In Praise of Literary Conferences

or:  What Showing Up As Part of a Literary Community Looks Like

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AWP: Boston, March 2013 (brrr!)
That time I shared a gorgeous townhouse in Boston with some of my MFA cohort and wore bunny ears so I’d be easy to find, and because…well, fuck, seriously? Bunny ears!

  • The VIDA prom.
  • Truck loads of indie publishers, but every time I stopped by Soft Skull (publishers of the most recent anthology) to say hi, no one was there.
  • Everything from the very practical: “Landing the Tenure-Track Job without a Book;”
  • to the personally useful: “The Unreliable Narrator in Creative Nonfiction;”
  • to community building: “Being a Good Literary Citizen” (with the fabulous Rob Spillman) and social justice: “Teaching Creative Writing to Teens Outside of the Classroom;”
  • to the bars and dinners and schmooze-fests where my bunny ears were eclipsed by someone in full gladiator regalia I hope assume had a book about to launch.
  • and then,  worth the cost of admission: “my two Stevphens” Stephen Elliott and Steve Almond on cobbling together a living and a life while writing work that matters.

AWP is in a different city each year. Huge, overwhelming and a little like trying to see all of Disneyworld in a day and it’s possible my bunny ears will make an appearance in DC come February 2017.

Brooklyn Book Festival : Brooklyn, September 2014, free!!
Roz Chast (if you are over 40 and have parents, I encourage you to read this) and Robert Mankoff (the only person who understands ALL of the New Yorker cartoons). Darcey Steinke whose Suicide Blonde changed my writing life (and I fell off my chair when I realized she followed me on Twitter which meant I got to accost her and say hi and pretend we were old friends while I sat in front of boypoet Michael Klein [hosannas all around to Lesley University’s poet Steven Cramer for introducing me to that voice and those words] chatting him up and soaking it all in).

Bindercon Symposium : NYC, October 2014 – the debut conference!
One of the unintentional results of Mitt Romney’s mouthful about “binders full of women”? Bindercon – a professional symposium for women and gender-nonconforming writers that has since gone bicoastal and digital. I spent two days surrounded by them and made more new writer friends I’d never have met otherwise!  I was at one of the first planning meetings, but the final product they produced was something so much bigger than I could have imagined. Thanks Mitt (and major props and thanks to Leigh and Lux).

Slice Literary Conference : Brooklyn, September 2014
I love Dani Shapiro. I love that going to see Dani on a panel I found Darin Strauss and his memoir, Half a Life, both brilliant and devastating.

Poets & Writers Live : NYC, June 2014
The day started off with poet Rich Villar. It ended with poet Frank Bidart. And of course all those authors and agents in conversation between the hours of 9am and 7pm. I don’t think of myself as a poetry reader. Apparently, however, I am a sucker for poets because there are poets all over this post.

The Aspen New York Book Series presents ‘The Art of the Memoir’: NYC, November 2015
Since I was already in love with Dani Shapiro and had recently fallen in love with Darrin Strauss, and was following them both on Twitter, I heard about this, and got to hear them in conversation, up close and personal, with Vivian Gornick who (and I apologize profusely, Vivian, if by chance you ever read this) is such an icon in the writing community, I assumed she was dead. She is not. She is very much alive and a fucking pistol and not only would I be happy to look like her at 81, I’d be happy to look that good period. Don’t believe me? Watch the whole thing here (and realize that even educated people pronounce “to” as “tuh” and we should just let it go).

Woodstock Writer’s Festival: Woodstock, April 2016
Staying at a sweet inn on a babbling brook recommended by a man I’d  crushed on for years and never met. And where I finally met that man and we babbled through a three-hour dinner. I made one more new friend,  discovered Jamie Brickhouse, came home having spent $200 more on books, and hit fabulous panels on writing on (and in) recovery, spirituality, and met (and frightened) my grammar-geek icon, Mary Norris. I left more than slightly in love with John Elder Robison and excited because I had one his books on my to-read shelf waiting for me at home.

HippoCamp: Lancaster, PA, August 2016 (tk)
Which, despite its name is not a fat camp.

WORD Christchurch: New Zealand, August 2016 (tk)
Again, despite the name, to the best of my knowledge Christ will not be making an appearance.

Here’s a truncated list of writer’s conferences,
and book festivals in New York, and
yet another resource you can narrow down by area,
and another.

And some of them are free. Now what’s your excuse?

On editing porn

words-cant-describe
image source: toothpastefordinner.com

I love editing and proofreading other people’s work for many reasons. I love finding mistakes—correction: other people’s mistakes. I love being right, and having someone acknowledge that fact. I love putting things “in order.” And I love answering questions like:

Q: When does a gang bang start? Two is regular, three is airtight, and four is foursome, so does five put you in gangbang territory? 

A: Actually, it all depends on who is catching. For a woman, three is a regular threesome and your need four to go airtight (with one penis or penis-like substitute for every hole, at the same time). With a male catcher, three makes it airtight because there’s one less hole. A gangbang (also known as a train as in “we ran a train on her”), on the other hand, is one willing catcher (male or female), and multiple pitchers—usually three or more. When the catcher is unwilling, this becomes gang rape.

Q: If twin brothers ravage the same ass at the same time is that incest?

A: No. That’s plain old double penetration, or DP. Unless of course we’re talking about the ass of a sibling.  Or cousin. Second cousins once removed are okay, though.

Q: Where are all the transgender hookers working these days now the old West Side Highway is basically gone?

