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?

Lesson Number One

dark-and-dingy-roomsPreviously published: BUST Magazine Spring/Summer 1996 (as Scarlett Fever)

He pushes me inside a yellow cab and stuffs himself in beside me. I hear the first gunshots exploding like Chinese firecrackers in February as the door slams closed.

“Drive”, he says to the cabbie. “Relax, CeeCee. It’s over.” He dropped a bloated pink hairless hand onto my thigh. “Consulate Hotel. West 49th Street,” he says speaking to the driver, and looking at me, the question in his eyes.

I don’t say anything. How bad can it be? He’s not mean. I need a car. I need his money to get it.

“I need three n’ a quarter, Lloyd.”

“OK, Cee, three hundred and twenty-five dollars it is then.” He smiles at me, rubbing his pink hand up and down my thigh vigourously, anticipating. I catch Abu Ben Taxi Driver looking at us in the rearview mirror. Listening in. Deciding what I am. What Lloyd is. The vodka from my last drink rises back up my throat and tastes awful.

Next week I can drive into the city in the car I bought with the money from my first trick. How bad can it be?

The hotel room, the lights are out, the blinds open. The room lit only by a full moon and the street lights below. Lloyd lies naked on the bed, a great white beached whale. His skin iridescent in the moonlight, broken only by an archipelago of eczema that dots his massive body, the source of the medicinal aura that floats around him at all times. I stand at the bathroom door, my clothes at my feet, and try to imagine the feel of his skin, the texture of the rash. I leave my body. My heart and soul float across the room settling sadly into the wing chair in the corner. A voyeuristic sadistic pleasure keeps me watching as the scene unfolds. I watch myself, in awe of what I’m capable of.

I see myself in the moonlight, breasts full and plump, ass round and creamy, hips rolling seductively as I walk over to the bed. My face a blank mask of concentration and focus as I look down at him. Thinking about what? The car? The money? The task at hand?

Lloyd lies on the bed, legs spread wide, stomach rising up above everything, a four hundred and fifty-pound island of flesh lit blue-white by garish street lights, waiting for me.

He reaches out entwining his chubby fingers in my dark curly pubic hair and shoves his thumb inside of me (an audible gasp bubbles out of my mouth, escaping into the night). His thumb probes deeper, twirling around.

“Suck my cock,” his voice no longer whiny, no longer begging. He pulls his thumb out of me, pushes me towards the end of the bed, and shiny with my juice he sticks it in his mouth and suckles.

Proportion takes on a profound meaning when a man’s cock is surrounded by so many hundreds of pounds of flesh. Finding it alone a labor worthy of Hercules. Tucked inside the many folds of his massive thighs, deep inside the crevices below his bellys, I watch myself root through his flesh like a pig after truffles. Holding a belly up with my elbow, a thigh away with my hand. Finding my prey, my pound of flesh, short and hard, no bigger than his thumb or a pale breakfast sausage, I bend and take him into my mouth. Covering it with my own saliva, stroking him slowly, making him harder, squeezing and pulling, rubbing my breasts while cranes over his belly to watch, squeezing my nipples, getting us both ready. He lays there, unable to move, a giant turtle on his back, a great sea mammal washed ashore and abandoned, at my mercy. My juices are flowing. I touch myself, separate the damp hairs, the outer labia, the inner labia, open myself up and rise up, rise up, Venus rising from the foam. I close my eyes and mount him as best I can.

“Suck this,” knocking his hand away from his mouth and sticking my fingers,my whole hand, slick with my own juices, in his mouth. I ride him, leaning forward as he grabs my tits, pulling painfully at my nipples. I grip his round arms and ride him, forgetting about his rash, his size, his lack of size. I ride and pump and thrust and grind. I moan and curse and Oh baby, and yes, yes, yes as he comes inside me. I ride some more, pulling on my own nipples now, rubbing my clit up against the overflow from his big firm belly, bringing myself to climax. I stroke his immense round gut as I feel him shrinking, I contract inside and try to hold him there a bit longer. Shrinking. Shrinking. He slips out.

And I think about where I will go in the cute blue Pinto I will buy with his money.


The money, the real reason I’m here, I tell myself. Yet, even today,when I describe it, my juices flow and the tingles grow in that secret place deep inside me. His flesh repulses me, the act of selling myself does not. Having someone desire me so much he will pay me, pay what I ask, opens me up inside.

To be in charge.

To be in control.

To be paid.


He’s coming out of the bathroom, already having washed my scent off and stuffed himself back into his oversized brown polyester slacks when I realize no money’s changed hands yet. No crisp bills waiting quietly on the nightstand like in the movies.

“Lloyd, uh…are you leaving…?” My clothes were on the bathroom floor. He stood at the doorway to the bathroom, a wall of flesh between me and my clothes. The fluorescent bathroom light creating a gargantuan silhouette, his huge polyester behind the only thing reflected in the mirror.

“Yeah. Look, I gotta go see what kind of damage was done in the club tonight. Keep the room, babe. I paid for the whole night.” He struggled into the brown and grey plaid sportcoat, patted me on the head, checking his pockets as he did and heading towards the door.

“I don’t wanna stay here all night. We talked about the money Lloyd… What about the money?” Not wanting him to let him escape. I grabbed up my clothes. Pulling them on without washing him off of me. Liquid Lloyd runs down my leg.

“Look CeeCee, I don’t have the money with me…”

“What do you mean, you don’t have the money? You paid for the cab, the room…?”

I came here to get paid, to turn a trick.

“That’s about all I had on me. I have just enough to get home from here. Everything else is in the safe at the club. Do you need cab fare or are you OK?”

Cab fare you mammoth pig? I need three hundred and twenty-five dollars. I need your head on a platter. I need my fucking money.

“OK? OK? I’m not OK. What about my money. You said you’d pay me three…,” It’s not a trick if I don’t get paid. If I don’t get paid it’s just a nightmare, ” hundred and …”

“Hey,” he interrupted. His inflated Macys’ Thanksgiving Day parade ballon hand on my naked shoulder, “do you think I’m trying to cheat you?” Yes, that’s exactly what I think. “What did you want me to do, tell the guys on the stairs to wait, don’t shoot up the place till I get money outta the safe to give to my girl?”

“But I thought you had money with you…”

STUPID, STUPID STUPID. STUPID BITCH

” No, CeeCee,” he spoke softly, like you do to a child, “You stop by the club tomorrow night and we’ll straighten everything out. OK?”

I’m such a stupid bitch.

I nod silently and sit there, even quieter, watching in the mirror as he kisses me goodbye. Silent as I watched the door close after his fat shit brown polyester ass. Silently I sit as my heart and soul walks over and rejoins me, a little thinner now, a little paler. Silent as I finish dressing and head down to the subway and back home. I can panhandle whatever I need for the Long Island RailRoad.

Or maybe it wasn’t like that at all. Maybe I was too scared or too stupid to ask for the money afterwards. Maybe there was just a chubby girl having sex with a huge fat man, expecting him to keep his word. Maybe it wasn’t sensual at all. Maybe it was a dirty little room in a cheap hotel with no full moon, only the street lights and the eczema.

Stupid bitch.

Lesson Number One – get the money up front.

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.