Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wordstock Moment #2

Afternoon and the convention halls are quiet. I’ve chosen to occupy the opposite end of the center, away from all the writers who love to talk. I want to write today. A few whispering women pass by on their way to the restroom, also on my end of the hall. I’m sitting in the “Laptop Lounge”, a cool name for an area with little stools, a long shelf and plugs in the wall. My back is to the hall. I get to face a dark blue wall for inspiration. At least my back is turned, allowing me to avoid all eye contact and feel alone. I like to be alone when I write. But I’m not alone. The bright recessed lighting overhead casts a hard shadow of my own hand writing on paper. My shadow is always there – but usually it contains itself better. I can’t seem to escape the smell of coffee. As much as I try to avoid grouping people and making blanket statements, I’m beginning to hypothesize that the one common thread among writers, beyond the love of words, is drinking coffee. I smell it now, I smelled it this morning, and no doubt its scent will linger through the early evening seminars. The tingling in my left leg also won’t leave me alone. These stools would be more comfortable for a tall person but I’m shrinking. At five foot three my legs dangle, my clogs sway like a heavy pendulum. There’s also an incessant hum coming from the hundreds of writers and dentists, here for completely different conventions. Can’t say the curious writer in me hasn’t considered crashing the Dental Convention, I mean, what can they all be talking about? Certainly floss techniques can’t take up that much time. The dentists have large bright blue badges granting them access to Exhibit Hall B. So for now, I’ll have to forgo learning the secret world behind Orthodontics. I’m worried I’m wasting my time. It’s ticking. A full time teaching job looms on the horizon and I have to decide. Make the jump or miss the train. Do I follow my non-income producing writing career – or go back to what I know, what I am good at? How much to I commit, to either one? I’ve had this same conundrum my entire life. In Junior High and High School I couldn’t decide on what extra-curricular activity to do, so I did them all, almost literally: drama, student council, volleyball, soccer, cheerleading, yearbook. I even tried softball, girls basketball, golf and to my dismay, track. My Dad told me it was my responsibility to quite being soccer captain because I’d missed many games due to being in drama performances. The volleyball coach said I could not do so much and had to choose. I quit volleyball that year, avoided that coach and took on a new position as student representative on the school board. I can never decide what I want to “do” – so I do it all and if you look at my track record, you’d see I don’t do it all so well. As I look back I realize it’s the same now. So as long as no volleyball coach approaches me and forces me to remove something from my plate, I won’t. I’ll go on binging on what I love and do, do, do. Perhaps that explains my coffee addiction. The ample air conditioning in the convention center delivers wafts of warm espresso directly to me in the Laptop Lounge. I need to get off this stool, shake out my fallen asleep numb leg and go before my next class begins. I turn around and see directly behind me is a “meditation room”. It’s for the dentists. I feel shunned and that there’s just something inappropriate about that. The meditation room should be for the writers. As I look down the hallway, back to the domain where I belong, I see two coffee carts. Crowds are pouring out of the double-doors to a stuffy convention center room, one class is getting out, and another will begin shortly, mine. Maybe I’ll grab a coffee on the way. This writing convention has been lovely. I’ve learned some, listened plenty, and browsed the publishers booth’s, editors stations, small book promoters… but I still feel like a voyeur peeking into a world to which I don’t exactly belong, yet.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Wordstock Writers Conference

Moment #1 10:00 a.m. I’m sitting in a row of tightly packed convention chairs, cozy in my hat, sweater and jeans. The presenter tells us all to look around and be here now, so I have to stop deliberating over the necessity of another coffee or not and focus. The first place I look is up, cause whoever looks there? There could be a suspended monkey cage above me and I’d not notice, well, maybe if I’d had that other coffee I would. The ceiling is from the seventies, all squares and recessed lighting. It’s morning but the lighting glow is like that you’d find in a Vegas Casino where you can’t tell the time. The floor confirms my hypothesis of the seventies time frame, covered in bright blue, red and gold geometric shapes that made me dizzy when I walked in. To my right are two men who are totally different from one another. But what catches my attention first is that the man furthest to the fabric covered wall is drinking coffee and I’m envious. I love coffee – but I’m trying to cut back. The grey haired man to my immediate right is nice. I place this