by Libby Cudmore PF W’10 and Matthew Quinn Martin PF S’10
Everyone on the dance floor immediately recognized those oh so familiar piano chords from Journey’s most famous song–even if it had been plastered over with a generic dance beat. There was little double that their shadows were searching in the night–underneath the disco ball and gel-covered stage lights. And those who win as well as those who lose, along with a smattering of those who may or may not have been born to sing the blues, belted out the rest–Don’t Stop Believing!
For the better part of the past three days AWP ’12 Chicago’s nine-thousand plus attendees–the largest turnout in the conference’s history–go, have been rising at the crack of dawn and rarely hitting the sack before midnight. All of us have spent our time shuffling from conference room to conference room, from hotel to hotel, butts glued to uncomfortable chairs when available, and camping out on the floor when not. We’ve taken in panel after panel, found our way to late-night readings on the outskirts of a mostly-unfamiliar town and connected with friends and colleagues we haven’t seen in far too long. During the day we’ve subsisted on overpriced coffee and candy scrounged from an endless sea of book fair tables competing for our attention. At night we raid the many receptions for crudete, cheese ‘n crackers, and the occasional pulled pork slider, as well as any complimentary libations that might be extended by the more generous hosts. And we’ve seen it all, the undiscovered gems as well as the big stinking turds, all hoping that we’ll hear those magic words of inspiration, or make that one chance connection that will take us to the next level in our writing careers.
For some this is their first experience with the madness that can be the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference, others are hardened vets. Speaking personally, this is a return to the scene of the first AWP that we’d attended three years ago. To call the Chicago Hilton’s layout a labyrinth would be generous. Our own overwhelming confusion that first year eventually birthed the story “Convention of Exphrasis” (published in Stonecoast Lines S’10). The many elevators that all stopped at a different selection of floors, the creepy-eyed gloved bellmen and the winding staircases that seemed to lead nowhere were still there and still terrifying. It was like coming home.
AWP is an odd mix of hope and fear, joy and frustration, uplift and disappointment. Nearly every writer there could point to at least one booth and justify taking a few extra mini-Snickers or an additional piece of swag because they rejected a submission. The book fair can seem like a crowded bazaar of hustlers and carnival barkers. It’s hard not to look at all the books on the table and wonder, Will that ever be me? And if it is, will anyone buy it? Hands shoot up during Q&A’s to ask non-questions or to openly argue with the panelists. And it can seem like everyone there has it figured out except you–not just AWP, the whole writing game.
But here, on the dance floor, at five till midnight, we’re all still believing. We’ve weathered the storm, and at the brink of exhaustion we know, at the bottom of our hearts, that we deserve to dance. Because maybe sitting on top of that stack of form rejections is the one from the editor that loved it. And even if it isn’t yet, it’s only yet, and that acceptance might be sitting in our e-mail waiting for us when we get back. If only we could keep believing long enough to get us through the next double shift, at the keyboard or the coffee shop, we’d make it. And tonight, there isn’t a single soul in that sweaty, ecstatic, frenzied horde that wasn’t.
We took the midnight train to get here–literally, not metaphorically–and now as we sit in our tiny cabin, rocking back and fourth on the rails as we make our way back to New York, we find ourselves wondering about some of the other Stonecoasters. Not the ones we were able to meet up with, or those whose many newsletter announcements trumpet their accomplishments. No, our minds turn to those we haven’t heard from in a while, and we wonder how many of them may havestopped believing. There isn’t a writer alive that hasn’t in some part bought into the myth of the solitary genius, but the reality is that no one is truly successful on their own, and it is the duty of the Stonecoast alumni as a group–as well at our Alma Mater itself (if it is to deserve that title of “nourishing mother”)–to make sure that none of us stop believing. Believing in ourselves andbelieving in each other.
Libby Cudmore and Matthew Quinn Martin are Summer 2010 graduates. Libby’s work has been featured in Pank, Umbrella Factory, Postcard Press, Connotation Press, The MacGuffin and the Yalobusha Review. Matthew Quinn Martin is the writer of the feature film Slingshot. His prose work has been featured in Transition Magazine, Thuglit and JMWW. Their collaborative work has been published by Emprise Reviewand Big Pulp and will be featured in the July issue of The Writer. Record of the Month/Boys on Film, www.matthewquinnmartin.com