On that first conference night, we walked out to a place called Library Bar, which was just a bar decorated with a bookshelf–basically the nerdiest place for a bunch of writers/English teachers to get drunk and eat bar food instead of a proper dinner. I was starving, but the menu was pretty limited, so I ended up with edamame hummus (two lovely things that are kind of a gritty, salty mess when you put them together), the greasy grilled flatbread they served it with, other people’s french fries. Not really what I’d consider a meal, so I decided to wash it down with something that wasn’t really a drink, a tall, lemonade thing with I think vodka in it.
I told my writer/English teacher friends–most of them people I mainly knew from online–about my terrible panel. They were all appropriately pained when I told them about the women who was stressed out about too many people wanting to publish her novel.
I met one of their friends, an awesome woman who lives in Iowa. I only know one other person in Iowa, one of my best friends from graduate school. I figured Iowa is small enough that everybody knows each other, so I asked this woman if she knew Sondra Gates.
The woman raised her eyebrows. “Not only do I know her,” she said. “We share an office.”
We took a sweaty bar selfie together and sent it to Sondra. We are going to blow her mind, we said. I thought we were awesome and hilarious.
Some ladies came over in matching black shirts and miniskirts. They looked like a Robert Palmer video. They told us they were doing taste-tests, gave us shots of bourbon.
“Is it good?” they asked. We nodded. It tasted like Jim Beam. I used to drink a lot of Jim Beam back when I was a drinker, because it was dirt cheap and I liked whiskey. I still have a few neglected bottles of it above my refrigerator that must be old enough to send to middle school.
“What do you think it is?” the Robert Palmer ladies asked.
None of us knew the names of any fancy bourbons, and I didn’t want to piss them off by saying Jim Beam, so we just said we didn’t know.
“It’s Jim Beam,” they said. They looked like they wanted us to be very surprised and order a round of Jim Beam for everyone right away.
We left and went back to the spinning restaurant at the top of our hotel for more drinks and the only dessert they had, which was banana creme brûlée.
I did go to yoga on Friday morning–some warrior ones and twos and downward dogs on a conference-room carpet. They must have added yoga at the last second, because it wasn’t on my printed schedule, just the online one. Since the AWP app wouldn’t let me or Michelle log into it, I had to run down to the registration area and make one of the conference volunteers log into her AWP app on her phone to find the room.
Michelle was at some actual panels–I don’t remember what they were–so after yoga, I went back to the hotel and worked for a few hours, lying on the hotel bed that was so much more comfortable (as is pretty much every bed) than my old futon. I edited a novel chapter; it didn’t need much change, so I didn’t feel super-productive, but it was nice. I liked being by myself, not on anyone else’s schedule. It felt free.
Why is this all I want to do, I wondered. Lie around or sit around and work. I like actually working so much better than being at a conference. For all I complain about grading essays, I’d rather grade essays all day long than do most things I could be doing.
There wasn’t a lot of work time, because Michelle came back for lunch, and then she had an offsite event in the afternoon that I would be attending. We went downstairs to the most basic-seeming of the multiple restaurants in the hotel. No more bar snacks instead of meals, we said on the way down. We’re going to have salad. But we didn’t have salad. Michelle had a beautiful bowl of pasta–one of those times where you walk by someone else’s lunch and know you have to order it–and I got two helpings of salmon and vegetables from the buffet. She had a glass of wine. None of it was french fries or greasy fried flatbread, and it was delicious.