Day 1 of #AWP11 = much like the rest of my life: Standing by self quietly peoplewatching; stealing candy; reading; watching others drink.
This tweet pretty well summed up my first day at AWP, which so happened to be the second day of the conference; a monster storm thwarted my every attempt to get here Wednesday night.
My first foray into AWP 11 was to attend the Poetry Foundation soiree sans registration. I wore a dummy lanyard that I always carry with me to conferences because you never know. I was to hook up with three grad school classmates to have a drink, catch up and catch the Jhumpa.
Of course my worst fear, as an introvert, was to arrive and find a room full of boisterous strangers. I circled the room and I had to admit it had been years since I’d seen the faces of my grad school friends — Jen. C., Chris M. and Kevin R. And I have what you might call reverse face-blindness. Unlike the malady where one cannot recognize even their close family and friends’ faces, I recognize faces of strangers I met on a train in 1991 in the Netherlands. Oliver Sacks is no so lucky; he suffers from this face blindness as does my favorite Heidegger expert Dr Dreyfus. I recognize people I’ve met once a decade ago through their face; their name to me utterly unreachable. I liked my odds of finding my grad school friends.
They weren’t there.
I grabbed a soda and lime circled the room again and parked myself against the wall at the front of the hall to survey the entire menagerie. Here I could do what I do when alone and unable to engage. I could find no way into any of the conversations around without sounding like a crazy person. “Hi, I really like your teeth.” I fingered my cell phone’s reptilian keys and brought it out to look at its tiny and simple face only to think, oh sure, this is what people do now when alone in a crowd, check the device to confirm you are loved or at the very least “liked” in that Facebook kind of way. The gesture: Oh, I’m justing waiting to hook up with the 24-hour party people. And following this meagre attempt, I dissect the cocktail crowd seeing the Jonathan Franzen-look-a-like; seriously; the roaming gang of ethnically beautiful and drunk Gap models mugging for, wait for it, the digital camera; all of these, none of the we of me, as Frankie says in Carson McCullers’ A Member of the Wedding.
I dialed up Jen and got her dining with my grad school friends at local India restaurant. “Our food is late, I’m sorry,” she said genuinely. “I thought I couldn’t see you here,” I said into the phone indicating my reverse face-blindness. They, the trio of grad students, had been my monster storm focal point, the point in the future I would enjoy should I make it through flight delays and precipitation of biblical proportions. Pregnant women breathing through contractions hold focal points. This future thing was mine, my way of breathing through this interminable now. Jen said something several times. I — what? I couldn’t hear her at all, it sounded like she was saying “Sunday tickets.”
I exited the hall and finally came to understand what she was saying, “Can you get text messages at this number?” I looked at my orange phone as if it had a rotary dial. She could have texted me. Right, seriously why didn’t I think of that.
Fifteen minutes later, sitting alone in one of those lobby chairs that tended to swallow, envelope, you upon sitting down like a snapping dragon chomping down on a bug, my phone chimes.
“In the lobby…where r u?” A text.
“A Poe Party,” I texted back… at pity party? I rose and met them at the Jhumpa Lahiri address and instantly all that had proceeded evaporate the fizz of a soda and lime. I sat with Allison, a dear friend I have known for years, and Jen, and Chris and Kevin and we all faced forward to hear from Jhumpa why she became a writer.
She began to write, Jhumpa says, to reach out to others.
We are the we of me and you the community of writers.
For the perplexed, for the introverts, there are always these monster storms to endure, flights to nervously await perhaps unnecessarily so, until arriving finally at the gate to be received.