judgment upon him because he complimented my hat. I like hats – not so much as coffee. Maybe that’s why I was dizzy walking in this morning, my coffee diet is backfiring. On my left sit rows and rows of people, not two among them are similar. I’m finding this out about writers, we’re all so unique. A quick glance over them and what catches my eye is an older man with worn Cowboy boots, a ginger-haired woman with a matching orange toned dress, and a woman with purple hair – so much braver than me. I had a hot pink streak that faded over the summer before I turned back into a teacher in September. There’s a sparkling turquoise scarf in front of me, around the neck of a brunette – but I’m liking the scarf. A black and white scarf graces the long neck of the salt and pepper haired lady in front of the brunette. A visitor to the area would think the room is full of scarf-lovers. But really, we’re just Portlanders – scarves are a natural response to our Northwestern weather. Behind me, a cough, a typewriter is being tapped upon and papers being shuffled. Not enough coffee in me to waste energy turning around to look. But we’re supposed to look, even beyond our stuffy little room with a high ceiling. I’m in Portland Oregon, tucked behind a blanket of clouds in the Northwest corner of the U.S. of A. Martin Luther King Junior brought me here, the street, not the person, this isn’t fiction. I passed two Starbuck on the way here and three coffee stations inside the convention center. They sell food too, but I’m focusing on caffeine this morning. The convention center sits across the Willamette River from downtown Portland with a backdrop of forested hills. If I was outside, it would be a beautiful view, especially since our psychotic weather has decided to clear. It’s probably changed its mind a few times and showered off and on since the last time I glimpsed outside was over an hour ago. I like the unpredictability of fall in Portland. Its wind and colors entertain me, like the woman with purple hair. I’d like to thank her for adding tannin to the bland palate life sometimes presents us with. But I try to retain, or control, or withhold – that overt friendliness that puts others in an uncomfortable position. When I don’t, I’ve learned that people don’t particularly like to be loved by a stranger. I can like their hat, their butterfly clips wreathing their hair or their scarf – but when I walk up and say to an older couple, “I love the way you two interact, I’ve been watching you,” they tend to back away, slowly, with a half-smile and a nervous giggle. Like that parent at school who wasn’t as enthusiastic as I that we shared a childhood town – he didn’t know me, he wasn’t a parent of one of my own students, he probably had no idea how I knew where he grew up. Again, strange looks happen when I can’t contain my joy. I want to touch on a personal subject, get straight to the pulp, to the meat of another soul. Life’s too short for small talk or to talk about the weather, especially in PDX where it’s probably changed in the past five minutes into five different seasons anyway. A friend warned me once that my personal attention could be mistaken as attraction. Of course, that was at a bar, and it’s my solemn vow to befriend every bartender, anywhere. But I am attracted. I see the unique good in all. I love people… still, not more than coffee… and words. I love words. Maybe I’ll contain myself better now that I’m on decaf. Then again – the presenter doesn’t seem walled in by the majority of the population acting as if it’s taken a large dose of Xanax. Her slender figure seems packed with energy. She even hopped. Hopped – as in, up and down, so excited she was to divulge the secrets of writing. I like that energy. It brings vibrancy to her brown eyes, something her black framed glasses can’t hide. That spirit makes her outfit, not the wrap around black sweater, jeans and loose bun; the pep is what brings my attention to her. Also the fact that I’m a very good student and don’t want to miss anything. This is hard to do when I’m distracted by the man two seats over well not actually the man, but his coffee. The nutty smell reminds me of my craving. I want to taste it on my tongue, not the remnant of Crest toothpaste. It’s also distracting that my ass is falling asleep. These metal chairs are disguised with fabric; there is no padding that I can feel. The presenter insists we call her Jennifer – but I’d grown up with old fashioned parents and I want to call her Mrs. Something or other. She’s talking now, low-toned, pulling our attention back to her, back to the seven secrets that will improve our writing. I look up and see she’s looking in my direction, not a demanding look. She wants us to finish and not to miss anything. Here, in this uninspiring room, in this conventional setting, among tired souls and dull lighting, I am overjoyed that someone else finds this as exciting as I. If I had more caffeine, I’d hop. For now, my joy swirls inside – maybe someday I can share it, like Jennifer is now. For now, I wiggle in my hard seat, shuffle the tote at my feet, inhale the scent of my neighbor’s coffee and listen. I have enough energy for that.