Kim Addonizio plays a mean harmonica. That was yesterday’s highlight, poets and fiction writers putting words to music and me, sitting there, listening, wishing I hadn’t given up on that damn clarinet so fast. Or that guitar.
They started playing together when they were all teaching together somewhere, Kim explains. “It was the music cabin,” she says.
This, it seems to me, is what unnerves me about AWP. Home alone writing, exchanging emails with my five or six writing friends, the world is manageable, a world where hope you might one day have a book published seems possible. Here, amongst 10,000? 11? two things become very clear 1) everyone has a book they want you to read or publish or buy or love or all of the above, and 2) there is a world of intricately connected writers of which you are not part.
It’s high school all over again. Except this time around, I have someone to eat lunch with and I don’t mean to downplay Rebecca’s presence because she anchors me in the world that is mostly my world — the world of motherhood, of a day job that isn’t in a university’s MFA program, the world of TJ Maxx and dogs we love and husbands who call us to see how it’s going here.
But you do feel a little left out. As if, somewhere along the line, you took a turn you imagined every other writer took and, instead, they veered the opposite way and stayed for the party.
The day I walked out of the creative writing department at Boston University after registering, I met Don sitting on a step. Was he waiting to go in? I don’t remember, only that we started talking and then, we became inseparable, We met every Monday morning before Derek Walcott’s class to exchange anxiety dreams. I drove him to the few parties we had in my beat up Chevy Citation. After George Starbuck’s afternoon workshop, we walked down Comm Ave together to get on a green line train. Once, in the pouring rain, we forged ahead, Don with his black backpack and glasses, me with my growing insecurities that I wasn’t quite cut out for this poetry thing. As the rain lashed us, he said: “It’s times like these that make me wish I didn’t write in felt tip.” That’s what friends do, right? They bring you out of a cold dark place and remind you of one absurdity or another.
The last day of class, we met in Harvard Square. It had been a difficult year for me, an odd year for us all, to be plucked out of the real world and deposited here. To adapt, we had done things we had to mull over in the clear light of a Cambridge day. And who else would we have spoken to about these things? We were each other’s natural first choice.
Long story short: We lost touch. Again, I moved into the next thing which didn’t revolve around writing, but Don hung around.
Yesterday, I visited the booth of his literary magazine at the book fair. It is perennially amongst the most popular stops at the fair as it should be. The woman there told me he would probably not be by. “He’s very in demand,” she said. And I said, “Of course,” wondering what we did to end that day in Cambridge — in which direction he walked, in which direction I did.