I know these are things writers should — no, must — do: write every day, read more, edit meticulously, read more, eat rejection and shit out art, read more, attend conferences. Keep your anxiety tucked in. People may notice you’re weird and lumpy but you’re an artist. Eccentricity may be acceptable.
Our local writing conference is two days of workshops and networking. I tend to opt out on the networking part, but I have friends among the crowd. This year I focused mostly on craft workshops dealing with subjects like voice, short nonfiction, dialogue, dystopian sci-fi and grotesque poetry. I also took the Sunday “master class” program with writer Steven Barnes.
Overall, I came away from the experience better than I came in. By the time I left Saturday I was quiet and overloaded. My mood tanked later that night. I was toeing the edge again. Here I am, damn near 32 years old working a minimum wage job still chasing some pipe dream of being a relevant and functional human being. I’m so desperate that I wasted $130-something of my family’s grocery money to indulge in this conference at something I’m pretty sure I’m not even that great at. Jesus, I’m an asshole. I’m a drain on my whole family.
I ate a sleeve of cookies and went to bed early. I dreamed I was hanging from the magnolia tree in my front yard. It wasn’t unusual. I woke congested and burping stomach acid, my mood unaltered.
I wasn’t going to go Sunday morning. My husband started poking me in the face around 5 a.m. “Are you going to get up? You know you need to go, right? You’re going to go, right?” I didn’t want to talk about it. I left three hours early and hung out at a McDonalds drinking coffee until my friend woke up.
“Too early,” She said. “You texted me way too early.” She’s wired the way I used to be, the way I work best. But I’m not who I’ve always been, nearly 32 and bipolar, grudgingly retrained so I wake up and don’t piss on the rug in the office.
I said little. We settled in. My eyes were red and I kept them closed a lot. I begged allergies.
Barnes started the presentation with a motivational speech. There was a part of my brain that was challenging him — say what you want, but it won’t apply to me — but my glasses were off and my eyes were closed. I told my friends I had a sinus headache.
I cried. I cried a lot while the guy spoke. He was talking about his experiences as a kid, as an artist. He talked about that place in your brain where you go when you realize that you’d rather die than continue on the diminished course you’re on.
He was a kid being chased by bullies and I am an adult being pummelled by myself. I was still in that same place. I’d told my husband I was going to burn everything. We’d turn my office into a playroom for the girls. He reacted the best he could. It’s not the first time I’d said that. Then I’d dreamed of hanging and thought it was no better or no worse than any of my other plans. If I give this up, I’m not going to be me anymore and I don’t want to live as someone else.
While I may not be the wide-awake zen writer that Barnes was looking for when he talked to our workshop group Sunday, I needed to hear what he had to say. If there’s one thing I took away from this year’s conference it’s that I’m not giving up. I may not be where I want to be, but I am who I want to be. I’m fucked up and oversensitive and awkward but I’m not the only one. I’ll leave my heart in everything I write and hopefully someday my tribe will find me.