Friday, March 10, 2023

fomo, romo, and awp

On the return trip from Seattle, 2014 w/ Carol Guess and Kristina Marie Darling's X Marks the Dress

It's that time again of the year when some city or another is overrun with writers. They're everywhere, in the coffee shops, in the bars, standing on the street holding tote bags and thick stacks of books. When I realized it for the first time, there was this rush and the feeling that it legitimized my it was an actual profession for reals--like dentists or accountants or podiatrists. Not just unicorns or mermaids or ghosts who occasionally rattle typewriter keys. In that respect, it was always cool, and I remember my first in 2004.  I was in the first year of my MFA program, who was kindly footing the bill, and spent several days at the Palmer House wandering the book fair, which seemed huge and overwhelming but got even more so in subsequent years. I gawked at "famous" writers and went to really cool panels on e-poetry and novelists vs. poets, and small press publishing. I knew no one and nothing then and was wide-eyed and amazed. The next time I would go was in Atlanta in 2007, having in the meantime somehow started a fledgling little chapbook press and was sharing a table with another small full-length press. It was far bigger, and there was travel involved. And it was the first time I actually did an off-site reading. I didn't want to fly, so volunteered to take my parents, with my dad doing the driving, on my adventure and just paying for everything (not that AWP was especially lucrative that year, only that I had extra student loan money to fund it that semester) We stayed at a fancy hotel (two of them) across from the convention center with amazing views of Atlanta and ate every night at the same restaurant that had really good chicken pasta I loved. I met people I only knew online, and my publishers who had released my first book the autumn before, and drank in bars with Chicago poets I hardly ever saw here while my parents hung out at the hotel and had a great time. I didn't get to any panels that year and mostly hid behind my table, but did go home with lots of book fair spoils. 

Over the years, I caught others when they were in Chicago. 2009 when I shared a two-table span with two other presses and went to a few offsite readings. In 2012, when I didn't have a bookfair table, which had been getting steadily more expensive, but did host signings and an open studio at my space up the street, did some offsite readings, and participated in my first panel on chapbook publishing.  The first, and probably the last travel-AWP I participated was Seattle in 2014, which was great fun, but sometimes I look back and think how it was a lot of work, including a train trip that on the return went seriously awry (an avalanche and 19 hour delay). Also, how ridiculous I was toting about 50 pounds of books across the country all by myself, two and a half days in the train.  I had a great time though, was happily drunk through most of it, staying with Kelly Boyker in her amazing house. Especially this year, with her gone, it makes me a little sadly avoidant of other people's Seattle AWP pics, since so much of my experience there was with her--the readings, the panel we did, brunches and showing us around Seattle, carting us all back and forth to the convention center. I did actually sell a lot of books and thankfully went home with a much lighter suitcase, but even staying with another writer, it was expensive. While we'd paid for tables months before, I had depleted completely the shop funds that hadn't been eaten by studio rent that month buying lots of supplies for stocking more books in advance and paying for my train tickets, which left everything else to my day job paycheck, which was abysmal and usually hanging on by a nail by the end of the month.  I remember when I arrived in Seattle everyone was surprised I took a bus with my enormous suitcase to the house from the train station in a strange city, thinking I was just hardcore and fearless. Really, I had about $15 in my bank account mid-week and was waiting to make cash at the book fair the next day to finance the rest of my stay until I got paid on Friday (and even most of that was going to be rent and then some.). 

In the years since, I sometimes made initial plans to go--to Minneapolis, to Tampa, but the plans fell through due to money woes--as in maybe I could swing it, but going would have put me in serious financial peril. Because chiefly, my biggest problem with AWP is money, for member participants, for panelists, for book fair tables. Every year, higher and higher.  I get that largely many people are funded by programs, which makes it similar to most professional conventions I suppose. (ALA is the same). You pay to play, and at AWP you pay A LOT to be a part of that party..I just took a loss on my share of the Minneapolis table fee because I couldn't afford the trip and hotel to get there as we got closer. For Tampa, I was planning to just do an off-site book fair and readings, no actual conference. This would have saved some cash, but even travel is too much to spend for someone living paycheck to paycheck, (which I did and still pretty much do, though things are a little better freelancing than they were before.) I'd also just lost my mother and was white-knuckling it mental-healthwise through that winter, so I gave myself a break and canceled the hotel room I'd booked the previous fall.

Most years, I watch from afar and feel like I am missing out. that everyone is getting to hang out with people I'd love to hang out with, the feeling that THIS is where it is all happening. That everyone is in one place, which is of course, deceptive.  Most people can't go for the same reasons I can't. Many writers give no shits about AWP.  This year,  there is also a real feeling of relief to NOT be there. It's a lot of work to be only one person lugging books and manning tables, organizing events,  and orchestrating travel plans, even if you can afford them.  It's also just a whole lot for this frightened little introvert heart to handle. I don't think I am up for it. Or maybe I am choosing to not be up for it. .Maybe this is evidence of new boundaries and trying to live a less stressful life and not be always throwing myself enthusiastically into things that are ridiculous when I look back on them.  I've also learned that I don't travel well at all.  For one, I don't want to or like it and it makes me anxious.  Kind of like a fine potato salad. This is true of everything but maybe occasional weekend car trips where I don't venture too far from home.

I'm sure the conference will come back to Chicago at some point (though I heard somewhere they thought they'd outgrown the Hilton, so maybe McCormick? which just isn't the same.) I'll be tempted to do or share a table, but since I am more careful with money now that I don't have a guaranteed paycheck, I probably shouldn't. Really. Maybe something elsewhere for dgp authors would be cool, or just going to some offsite stuff. I love the idea of panels and book fairs, but I am really resistant to paying the price when that just means I am consenting to something that I'm, not sure I want to encourage. Something most of us can't really afford.

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