No Sleep At All
I had an early morning flight from Atlanta. My wife and my baby dropped me off and I kissed them both thinking, like I always do, What if this is the last time I say goodbye to them, because I’m weird and morbid like that.
Near my gate I spotted some old friends, because this was going to be AWP, so of course the only people on the flight would be other writers. Let me be clear: these are old friends who aren’t so much friends anymore. We’re now acquaintances. How we came to be acquaintances as opposed to friends is another story, but let’s say this: the entirety of my AWP experience could be summed up in this opening encounter: see woman I have not seen in near five years. She’s gripping a bagel, the bagel filled with two-plus inches of cream cheese, all of it oozing out the sides. Somewhere in there on the bagel there’s something that looks like what could be called smoked salmon. I’m saying, “How are you? It’s so good to see you!” Meantime she’s just taken a bite of this thing and she’s chewing, so like the jackass I am I say something totally embarrassing like, “Oh my god, I ask you that just as you’re stuffing your face.” I’m not kidding. That’s how tactless I am. I immediately regret saying this. I’m thinking I just told a woman that she’s stuffing her face. It didn’t even phase this woman. She responded and went right on talking, her bagel-and-cream-cheese-filled mouth and all, leaking cream cheese-saliva material out of her mouth’s corners where it gathered and split into strings when her syllables required a more open mouth. And it turns out this woman didn’t even remember my name.
It was a long but direct flight and when I landed in Seattle I wanted nothing more than to grab my bags and get the hell out of there for—hopefully—a quiet bar. This is what I’ve come to: I don’t really like people all that much. I like the idea of them, and I like them around me, but I don’t like talking to or engaging with them. That’s why I like bars where I feel comfortable working. I can open my computer, open MS Word, dork out on my imagined friends, and forget about everyone else, all while at the same time real people are there, a din in the background. But, alas, my old friends were taking the train, like me, into downtown.
The weird thing was that it was nice to be with these old friends. The old allegiances had not swayed. We seemed genuinely interested in each other’s lives in the way that old friends can do that. You’ve had old friends. You know. The day was sunny and clear, what the fuck, Seattle. Mount Rainier shot into the sky like an enormous popped zit.
But before we got on that train we had to wait in line to buy tickets and everyone in that line was going to AWP. I knew it because the couple in front of me was talking to another couple in the line adjacent to ours, and they obviously knew each other, and the guy was saying something like “the paradigm of contemporary poetics as determined by the likes of Tony Hoagland . . .” and I was like what the fuck. Then they got to the ticket machine and stood there dumbly trying to figure out where to go and I wanted to grab this guy’s bushy head and shove it through the goddamn monitor. Instead I helped them get where they were going, which was the conference center. They thanked me and asked if I was there for AWP as well. I did not lie, but I should have. Not because this couple persisted in talking to me, or because they were particularly offensive, but because why not?
Downtown Seattle looks exactly like the downtown of a major city anywhere except it is perhaps a bit more drizzled.
The Sheraton, where I stayed, buzzed with writerly effluvia. I just wrote “writerly effluvia.” What the fuck. The line to check in extended to the doorman and his revolving door. But Roxane Gay was there and we hugged and chatted and that made me feel a bit more grounded. I’m a fucking snob like everyone else and I just want to be around my friends.
I found the bar that I would unfortunately spend way too much time in while in Seattle: the Daily Grill, on the ground floor of the hotel. This place would’ve been fine—the food and drinks were just okay—but it got overrun by all of us and by Saturday night we were sitting on the floor while Allissa Nutting played with her baby, the couches and hightops of the lounge overrun by, well, writerly effluvia. But this day, the Wednesday that I arrived, I sat at the empty bar, ordered a Manhattan and a cheeseburger, and had a relaxing afternoon for a while.
Then this guy wearing flannel came in and sat catty-corner from me. He kept staring at me and he had these eyes that seemed sightless and soul-boring at the same time. After he ordered he made his way for the bathroom, but as he passed behind me I felt a hand on my shoulder, and not just an excuse-me-tap, but an I-love-you-so-much-and-I-miss-you-and-come-here-and-give-me-a-hug kind of hand running over the shoulder. It was this guy. I’ve never met him before in my life. I whiteknuckled the stem of my Manhattan and glanced into those eyes. His flannel was frightening. He said, “Are you here for AWP?” I nodded. He smiled. “It’s gonna be crazy,” he said, then he went to the bathroom. When he returned he didn’t talk to me again, but sat at his spot at the bar and ate raw tuna and stared at me.
I was a little buzzed by the time I got to the reading that night (Matt Bell, D. Foy, Jeff Jackson, Cari Luna, others). I was talking to all these people and I said to Cari Luna, “Great job at putting this all together.” She looked annoyed and confused and said, “Putting what together?” See, I thought she had organized the reading because she responded on Facebook when I said I was gonna go to this reading (I’m slowly learning that it’s best to never say you’re going to anything ever and to just show up if you feel like it). Later, I was talking to Cari and I explained how I made the weird AWP faux pas of making a mistake about something then trying to cover it up. I mumbled something about Cari “liking” that I was going to this reading on Facebook. She nodded, even more confused, and said, “Yes, I guess I did ‘like’ that.” She quickly found someone else to talk to.
By the time the reading ended I was in full on AWP-mode, and by that I mean I was drunk. Mostly I bounced à la bumper car from conversation to conversation, much of which I surprisingly remember though none of it particularly memorable or worth reporting.
The highlight of my time in Seattle had nothing to do with AWP. The breakfast at Glo’s is amazing. There’s nothing special about it either. I had bacon and scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, wheat toast. I don’t know what they feed Washington’s chickens or pigs or potatoes or wheat, but goddamn that breaky was good. It was slightly better looking than this:
But goddamn, the taste!
