Chicago is a lovely city. What I noticed mostly is that people look you in the eye in Chicago. And they nod or smile at you. This does not happen in Philadelphia, so it was initially a little disconcerting. But it was also kind of cool.
The conference itself was – well, overwhelming. There were close to 10,000 people in attendance, and I felt socially anxious and claustrophobic the whole time. There is a particular kind of loneliness, too, in being surrounded by so many people. I knew only a small handful of people at the conference, and so while everyone else was squealing with excitement at being reunited with friends and former classmates or professors, I spent most of the conference on my own. It was difficult, since I am very accustomed to being able to access the people I know as I need/want to. Donna was a life-saver, though—it was good to have a real, live person to touch base with every few hours and also good to spend some time with her more than once in a year!
The panels were good (more on those tomorrow, probably), and the attendees at the panels were exactly as I expected them to be: eager, during the Q&A sessions, to impress their intelligence upon everyone in the room by not so much asking a question as offering an unsolicited re-interpretation of the panel’s description.
The bookfair was more difficult for me than I anticipated. There were four very large exhibition halls filled with rows of tables at which were seated editors and interns from presses, magazines, literary journals and writing programs. I intended to visit the editors of journals that have published me. I visited Laura at the Weave table, and she was lovely and gracious (and took a super cute picture of us), and I visited Roxane at the [PANK] table, but she had lost her voice and I felt so awkward standing in front of her awesomeness that I basically acted like a dork and then ran away. Good times. I knew that Boxcar and Tuesday would be there, and that Kristy Bowen was having an open studio on Saturday, but I never made it to any of those due to crippling social anxiety and self-doubt. I am still kicking myself. And I should have thought harder about looking to see if Toad, Linebreak or Blood Lotus was there. And talking to editors that haven’t published me? Oh God, forget it. I felt I couldn’t get it together: what do I have to offer you, an editor, if you’re not holding my poem in your hand and deciding whether or not it sucks? I have a hard time taking up space with people that I think probably have more important things to do.
I never realized before how socially awkward I really am.