I'm back at last from the AWP conference in Chicago. I like Chicago, because it is the site of the Art Institute (of Chicago), Nordstrom Rack, and a number of excellent restaurants, but I wish it wasn't always snowing there. It's my fault, I know, for always going there at the wrong time of year. I think I've been six or seven times, and there's always some extreme weather situation. At least I got a chance to wear the hat and gloves again, because New Orleans has given up all pretense of winter. The azaleas are blooming, and everyone pretends that a day in the mid-50s is chilly.
This was my fifth AWP conference. I don't really enjoy going to them, though the book fair can be OK, if ovewhelming. And now we take four students from Tulane every year, and that makes it seem a little more exciting. This year's conference was held in the downtown Hilton, which has a kind of very shabby grandeur. I had a big room overlooking the lake. Because the king bed I'd booked (last summer, at a special low rate) wasn't available when I checked in, I was given a room with two large beds and two bathrooms. I only needed one of each, and felt slightly guilty and depressed overhearing this conversation in the jammed elevator.
Man 1: How many people in YOUR room?
Man 2: Three.
Man 1: Do you have one of the rooms with two bathrooms?
Man 2: No. But it's OK. [Pause] This is the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in.
Recorded poetry, with accompanying animated visuals, played on the small TV screen in each elevator. A word to poets: try and read your work so it doesn't sound as though you're living alone in the woods during a particularly grueling Scandinavian winter, with only a collection of Bergman DVDs to cheer yourself up.
The conference program is a large, heavy book-length tome, but my eagle-eyes spotted the words "New Zealand", and I duly trooped along to the panel in question. It was about writing associations in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and it was quite interesting. Afterwards I waited around to talk to the New Zealand panelist. "You're Paula, aren't you?" she said. "I thought I recognized you!"
An aside: one of my students, the very talented Sara Tobin, told me that she'd met some New Zealanders somewhere and asked them if they'd heard of me. They had not. She was very disappointed, she said, because she'd convinced herself that in New Zealand I was "like Oprah." I told her that I was, indeed, like Oprah, and that these New Zealanders she'd met were just foolish and ignorant people. I am sort of like Oprah, because I too would like my own magazine (which I would call P, of course), featuring an intricately airbrushed me on the cover every month, and filled with my wisdom and experiences and tips, eg "The All-Biscuit Diet", and "Airlines You Should Boycott", and "Films and TV Shows That Feature Rupert Penry-Jones", etc.
Anyway, when this panelist recognized me, I thought (for one brief moment of insanity) that maybe, just maybe, she had read my books. Think again!
NZ Panelist: I remember seeing you at the Auckland Festival.
Me (affecting modesty): Oh yes!
NZP: You write for the Listener, don't you?
Me: Er, yes
NZP: And do you get home to New Zealand very often?
Me: Well, I've been invited to the festival again this year. And last year I was home for six months because I was the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellow. And my new book was coming out.
NZP: Are you still writing for the Listener?
Me: Er ... I just did the Toni Morrison review.
Sometimes I think that the Listener should pay me more, because I am an international ambassador. But now I'm beginning to think that I should pay the Listener, given that this association appears to be my main claim to fame.
Trying to correct this grievous state of affairs is the wise and generous Grendel over at Earthgoat, who has just interviewed me about my work - i.e. the stuff I do when I'm not appearing in the Listener.
Late-breaking news: I've just heard from Bookman Beattie that Forbidden Cities is shortlisted in its region for the Commonwealth Prize.
Today I was in the kitchen, making a cup of tea, and I
noticed one of TM’s tea towels hanging over by the pantry: it was bought in the
Lake District two years ago, and features a certain daffodils-related poem by
W. Wordsworth. I read these lines: “For oft, when on my couch I lie/In vacant
or in pensive mood …”
And I thought: lying around on my couch being vacant or
pensive? I want to go to there.
This is really an apologia, an explanation for why I haven’t
posted in ages. It’s because I’m afraid. Afraid that if I post, my numerous
persecutors will see the post, and begin to seethe. So that’s what’s she’s up to, they’ll cry. She’s
writing blog posts!
When she should be writing author bios, an introduction,
chapters of someone else’s book, essay revisions, references, emails,her annual report, comments on
students’ work, class plans, book reviews, grant applications, residency
applications, award applications, lecture descriptions, an outline for a novel,
a story for an anthology. When she should be reading pages from honors theses,
reading journals, other people’s essays, competition stories, anthology
stories, journal stories, books for class, books by visiting writers, books for the reading project, books to review, the manuscript proof of her YA novel.
By the way, nearly all of the above are things I have had to
do in the last month, or still have to do right now, or will have to complete
within the next few weeks.
One of the most frustrating things is when I work myself
into the ground to get something finished and sent off, and then get one of
these responses. Thanks: we’ll read this when we get back from vacation in
three weeks. Thanks: we’ll get to this after the long weekend. Thanks: we’ve
changed our mind about this and it is no longer a rush/a priority/something
we’ll need this year/something we’ll ever need. Thanks: we’re cutting this to a
hundred words/publishing it online only/holding this for some future emergency,
when words dry up and cockroaches rule the earth. Thanks: we didn’t actually
need this for another three months, but we wanted to make sure we had
everything in hand with plenty of time to spare, so we could lie around the
office on couches, enjoying vacant and/or pensive moods.
Worst of all is total silence. This is usually from the
people who’ve been writing demanding emails of the IF YOU DON’T SEND IT NOW
YOU’RE DEAD TO US variety. That’s when I sit around fretting, checking my
Outbox (yes, the document was sent), checking my voicemail at home, at work, and
on my cell (no, they didn’t call), wondering if they’re in lots of meetings, or
if they’ve been fired, or if the “it is no longer a rush/priority/something we
need” answer applies. Wondering if they’re sitting around in their offices,
outraged and disappointed. So this is all
she could come up with, is it?
In case any of my persecutors are reading this, which they
probably are, thinking about how busy they
are, etc, and how they wish they had
time to write a blog post, then let me say this: I know everyone is busy. And I
know that most of them are nice and reasonable people, most of the time. But
it’s just when they form a menacing taniwha-like mass, risingup out of the sea to gobble me, launching
their threatening and impatient emails like slings/arrows, etc, it becomes
overwhelming. They know that I always deliver. Always. Always. Always. They don’t
have to play so rough.
All this has been complicated over the last nine days by the
sudden disappearance of all the folders in Entourage, my email program, and the
fact that only today – eight days after I requested Tech Support – was I
contacted with the vague promise of help on its way.
T. Middy is the voice of reason, as ever. He says I need to
say no more often. (Except to him, of course. He has terrible troubles of his
own right now – his poor father is in hospital with a fractured skull.)
So here’s the deal. After I clear through this mountain of
deadlines and demands – hopefully by early March – I will only say yes to the
following: things that involve me getting money (sooner rather than later); me
getting glory (or at least promoting a book or two); or me going out for
cocktails. That way I’ll have time to be vacant and pensive, to enjoy “that
inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude.”