Last week I attended the Association of Writing Programs (AWP) conference held this year in Portland, Oregon. I attended my share of classes and panels, readings and social events. For the first time I felt like I was part of the writing community, and not an imposter. This post sums up my notes and thoughts from the overall experience. Which, turns out, aligned well with things I am working out on a personal level, too. Thanks for reading.
Our bodies link us to the world. To each other. Life is richer when we feel comfortable in our own skin.
At AWP this year I noticed a theme—the body: the actual body, the written body, how the body informs our words (and vice-versa), the sexual body, the queer body, and so on. And yeah, there were a lot of themes coursing through the conference. But I noticed this one because it resonated strongly with me. With what I need right now, apparently.
On day #2, someone told me there were nearly 15,000 of us in attendance. An army of writer-types, of creative bodies squeezing together through congested walkways between classes. Touching shoulders, feeling warmth through stranger’s sweaters, offering apologies for unexpected contact, and then looking for a rare/quiet place where we might release our building social anxiety and regroup before again entering the throes. I met one extrovert at the show. One. And a self-proclaimed one, no less. She was not a writer. Just someone hired to draw milling introverts to her employer’s booth. She was good at her job.
My souvenir, a scribbled mess of notes that strangely flow together. A mess of hurried blurbs and quotes I didn’t want to forget and yet now have trouble transcribing. Who said this or that profound and transcending thing? I can’t be sure. But how it all made me feel still stokes the fire in my belly. So much that I want to ingest it all again. Take it back into this body of mine that often feels like a separate piece of me. An other.
But this year at AWP, all this talk of the body brought me strangely closer to myself.
Someone at a craft talk said all the stories of our body are information, and if we can’t (or don’t) use that information, we may not be able to tell our full story.
Which is to say, we cannot separate ourselves from the container holding all 5 liters of our warm, red blood inside of us.
Still, when I think of my body, I wonder if there’s a better version somewhere else. A future body that’s thinner. Without knee problems. One that runs 5 miles without pain. I wonder if there’s one that’s more focused, less caffeinated, more dietarily committed. I wonder if there’s a more handsome body in my future story. One that—now that I am single again—might draw another’s piqued attention. That sort of body. Maybe one with more defined muscles. A flat stomach from all the sit-ups I intend to do. Curvy biceps from the pull-ups I promise to work on. A body without bumps on my face. Or a sore tooth. One with a better posture, a virile sexual prowess, and a mind that sees all the angles before opening my big fat mouth.
But my tomorrow body, no matter how it might change, is my today body, too. This is something I want to reconcile.
Someone’s words from a panel: Your body is part of the experience. It is the lens. And you must put it on the line. They said there is no separation between me, another version of myself, and all the other possible iterations of my body.
My body—this me—is the me that will always be. No more, no less. There is no other.
Ross Gay, a human I revere because when I read his work I feel like everything is going to be OK, asked, “How do we elevate and grow that which is common to us?”
For example, our bodies.
How do we celebrate our today body with pure delight? With tenderness.
We are all aging together. Changing together. We are all, right now, dying together. We must recognize and hold onto this intimacy. All bodies deserve our compassion. Other peoples’ bodies, sure, but also our own.