "The Little Mermaid." In this version, the mermaid wants a pussy. There's this pretty cool gag about how the mermaids use artificial pussies when fucking humans. And since they have no buttholes, they poop out their mouths. My favorite line was, and I'm paraphrasing, that kissing a mermaid is like giving a rimjob to a dysentery victim. The videographer was a friend of Kim Vodicka's who came to the reading I did in Seattle two years ago. I kinda love this small world stuff.

I ate some beef and rice at an old dirty Chinese restaurant where the waiter was a thug-ass Chinese dude. After that I saw Terrance Hayes and Jorie Graham read in the ballroom. Hayes' is a name that pops up a lot from my friends who've attended CMU. He's the real deal, alright. Graham spoke to how poetry should address this apocalyptic moment were in, which I agree with. The earth is in a bad place and the arts should do their part. Hayes spoke about who the significant voices in poetry are, during which he slipped in a reference to Prince. You can tell whether a black person is in their 30s-40s by the level of devotion they have to Prince, and how often he slips into unrelated conversations.

Some of the receptions were open bar, some were cash bar. I went to the open bars. I went to the Split This Rock reception. They had two poets, one of whom spit an awesome poem about how no one believed Noah when the floods were coming. The next was by a young guy who won a contest, a poem about an LGBT person who was killed in Africa. What I did not know, but I learned, was that Split This Rock grew out of Poets Against the War. The war started ten years ago, and the young people who got involved, like Jon, are now veteran organizers helping to mold the next generation. It's good to see that the antiwar movement from 2003 bore some kind of fruit. Stuff like that reminds me how time can make things grow, and that there are silver linings to all this tragedy.

I went dancing. They played dubstep and I realized why my knees hurt. I should start doing stretches before jumping around like that.

There was a massive delay on the subway. I had to wait at one stop half an hour, watching two kids who were high as shit scratching tags into the glass. It was funny because they had a little nail that they were passing underhand, and looking around to make sure no one could see them. There are cameras on the train. If the driver cared, he would have done something. And they're acting all stealth to scribble a bunch of cursive on a window.


I woke up early to table at 9. I was seriously impressed with their shoveling work downtown. The snow was cleared and there were more real people than writers wandering around. You would have never guessed there was a blizzard a day before.

It was the last day of the conference, and they were in some serious dead dog territory. Everybody was discounting their books so they wouldn't have so much to take on the plane. Or just giving stuff away. There were magazines and journals piled on the tables in the bookfair. Makes me wonder why anybody buys anything the first two days. Maybe they don't. I sold a book, and paid it forward by buying the new Kasischke collection. She is so good. One of my favorites.

I felt like a dead dog, utterly exhausted. During my time manning the table, I engaged in several rambling conversations in which I talked too much, and at one point tried to grab what I thought was my program bag from a classmate's hands. "That's mine," he said. I apologized and went off to find some new way to make an ass out of myself.

Went to a few panels. Only the one on social justice stood out. A couple of educators stood up to talk about how they used creative writing to empower disenfranchised communities. As much as AWP was a writer's conference,  it was equally an educator's conference, and it was pretty inspiring to see the work done by folks like Writers in Schools. Makes me want to do the same. Made me very proud to teach. Will I continue to be an academic? Eh, get back to me in five months. But I will always be a teacher.

Went to panel about a program that encouraged people to make art from their poetry. They passed around a pillow with poetry stitched into it. They passed around a cigar box of poems rolled into blunts. I actually tried to unroll one of the blunts to read the poem inside, but as soon as the paper broke I decided it was a bad idea. It was interesting because, as cool and experimental as the concept was, I could only engage with any of those poems when I read them as a paper chapbook. Maybe there are other kinds of poem/art that would be more accessible for me.

I may or may not have seen Kate Bernheimer say something about fairy stories. I may or may not have attended a sex scene panel. Saw the Typewriter Girls walking around. I feel they put on the best reading series in Pittsburgh. Or at least they did the last time I lived there, in 2010. Stopped by Adam Atkinson's table where he and Ben Pelhan were having a two-man dance party to some New Orleans crunk music, which I didn't participate in, though I slapped one or both of them on the ass. Ate a burrito, and by 5pm I was ready to head straight to the airport and sleep on a chair until my morning flight. Then I ran into Faith and accompanied her to her birthday party at a fancy restaurant down the street. Caught a second wind drinking Stella Artois from anorexic beer glasses. I guess Stella is my Popeye's spinach. Anyways, it was a really nice time. I ended up talking to Yona Harvey for a while. I told her I was a fantasy writer who taught in Louisiana.

YONA: Ah! I've heard of you! You're friends with the cartoonist!

ME: Yeah, Dan's a good friend.

Apparently, she did some kind of event with Dan a few months ago, during which I was mentioned. Small world. It was overall surreal, just walking around and seeing people I'd encountered at World Fantasy, or Pittsburgh, or frickin' hipster parties in Williamsburg. Weird, in a good way, because it reminds me of the similarities I have with these people. We all love writing.

Late night. Everybody's wasted. Everybody's on coke and pills and it's hilarious because there's no amount of drugs that will make a bunch of English MFAs not huge dorks. The higher everybody got, the nerdier they got. That's a big reason why I don't use. I'd probably start quoting The Faerie Queen or some shit. I intended to leave around midnight but, in one of those turns of fortune you don't expect, made a new friend who I hung out with a few hours.

Caught a taxi to Logan, feeling like I'd just come from a death metal concert, that's how exhausted I was. The in-flight movie was Silver Linings Playbook. I liked what little I saw, as I was drifting in and out of consciousness, and would intermittently wake up to Jennifer Lawrence screaming at me. My favorite part was when Bradley Cooper threw the Hemingway book out the window. The landing in Lafayette was really shaky. The girl across the aisle from me threw up on herself.

So what did I get out of AWP? It inspired me to pick up the pace. And not in terms of writing a book a year, which I once wanted to do, but am now thinking is unnecessary. Real literature takes time. I mean writing every day. Putting at least an hour of creative work every day. I got ideas for stories. And I met like-minded people. That's all I need from a gathering of any group I'm a part of. If you'll excuse me, I'm about to go work on my audiobook.