Then the bookfair. You ever kicked a fireant mound and watched how the ants act afterwards? That’s pretty much all of AWP, but the bookfair is destruction ground zero, the epicenter, some other wildly inappropriate science metaphor. Here is where all manner of presses and literary magazines and author services and established, emerging, and hopeful authors alike convene and josh one another and play nice or not and pretend that everyone’s having a good time. It’s held on the vast plane of a convention center exhibition hall, a fluorescent-lit prairie lined with aproned tables whereat sometimes charming and nice people—and other times, indescribably bored, scared, or indifferent people—stare at you while you wander past, and sometimes they call to you, imploring you to roll a gigantic die for a “prize” (in my case a sticker for the postcard literary magazine HOOT; though these people, I might add, were among the very nice and charming ilk), or they might pass to you a poem printed on an uncut sheet of stock, or a bookmark, or a flier for their magazine’s/press’s offsite reading that night (my god there are so many readings that it’s impossible, of course, to even attempt making all those you genuinely want to attend, not to mention everyone else tempting you their way, so it’s best to tell everyone you’ll see them there and maybe show up but most likely not) and the whole thing is too large to photograph but this would be a quadrant (imagine it four times as large):
What is fun about the bookfair is that as you wander aimlessly about you run into your friends, most of whom you do not see at any other time of the year. It’s kind of like high school. Or, at least, it reminds me of lunch at my high school. More conversations, although this time not drunk.
Then there were more readings (APRIL, Gigantic Magazine, Magic Helicopter, Octopus Books and Poor Claudia) and drinking and hanging out and partying at the HTMLGiant Ranch after what felt like a long nighttime jaunt through Capitol Hill, though it couldn’t have actually been that long and when I got back to my hotel room I was so ready to crash and lay in bed and—nothing. No sleep. I rolled around a lot and thought the thoughts you think when you cannot sleep: busy day tomorrow, better not forget to set the alarm on my phone, maybe my right side will be more comfortable, I really hope Cari Luna doesn’t think I’m a total ass clown.
So no sleep at all. Out of the room by 7:30 AM. Breakfast in that goddamn Daily Grill, which has nothing on Glo’s. This was slightly fancier than Denny’s in that it came on a nicer plate.
Off to panel with Scott McClanahan, Anna March, and Gina Frangello, where I’d decided to hand out raffle tickets and we’d give away books, and Anna March, sweetest person in the world, offered up $100 in Powells gift certificates! So I was handing out raffle tickets and a lady from the crowd approached and said, “Your panel’s about to start. I can hand the rest of these out.” Unfortunately, she gave out all the tickets, and didn’t keep the other half of them—you know, the ones for the raffle part? So I improvised and said something like feeling I was in a Kafka story, and I called out random numbers and people lied and came up to collect prizes, all of which was fitting, since our panel was on nonfiction and we were talking very philosophically about the idea of truth.
After that it was off to three readings, the first of which came with an amazing brunch cooked by Amy McDaniel and Gene Morgan and great drinks served up by Adam Robinson (I had a PBR that had about two shots of Jack Daniels poured into it). Mike Young hosted the reading and he was self-deprecatorily (fuck that word) funny like he always is and the crowd was large but also cozy, like I felt like I was with my closest friends (of course, many of these people actually are my closest friends) even though I’d never met most of them. The second reading was hosted by Anna March and benefitted VIDA and there was a nice crowd at this reading as well and it was at . . . the Daily Grill. I should’ve just asked the hotel to roll a cot into the Daily Grill for me. My last reading was at this bar called the Highline and I misread the time, thinking the reading started at nine at night when it actually was supposed to end then. Whoops. So my friend who put me on the bill called at 7:20 wondering where I was and I rushed into a cab and made it and had like four beers to calm my nerves before I read. The readers at this last reading floored me, they were so good (this was the Action Books, Spork, Black Ocean, and Wonder reading). Before the reading ended all the Highline regulars started pouring in for the metal band that was set to play after us, and these folks were, understandably, getting their beers and chatting, and the chatter got loud (not so loud that they drowned out the writers on the mic), but the writers starting yelling “Shut the fuck up and listen!” and the regulars yelled back “Fuck you faggots, it’s a fucking bar!” I really thought there was going to be a poet-metalhead brawl and I was excited not knowing which side to take. But all that happened was that the metal band started warming up and I got the fuck out of there.
Cabbed it to the Literature Party. A fight broke out at the end of the night. I don’t really know what happened, but Adam Robinson told me that some drunk dude jumped on stage where the DJ was spinning and he knocked over one of the turntables, then rushed out of the venue, but not before getting his ass kicked pretty good—like the guy was bloody, and I’m like goddamn why aren’t more literature events like this?—and the cops showed up and everything. End.
I had Saturday, but it was mostly uneventful, a repeat of the bookfair, the days of which blur into a fluorescent NASCAR race. I mean, what lap were we on? I ate some pot-laced chocolate. I ate raw tuna at the fucking Daily Grill. I had booked a redeye back to Atlanta and thought I’d sleep like I do on most flights, but the plane was full (like every fucking flight to Atlanta), and I had a middle seat that bordered a large woman—and don’t get me wrong, I’m no swizzle stick myself—but the poor lady couldn’t get comfy and squiggled around and twice she was pretty much in my lap. So this equaled night two without sleep, but I arrived back home safely, where my babygirl ran to me as I came up the airport’s escalator, and her Daddy! Daddy! told me that AWP is great and wonderful and in many ways the best thing for literature in America right now, but it’s always better to just stay home.