Waking Up at 4 am: more notes from AWP

by Jeff Oaks

Dear Reader, I told you I cracked my iPad on Thursday morning didn’t I? Well I did. It was sad. But it’s under warranty, so it’ll get replaced at home. The takeaway: I didn’t need it. It’s an over-pack. I can do almost everything from my iphone, which in fact I spent some time last time talking about at the Pitt reception last night. Part of that conversation revolved around my sense that the iPhone as a camera and Facebook as a platform have changed both the way I see things and the way people see me. I even could trace a new gravity in my writing to about the time I regularly began taking photos of my walks with my dogs, my coffeehouse days, my friends, the little elements of my life. I have experimented with camera angles, framing tricks, sketches and drawing, videos, and sound recordings on my phones. I have learned to use the small composition spaces of status boxes, 140 characters, titles under photos, and the thumb-sized pages of the Notes app, where I’m writing this now. I originally bought my iPhone because I’d received a kill fee for a book project I was asked to work on. I am so glad I made that death of a project into an investment in new technology.

Dear Reader, I saw two of my favorite Pitt poetry alumni last night, Brandon Som and Miriam Bird Greenberg. Both terrific poets with new books out.

I’d seen Brandon earlier and had a Pike Market lunch with him and Dave Griffith, another Pitt Alum, who is doing wonderful things at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, including classes in digital essays.
At the reception Brandon and Miriam, whose friendship started at Pitt, and whose lives have taken them to different places, got to see each other again. I am not to crusty an academic to say I love to see the hugging of suddenly reunited friends. We talked about life and writing and what’s next.

That is one of the best parts of AWP, Dear Reader. Despite the bad press it sometimes gets (and deserves usually) for being full of frustration and isolation and loneliness, there are old friends who appear at AWP and you get to hold onto them for a minute, an hour, a day, in a temporary stay against the forces that inevitably will push you back to your separate landscapes again. You drink them up. You forgot how great they are as people. How much you love them. It’s suddenly all there. Boom, as the kids say. The flow of literate strangers around you bends around your sudden island of joy.

For tax purposes, I should also say that all this reuniting has very practical results. We’re all off in our little places crafting and experimenting with ways to get other people to write, to develop skills, to train students of all kinds–ESL students, high school students, international students, veterans–how to open up the language and so widen and deepen themselves. As we catch up, it turns out we’ve discovered different ways to turn lead into gold in our separate worlds. There are a million ways maybe. We compare notes, techniques, assignments, theories, media. Oh, I found myself saying to old friends, that’s a great idea. I have a couple of new ideas to bring back home to Pittsburgh.

At the end of the night, another old friend was feeling the other side of AWP. He’d gone to an event where he’d hoped to be more connected to people than he actually was. In him grew that terrible feeling of frustration, loneliness, turning toward anger, which most of turn inward, as if it were our fault, our lack of something that everyone else seems to have. The second day of AWP is often the most trying emotionally. We hung out in the lobby for a while just watching the varieties of other people as they passed by. We did that until we both felt sleepy. It was nearly 11. Then we went off to our separate beds.

Dear Reader, for those of you who are following my insomnia, I went to bed happy at 11 and slept straight through until 4:30. A big improvement.

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