A: Since the West Side Highway has gone all Javitz Center and the Christopher Street piers have gone all bike paths, public parks, family-friendly, most of the street-based working girls of the trans-type can be found on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens. And, many of them have come off the street and work in the comfort and relative safety of 900 numbers,  Al Gore’s internet, and places like Backpage or Transgays.com.

Q: What did they call vaginas and penises in the old days, back when there were wenches and m’ladies?

A: Here’s a whole list for the vaginas and their assorted parts, on a historical time line. And another for the penis and its entourage. You won’t be surprised that the lady parts are mostly cozy and cute (mossy treasure, poontang), and the boy parts are mostly ego-driven and aggressive (skyscraper, arse-opener). Personally, I like a nice flap-doodle in my jampot now and then.

 

Maid in 2012

Note to self, dated May 2012. During the two years of “under-employment.”

The cleaning lady 2009_full

A year ago I considered getting a cleaning lady.

Today, while on my knees Windexing the water spots on someone else’s marble bathroom floor, I thought to myself, “Who the fuck do they think I am? The cleaning lady?”

Exactly. That’s exactly who I was at that moment. Someone’s cleaning lady.

Moral of the story: Be careful what you wish for. The universe gives you what you ask for, but it rarely looks the way you’d expect.

not so great expectations

I recently found myself trying to talk an Executive team into allowing their employees the use of Facebook and Twitter. There’s a ton of already written about using social media for brandingbuilding community, fund raising, etc. I’m not inventing the wheel here. But they are afraid people will waste time on Facebook and Twitter.

Of course they will, especially if you expect them to. Especially if you tell them NOT to waste time on Facebook or Twitter or Bebo.

In my experience, everything flows downstream. People act the way you treat them, the way you expect them to.

There’s also a ton of documentation already written about that as well – particularly in educational settings. If you expect the child to fail, to be disruptive, etc. there’s a good chance s/he will. And vice versa. If you expect them to shine, that’s probably going to happen as well.

The thing is, nine times out of ten, you get what you expect.

Growing up, I worked in restaurants. The Jolly Swagman was an Australian restaurant on Long Island.  It was a family run business and they treated all of us like part of the family. Staff meals were delicious, the same fine food that was served to the customers.  Nothing was off limits, we could eat or drink anything we wanted. I worked as a prep cook, spending a lot of time shelling cooked lobsters and crab into two giant sinks. One for the delicious cooled cooked meats and one for shells. The first night, as I worked, I ate my fill of chilled lobster, well within eye-sight of the manager.

That was the first and only time I abused their generosity.

Years later, I found myself working at an Italian restuarant and piano bar on 52nd Street and 2nd Avenue. I was in desperate need of a job, food, help. It was a bad time in my life, a time I should have been grateful for any hand up. Also a small family business, but here, staff meals were restricted to pasta dishes and on the very first day, I was told I’d be fired if I was caught eating a single shrimp.

We were all reminded of that with regularity.

And so, I stole pounds of shrimp and bottle after bottle of wine. Not that I couldn’t afford the wine. I could, I made pretty good money there. And of course, I was a much bigger drunk by the time I got to 52nd Street than I was on Long Island,  but I got so much pleasure out of stealing something from someone who expected me to, who was waiting to catch me before they even met me and was ready to punish me the minute they did. If they already thought I was stealing and were just waiting to catch me, well, if the shoe fits, I might as well wear it, no?

Social media is a well designed time-suck but the point is, the time-wasting part is an administrative issue. People act the way you expect them to. I’m convinced that’s why I’ve never been in a Radio Shack, anywhere, where the staff is helpful or happy. Or why I’ve never been in an Old Navy where they weren’t.

Everything flows downstream.

and now, a word about god

jodi sh doff  : onlythejodi : about god : night road

My dream is to be paid for working on the farm . I’ve been working there for free for months.

We made it official two weeks ago. Well, semi-official. The offer was made and accepted, but there was still the ever elusive paperwork to bag. I worked. I worked again. And then came the great crash of 2010:

“We can only pay you two thirds of what we said we could pay you.”

Well, FYI, all three thirds was already slightly below what I needed to live on, but I thought, I love it here, it’ll all work out. I have faith. I have faith. I have faith.

Driving home, after the second week where the drive up took 90 minutes instead of the hour it’d been when I was volunteering…

How did that happen? I leave at 7:30am to drive 90 minutes to a job that can only pay me less than I make on unemployment and it costs me $20 in gas and tolls every time I go? But I really, really love it on the farm. I believe in everything they do, everything they stand for. The farm is all that is right with the world.

I have faith. I have faith. I have faith.

I checked in silently with god on the drive home – we do a lot of our talking during these long drives. It’s dark and the headlights of oncoming cars blind me over and over and over. I speak first. I usually do.

So, now what? How’s this gonna work?
You have faith?
I do.
Okey doke then, have faith. Trust me.

At once I become aware of the Randy Travis CD that’s playing. He sings “when you see me walk on water…”

Oh, you got jokes now? Now you wanna get funny with me?
I’m a funny guy…
You, you are not actually a guy at all.
Well, you know, whatev….

My god says whatev. I couldn’t have one that said “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not”. Or one that expected any sort of begatting from me.

Our conversations are silent. I can hear them; you can’t. Not even if you’re sitting next to me. Not even just my side of the conversation. This is why:

Outloud, a little later in the drive:

“Okay, god, so? Do I have a move, a plan, something” Silence “Oh, you don’t play that? You gonna act like you don’t hear me when I talk out loud? You don’t answer my out loud questions?”

And I hear, in my head No. And  then I swear I hear a little far off giggle.

That’s one funny diety….I have faith. I have faith. I have faith….