February 16, 2009

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them

Five days in the City of the Big Shoulders were not enough.

I began Big Creative Writing conference with earnest intentions. I attended helpful conference sessions like "You Will Never Publish Your Book. Ever. So Don't Even Try" and "Even if Your Book Gets Published, No One Will Buy it." I listened while Witty Guy from Georgia read into a microphone snippets from rejection letters he'd gotten, enhanced with snarky comments that made me think he ought to give up on the novel and become a stand-up comedian. I heard some fantastic readings, some by friends and some by writers I have worshipped from afar. In a cavernous hotel room crowded with editors of small presses and piles of books, I talked with people whose names I know mostly from rejection slips. Of course, at least one editor now thinks I'm some kind of crazy stalker because I couldn't resist asking him to pose naked for my blog.

I tried not to do too much of the hero worshipping thing, but I'll admit that on the way to dinner one night, I carried the heavy bookbag of Feminist Poet for seven blocks, stammering and blushing as I tried to make conversation with her. Of course, my priority at the conference was spending time with old friends. I met up with a bunch of Friendly Green Folk, two of whom stripped naked for my camera. I had lunch with Chicago Friend, whom I hadn't seen in two years, and walked around the city with him while he pointed out landmarks and cool architecture.

I wandered through the Art Museum with Artist Friend, trying to catch up on our lives while simultaneously looking at so many amazing works of art that it was quite overwhelming. We ended up sitting on the carpeted floor in a dark alcove, talking quietly, while a performance poet got naked on the screen in front of us. I had a leisurely meal with Wild Hair and Peace-loving Feminist in a Greek Restaurant that Wild Hair used to come to when with his grandfather in the early 1960s. My favorite moment of that meal was when the little girl behind me accidentally knocked a plate onto the floor, where it broke with a loud crash. Everyone around her burst into applause, a response that startled her at first, but turned her look of guilt into happy laughter.

I had intended to get together with Cool Blogging Friends who live in Midwestern City With Such Great Restaurants, but my efforts were hampered by the exorbitant prices Fancy Conference Hotel was charging for internet access and by a conference that offered about a Dozen Exciting Opportunities in every time slot from 8 am until midnight. In what is possibly the lamest blogging move ever, I didn't even meet up with bloggers who were at the very same conference. The one blogger I did get to spend time with was Maine Blogger Who Coined the Term Canine Naturalist. That's because we were sharing a room. No, she didn't bring the dog.

Every night Maine Blogger would tell me hysterically funny stories about all the crazy people she'd met that day. Like a good blogger, she lapses into pseudonyms without even trying. The man who chatted with her on the airplane remained The Guy Who Sat Next to Me on the Plane for the entire conference: he'll have to publish a damned good book before he gets a new pseudonym. Because Maine Blogger is the editor of a journal, she had to spend much of the conference handcuffed to a table in the book exhibit, where she was able to observe the eccentric behavior of Hungover Writers Who Have Had Way Too Much Coffee and Not Enough Sleep. She herself is an efficient and organized person who made so many strange phone calls to the front desk ("Could you tell me how many bars there are in the building?" and "I have a complaint about the little black book by the phone.") that we are lucky we didn't get kicked out of our room. Athough, come to think of it, that would have made for a good story.

City with lifted head singing


heidi said...

You always have so much fun at conferences!

YourFireAnt said...

I'm impressed. You actually went to a couple sessions.

And your photos are great. Especially the tree one.


word verif: rebillys

Leslie F. Miller said...

Where can I see the naked pictures?

I want real names. It's the one and only thing I can't understand about your blog. I always name names. It's the genre.

I really wanted to go to the conference, but since I had no books yet, and since I'm still a freakin' cripple, I'm home. (But I couldn't have gone anyway, with my daughter performing.)

Sounds like you had a blast. But I do wonder about the "You Will Never Publish Your Book" lecture. I'm glad that's not true. But I'm only glad temporarily, until the bad reviews pour in.

jo(e) said...

I'll probably post the naked photos tomorrow ....

And next year, AWP will be in Denver. You should come and hang out with me and my friends. You can pose naked for my blog!

Anonymous said...

I can’t imagine you stammering and blushing - it’s hard to imagine you any less than your usual confident self. Well, that's what I imagine you are from your writing!

jo(e) said...

Oh, I may have exaggerated a little.

Feminist Poet is actually a warm, friendly person who made me feel comfortable. But still, she's one of my heroes so comparing myself to a schoolboy wanting to carry her books was not that far off at all.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

I love that you asked people who'd written you rejection letters if they'd pose naked for you blog. It's such an emotionally healthy response to rejection letters.

Sandy said...

Too funny! Sounds like you had a blast.

Songbird said...

It sounds quite wonderful, jo(e).

Anonymous said...

Is the title a lyric from a song or something?

jo(e) said...

It's a line from a Carl Sandburg poem about Chicago:


Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Carl Sandburg

jo(e) said...

Eh. Blogger botched the line breaks on the poem. You can google "Carl Sandburg Chicago poem" and find it online though.

kathy a. said...

sounds like a great conference! and at least we got to see naked trees.

Patti said...

The most fun we can have at conferences ffor educators is making fun of the tote bags.

Anonymous said...

How lucky to be able to meet a hero though.

Lovely poem.

BlackenedBoy said...

That sounds like such a fun time. I've never been out there, but maybe I will one day.

Glad you enjoyed yourself.