Writers are people, too. But then so are felons, you might say.
Writers are human and awkward and not at all transparent, though some are, of course.
Sometimes we (writers) like to think we have thick, alligator suitcase skin, a carapace of sorts, because, well, that’s quite necessary for survival in a “field” like ours where rejection is as common as Seattle rain.
But the truth is, our skin is, more often than not, thinner than the shrillest French crepe. We are easily embarrassed. We’re sensitive and moody and self-conscious, even when we shouldn’t be, even if, say, we find ourselves surrounded by a brood of 8,000 like-minded creatures.
Being encapsulated with so many other writers should make us feel emboldened, somewhat spiritual even. Instead we roam the convention center and hotel lobbies like stilted zombies, eyes usually averted. We check our phones in order to avoid conversation. We hold our phone to our face and fake-laugh out loud so someone else passing by might think we have friends who are funny.
And yet, alone together, in a small cluster, maybe two steps from loopy, there’s a crack of lightning. A seam opens up and we allow the unfiltered light to hit us. We strip off our protective clothing and actually let our fucking hair down—we allow ourselves to become vulnerable with each other. And it’s okay. It’s more than that. It feels kind of nice, really nice actually, to be able to speak our individual truths about whatever comes to mind, without having to worry about recriminations.
In those moments of togetherness, we are no longer awkward aliens. We sit across from each other anxious to hear what the other thinks and they readily tell us and it feels like authentic kinship.
We give our answers to questions not worrying if they are sharp and witty and fulfilling. We talk about why we’re writers and what it is we write about. Some of us have had bad childhoods or destructive marriages. Some of us aren’t sure about very much and so our writing is a search, a wish to discover—to find ourselves or that deep blank space we carry around in the pit of our soul.
We do all this one short step at a time and as we do we realize how safe we feel, how accepted we are in the way twins or lovers might feel with one another. We share our sacred passion of literature and it binds us in a way that would be challenging to describe to anyone who is not a writer.
And when all this happens, the skies do not part, no New York agent taps us on the shoulder saying, “Been meaning to tell you, you’ve got mad skills and I’d love to represent you if you have a manuscript sitting in a drawer somewhere.”
No, sometimes the breakthroughs take time, but most always trust is given and reciprocated. And when that occurs, you kick back in a chair. You no longer give a goddamn. Not for a few minutes or few hours anyway, because this is AWP and in this moment, you are not the bizarre ugly duckling you often feel you are, but rather a writer with stories and dreams, the same as anyone else, though your stories and dreams are different.
And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s close to perfect.