It might seem to my readers that I was on vacation last week. It's true that I did manage to spend a good amount of time wandering parks and museums. And I ate the most fantastic meals. The first night in the city, my sister took me to a restaurant that advertised "Asian food for the sophisticated vegan." I'm vegan and she's sophisticated, so that made the restaurant a perfect match for us. Then Ianqui took me to a place that served great "vegan comfort food" and Sarah Sometimes took me to a Mexican restaurant that made the best vegan burrito I've ever had. The night I ate out with a group of Friendly Green Folk (which is what I call my colleagues from Friendly Green Conference), I had pasta with a deliciously spicy marinara sauce. The best part is that repeatedly I ate in restaurants that offered vegan desserts. I had chocolate cake three times in one week.
But I wasn't on vacation. In between eating great food and exploring Big City Like No Other, I was attending conference sessions, going to poetry readings, and networking with colleagues. And Friendly Green Conference had a table at the book exhibit, so I had to work a few shifts at the table. "Working a shift" in this instance means taking advantage of the free wireless in the room to post some stuff to my blog.
The huge conference hotel had very peculiar characteristics. For example, there were little televisions in every elevator, so that we all had to keep watching CNN whether we wanted to or not. One British colleague kept saying, "How very American." I don't think she meant it as a compliment. The second night, my roommate and I kept talking about how strange it was that the maze-like first floor didn't have a restaurant in it. "You would think a hotel this size would," Fire Ant kept saying. "And yet, I don't even smell food."
That's why it was very peculiar, the next day, as she and I were walking through same first floor of the the very same hotel, to come across a huge restaurant, filled with people eating lunch, complete with the smell of roast beef and the clink of silverware. "Where did this whole restaurant come from?" she said. "It wasn't here before." Really, it was much like a Harry Potter novel. Other things began to appear after that: gift shops, escalators, even a parking garage. And no, we weren't drinking at all.
The conference was attended by all kinds of writers, including swarms of MFA kids, mostly about the age of my daughter, who sat in clumps on the floor of the lobby with their laptops, and who crowded into sessions with titles like "How to Get Your Novel Published" even though the titles should have been more like "You Will Never Get Your Novel Published Unless You Start Sucking Up to Editors Now." I met several bloggers, including Susan from ReadingWritingLiving, who gave a really wonderful talk.
Many of the sessions I attended were filled with graceful and poised older women, who wore flowing skirts, long scarves, dangling jewelry. Fabric swayed as they talked. I've often thought that maybe I would turn into one of those women as I got older, but I'm 46 now, and I still dress more like the MFA kids. Jeans are so much easier than skirts. And I talk so much with my hands that I think I'd get tangled in all them scarves and long necklaces. I did make a vow that when my hair turns completely grey, I'll grow the layers long so that I look like Sharon Olds. Her long silver hair looked just gorgeous under the chandelier lights as she read.
At a session filled with Friendly Green Folk talking about the future of the environmental essay, Crazy-Hair Clarinet Player, who claimed that his talk was pretty much a "low end book report," read quotes from various nature writers. It's possible he watched way too much Saturday Night Live as a teenager, because he could not resist doing imitations of each writer he mentioned. The disappointing moment came when he referred, in his conclusion, to a scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean and failed to follow up with an imitation of Johnny Depp. "It's not that I can't do a good Jack Sparrow imitation," he explained later. "It's that I couldn't find a worthwhile quote."
The conference was great, but I can spend only so much time inside a big hotel. There were no windows in the conference rooms, and the big ballrooms were decorated in Poseidon Adventure motif, which just added to the sense of doom that would pervade the audience as an editor would explain why he no longer even bothers to look at unsolicited manuscripts. On the last morning of the conference, I sneaked out early to take a walk to Park in the Middle of the Universe, where I followed curving paths, listened to the sound of kids ice skating, saw a man happily feeding the ducks next to a sign that said "Do Not Feed the Birds or Other Wildlife," watched horse-drawn carriages go by, and stopped to listen to an old man playing a saxophone.