My Adventure at AWP

This post was originally written around March 7-8, 2012
I would like to start this entry with a string of expletives that arise out of excitement but I will try to keep a sense of propriety while I try to capture what this trip was and what it meant to me. I will try not to get into the minutia of every day but whatever sticks out the most to me.
This is about my first journey to the AWP Conference in Chicago. For those who may not know, AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and it holds one of the nation’s biggest writing conferences every year.

This was not also my first trip to a writing conference but also my first trip to Chicago as well as my first plane ride. So many firsts and an excellent excuse for some of the poor planning in terms of plane tickets. The conference was from February 29 – March 3rd. I made plans with a fellow student, Jamie to meet in Chicago and share a room. We decided to stay at one of the two hotels the conference was being held at so we would minimize travelling to the event. We were both Chicago newbies and more than a little nervous about being outside of California. Due to occupancy constraints, we could only get a room at the Palmer Hotel from Tuesday, the 28th till Saturday the 3rd. My plane ticket was for the 28th coming back on the 4th. Do you see where this might lead to disaster?
So Tuesday morning, 4 AM and my alarm goes off. I decided to get to Chicago as early as possible so I have to make a 7 AM flight. I am out the door to LAX by 5:00 and arrive by 5:30 AM. I managed to pack everything into a carry on so I wouldn’t have to check a bag. Everyone said I would freeze to death in Chicago so I managed to fit an obscene amount of sweaters into my luggage (spoiler alert, I ended up not using any of them). No line at security and no snickering as I went through the body scanner. To make this part short, I had a great no fuss first flight. A very nice man even helped me put my carry on in the overhead bin. I arrived in Chicago and met with Jamie who arrived roughly the same time I did. Fast forward to our arrival at the hotel and we are both blown away by the beauty of this hotel. It is one of the oldest hotels in Chicago and has a very grand look. It is about 2:30 now and we find a subway around the corner and spend the rest of the day in the hotel, relaxing and talking the rest of the night. The only other part interesting was the obscene amount I paid for two grilled cheese sandwiches from room service since neither one of us wanted to go out in the cold in the dark.
 
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
No events for today. We headed seven blocks down Michigan Avenue to the Hilton where the majority of the conference events will be held to pick up our registration materials and explore the Hilton. We travel up many floors and go into rooms we probably were not supposed to be in.
After exploring the Hilton for a while, we walked back to the Palmer where Jamie was going to meet with some relatives and I was going to stay in the lobby and work on a paper. With the help of a mojito the time passed enjoyable enough. Jamie returned some number of hours later and we sat in the lobby for a while longer, we spotted my previous project period mentor, Dodie Bellamy (writer of Pink Steam and The Buddhist) and chatted with her for a bit. Looking back on it, it felt surreal since I was buzzed but it was fun and I always enjoy seeing anyone from school. 
Jamie and I walked back to the Hilton for a meeting she had with writer Heidi Durrow, founder of The Mixed Roots Literary Festival. Heidi is a very fun interesting person and I was happy I met her. I won’t get into all the details of the conversation or all the people that were present but a few hours were spent in happy conversation. End night.
Thursday March 1, 2012
Here it is! The first day of the conference. There is 10 to 20 events at any given time block and around 10,000 + attendees. It feels like an Antioch residency times 1000 on crack. It often felt overwhelming being around so many people. Today we (if I say we a lot, I am referring to Jamie and myself) reported to our first shift at the Antioch booth at the book fair portion of the event. Working a shift at the booth was all the kind folks at Antioch asked for in exchange for admission into the conference. The big event of the day of course was the keynote speech given by the illustrious Margaret Atwood. That was not until later that night so we had time to kill.
During one of our many walks between the two hotels, my eye catches a poster on the window of the college bookstore. A reading by Rob Roberge and as happy timing would have it, a few hours before the keynote address. Yay for me! I must admit, I have such a writing crush on Rob Roberge. He taught at Antioch during my second residency and I got to speak with him a couple of times during the residency. After that residency, I immediately bought his book Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of my Life because I thought if he writes like he talks then I am in for a treat. I was not disappointed. I love that book immensely (a side note: the cover is stark and bare and beautiful). Okay back to the present of Chicago, we arrived at the bookstore and heard from another writer, and then it was Rob’s turn. He asked a friend of his (a lovely woman named Gina I believe) which story he should read. She instantly answered, “Oh the one with the goat testicles for sure.” How the hell can you not fall in love with a sentence like that? That story was coincidentally one of my favorites from the collection. The reading was fantastic.
Now on to the keynote speech. The theater is a beautiful piece of art and architecture. I believe it belongs to the college. We are up so high on the balcony but have a good view none the less. If I were to try to recount the whole of Margaret Atwood’s speech, this entry would be twice as long. All I will say is that it was very inspiring to me as a writer and that Ms. Atwood as quite a dark sense of humor. End night.
Friday, March 2, 2012
This morning started off with a breakfast for Antioch students, faculty and alums. The food was good and it was fun to socialize with previous graduates and the faculty. Today was the day that Jamie and I had built in some time to explore a little bit of Chicago. We started by exploring Millennium Park (which was done quickly considering the brisk weather) and culminated in a visit to the Art Institute. I managed to see some Van Gogh paintings and my all-time favorite Picasso painting. We attended some lectures and put in another shift at the Antioch booth.
Another side note, if I’m not mentioning the classes we attended it is for a few reasons. I am trying to keep this entry size to a decent length, the point of this is for me to impart my experiences and I don’t want this to look like one of my residency reviews. I know this is a writing site and that is the point of this conference but this experience was overwhelming and this post seems convoluted and makes no sense as is.

 
Saturday, March 3, 2012
 Last day of the conference. Also the last day of our hotel room. We checked out and stashed our bags and went about attending some more lectures. Jamie had to fly out early so we ended her trip with McDonald’s. As we were waiting for her airport shuttle to arrive, the only semblance of snow started to fall. Hooray for the girl who has never seen or felt snow. With Jamie now gone and no hotel room I was scared. I could not find anyone I knew and it made me nervous to be alone in Chicago. The last lecture ended at five and my shuttle was scheduled to arrive at 4 Am the next morning. What was a girl to do? Well I decided to waste some time in the hotel bar. I eventually wandered to the hotel and some event called “The Rock and Roll reading” or something like that. I was trying to sober up at that point so I don’t remember much except the reader was a Scottish guy who was funny as hell. I don’t remember what his story was about but I remember laughing a lot. At some point, I ran into Steve Heller, the head honcho of the Antioch MFA program. I had a brief feeling of being caught drunk at school by the principal until I remembered this was an after-hours event and I was in fact of legal age to drink. Fast forward and I spent some time at the AWP dance party as well as some fancy cocktail reception on the top floor before I slinked back to the Palmer at 1 am to wait three hours for my shuttle.
The coasters at the bar. 
Those three hours were spent being drawn into conversation by some weird dude, several Palmer employees asking me if I was okay after falling asleep on their lobby couch and waiting in the frigid cold for an hour and eventually catching my plane and getting back to good ol’ Los Angeles. The first action I did was to find an In-N-Out, which was all I had been thinking about since my second day in Chicago when I found out there was no such beast there.
That was my adventure. I’m sure I didn’t make it sound as exciting as it was. It felt like a huge occasion for writers to socialize as well as learn. Thank you to Antioch for the opportunity. A big thanks to everyone who talked to me and spent any amount of time with me because every conversation I had, I learned something.
Some other pictures from the trip:
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