#AWP2019, Memoir, New Vocabulary, writing

Gathered Together.

I am in Portland, Oregon, for the yearly AWP — Association of Writers and Writing Programs. I am not on a panel, am not a published book author, will give no readings and cannot expense this: I am, however, one of 15,000 attendees that have paid the fee to marathon through three days of fast-paced workshops and readings on topics that will range from sexuality, travel, teaching, #metoo, memory, trauma, health, gender, publishing, literary agents, every and all literary genres to digital poetry. I will learn new words. My feet and head will hurt by Saturday night.

I did a trial run to the conference center on light rail this afternoon. Our 2019 host city chose to rain hard today, the humidity rising from our shoulders as we were corralled through the the registration area like airport security. Behind me, I saw a famous author I hoped remembered me from a workshop in Seattle. Waving madly at him, I thought; what gives me the cred to be here with him?

Tomorrow quite early I will  have a good coffee with an extra shot, probably swallow three Advil, purchase a day pass for the train and swim upstream through the escalator masses to find the ballroom where author Pam Houston’s panel convenes on writing about intimacy. Then I am off and running: Colson Whitehead’s keynote, Lidia Yuknavitch’s reading, Cheryl Strayed’s talk about her writing process, workshops on trauma, healing and humor. I will end the three days with a panel talking about being 60 and writing about death. If I hold up, eighteen sessions. And I may even attend a yoga class or two for writers.

I will watch people read famous author’s name tag as they pass him in the hallway, stop him, talk with him, ask him to sign one of his books. My name tag —  Alexandra Dane — won’t ring any bells. I will be handing out my business card to anyone who smiles at me, and if I am lucky they might read my blog, a few of my articles, remember me next time.

Yet a common denominator brings us here; on Monday morning, all of us will face a blank sheet of paper. Each of these 15,000 writers will search to find the first word of many to write something that will make you, the reader, think.

Our name tags are the same color at AWP2019 for a reason: under the dome of this conference center we gather together — young, old, famous and not famous —  and learn how to be better writers.

Humbling.

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Billboard on the building across from my hotel room.

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LGBTQ, New Vocabulary, writing

I do not remember ever before feeling such extreme emotions. When I come in contact with the news, or politics, or domestic issues I fight the impulse to hide — behind the shelter of my white skin and safe homes. From all the anger. From the television.

Two nights ago we found a bird’s nest tucked into our Christmas tree. I thought to myself, this is an auspicious sign for the new year ahead. I need that word in my vocabulary right now. I will definitely use auspicious again. We carefully gathered the loose sticks and rested the small wild bundle on the mantle.

The next morning I woke to read that my niece was “safe in lockdown during violent episode at Ohio State.” I had to turn on CNN for the first time since November 11 and try to understand. My heart broke that day for the victims of the knifing and that lovely ambitious first-year college girl I know who will now have to look over her shoulder.

I read the New York Times daily, hoping they can stay the course of censorship. But at the same time when I read today’s news I now doubt the authenticity, question the thoroughness, wonder about the pressures I cannot see as the articles go to print. My writing groups have heavy, hesitant fingers as we wrestle with the effectiveness, racial tones, language and impact of our words. We are reluctant. We are recalcitrant. We are striving to mitigate anger, make sense and at the same time empathize in order to understand the picture before us.

I find I am becoming silent. Until I came face to face with ignorance. As I walked through my town on the coast of Massachusetts the other day, two acquaintances stopped me and laughed.

“Did you lose a button?” they asked, scrutinizing the safety pin on my jacket. I was actually struck silent. After a few words of greeting, I walked away full of anger. It was then I knew I needed a new vocabulary. And I needed to start using it.

I wear a safety pin to indicate I am a safe person, aware that people are sufficiently unsafe in their sexual preferences and appearance everywhere, even here. The incoming administration has made no secret that they believe all equality mandates should be withdrawn. I am purchasing larger safety pins but am I saying what needs to be said to educate, inform and create a safe place? No. I became angry and judgmental. Who does that remind you of?

In two days my world has swung from auspicious to violent, from recalcitrant to empathy, from speechless to this blog. This is a beginning. These will be the words:

Safe. Understand. Listen. Question. Don’t assume. Facts. Tell me. Next time, I will explain LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,Trans and Queer) to my friends when they laugh at the dime store pin on my chest, not go silent in anger. I will chose actions important to humanity, even if it makes  others uncomfortable.

The bird’s nest rests on my mantle to remind me that all worlds collide. To be a humanitarian —  for all creatures, great and small, of any color, in any place — I cannot hide. I am a white middle-aged woman full of words. I will select the ones that count for others. In my mind there is really no other option.

What words will you use?

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New Vocabulary.

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