--I AM STILL LEARNING THE ART OF OBSCENITY
...Writing mirrors life as much, if not more so, than any other vocation.
When you spend four days with 12,000 strangers you feel less like a writer and precisely like water—sluicing without bones, turning see-through, leaking all over yourself, becoming slippery, in search of a quiet place to pool and stay out of reach.
Darting in and out of a mass of humanity that large (and chaotic) makes you feel insignificant to a degree, but--cup half full--you tell yourself it’s encouraging, this stampede of writers, because that means stories and books are as important as ever, maybe even more so.
When you see your writing idols you should try not to stare at them as if they are naked. When you meet them you should attempt not to drool or convulse or stutter (I failed at this a few times). You should try to realize that, like rock stars and movie stars, writing idols use the restroom just like you, doing the same things there that you do. Even Joyce Carol Oates.
If you are wise, you ask good questions. You listen more than talk. You are friendly and as engaging as you can be in such circumstances. You do not waste time (I failed at this as well). You realize you will not remember dozens of different moments happening to you as they occur and so you have paper and pen at the ready and you write down why those moments are special so that later you can retrieve your scraps of paper and go, Ah, yeah, that's right, and then maybe you think to shoot a note to the person who inspired you to take down that note in the first place.
Passionate people are emotional people, and it’s smart to remember that, to not judge if someone is giddy or teary or a tad on the loud side, if maybe it even seems as if they are trying to show off. Sometimes what seems like rudeness, aloofness or a curt manner just means that that person is shy or intimidated or exhausted, or perhaps all of these.
It is important to be supportive yet honest. It helps to smile. To make eye contact. To keep your fucking phone in your pocket while you are conversing.
Asking good questions is harder than you might think, but it's likely more valuable than you might appreciate. You can learn an incredible amount about a person when you ask about their upbringing, their childhood, their (writing) life, what fears they have about that life, what frustrations and joys, what they've accomplished and have yet to.
The person who had the greatest impact on my life once said: “Twice a day, for thirty seconds, find someone and tell them how important they are to you and why.” That’s some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten and I try to do that as much as possible, though on this I have again failed from time to time.
I've found that writers are, by and large, kind people. Maybe all people are kind people. But not all people are introverts, insecure yet bold enough to share their art and confessions with throngs of attentive aliens. Not all people will sit up straight when hearing a sentence such as this: "The ocean whispers like a green silk dress." Not all people will struggle not to cry when they hear a story of sexual abuse read aloud by a writer who is like a brother to them.
I don’t love writers because I’m a writer, but I love writers because they are a lot like me. It’s like belonging to a tribe, even if it’s a 12,000 person clan and you might only know one tenth of those folks. We're a quirky lot, diverse to be sure, moody yet inventive, always scribbling and swooning over new pages.
While I was in Minneapolis I kept running into heroes. They were more plentiful than Starbucks at the airport, or here, in downtown Seattle. I suppose it would be akin to someone who loves Marvel and DC comics attending a Comic Con fair. These were some of the Supermen and Superwomen I was lucky enough to talk with: Mike Joyce, Michael Seidlinger, Jim Ruland, Scott Waldyn, Deanna Arvans, Brandi Wells, Jessamyn Smith, Gay Degani, Kathy Fish, Matt Bell, Kim Barnes, Chantal Corcoran, Lori Ostlund, Doriana Lareua, Julie Dernoff Larson, Teri Lee Kline, Larissa Shmailo, Anna March, Anna Short, Antonia Crane, Kim Chinquee, Rae Bryant, xTx, Roxane Gay, Casey Hannan, Joseph Quintela, Zoe Zolbrod, Wendy Ortiz, Krista Madsen, Shaindel Beers, Bill Yarrow, Richard Peabody, Gessy Alvarez, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Sam Snoek-Brown, Ben Tanzer, Dane Bahr, Sean Doyle, Jane Aegerter Marshall, Ellen Bass, as well as these very special people: Robert Vaughan, Meg Tuite, Karen Stefano, Robert P. Kaye and Sara Lippmann.
I probably forgot a lot of people. Brain cells were dropped on the floor there, like dandruff when you run your fingers through your hair. The nights started early and ended early in the early morning. Some people got drunk and silly, but it was a good silly-drunkeness, and most importantly, no one judged.
My plane there took off three hours late. We sat on the tarmac the whole time. That allowed me to read an entire book, Lidia Yuknovich’s “Dora: A Headcase” which was really good.
The plane was loaded with writers, all of us headed to Minneapolis. No one complained the entire time. The plane crew felt very bad and were sincere in their apologies, even humorously mocking themselves many times. It was a frustrating few hours, but a testimony to the goodness of people, their patience and acceptance.
I guess I learned more about people than writing this trip, and that’s okay, that’s really good actually. I always want to be a better person than I am, and few things are more helpful than seeing your flaws lit up and reflected in the good qualities of others.
Here are some quotes I heard during my four day stretch that I rather liked:
“The greatest work of art is to love someone.” Vincent Van Gogh
“Greif can be its own kind of art.” Laura Orem
“Sweat is emotion’s best dialogue.” Tim Jones-Yelvington
“Regret is a great emotion because it teaches us.” Ben Percy
“We all have our box of quivering shame.” Antonia Crane
“Violets have a lesbian streak.” Cate Dicharry“So much good has come to the world when people have said, ‘Fuck this shit.’” Ben Percy