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.