by Melissa Tramuta
I show up with my thermos of coffee and a pen and walk into Humphrey’s conference room. Brian Doyle is speaking. He sounds really excited and I love the way his voice becomes higher and lower as he reads. He says, “Just ask people for their stories!” Then shares some he has collected. He tells a story teaching the importance of boots to a war. He reminds us to consider the cashier closest to the door. I remember being the cashier closest to the door. Consider everyone.
I narrow the 2:45-3:45 slot down to Exploring Women’s Bodies or Writers on Essays that Took Forever to Get Right. Last night before I went to bed I wrote three pages of girlhood musings and sexuality. I started to admit things to myself. I resisted at first. Should you really write this? I thought. Do it. I confident in choosing the panel about exploring women’s bodies. Repeated was something I heard in class a few weeks ago about women: when a pitch or manuscript is rejected, they often give up. That will not happen to me. I also learn that as a woman if I write my body or the bodies of other women, respectively, I might open a floodgate for other women to do the same.
Brian Doyle advises not to be self-absorbed. He didn’t learn until he was 30. I’m 31: go home and highlight all of your narcissistic bullshit that takes away from telling a story. Question: Why did I ever want to write about surviving the desert as a young queer girl? Answer: I couldn’t see myself in any book. Q: Why is this important? A: You know there are still girls/women who do not see themselves in books.
I cried when I first read Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. I could not believe she wrote it. As in: I had never seen this story. I knew several people right away I needed to buy it for. I know one person whose life could be saved by this book right now. This book can save a life. I closed my eyes when Nelson spoke. I wanted to understand every word she said. It’s ok that I didn’t. She is highly intelligent and has probably read 4,000 times more books than I have. In many moments it is enough to listen.
When I was in my twenties I met a woman in her thirties that calmed any fear I had of being 30. Tonight Maggie Nelson talked about perspective she has in her forties that she hadn’t had in her thirties. I looked forward to being in my forties. That is to say: I trust the process. Also: eliminate the fear of the crone forever. And the old witch. Do major reconstruction on this female mythology of old.
I have never been to a writer’s conference. My eyes welled up several times today. Some of us have met nothing but pessimism about writing. “What are you going to school for?” “Creative writing.” “What will you do with that?” “…creatively write…” “Yeah, but how will you make money?” I often regurgitate all of the ways writers make money, seldom do any of those ways actually include writing books.
Today was like the first time I went to a gay pride parade in Manhattan, 2001. I had never been around that many queer people. Raised in Arizona, I thought they were like unicorns or rain. I cried all the way to Christopher Street, surrounded by people who would not stop fighting for equality, who refused to be invisible, who were joyful in this pride of being who they were in a world that kept saying, No, no, no. It was all I needed to understand pride.
Today was like that for me as a writer. I thought, there are so many of us and for once I didn’t think of that in a competitive way. As in: the odds weren’t against me, even if they were. I felt a sense of camaraderie. I remembered why I loved correspondence between writers – the magic born of that mutual love of mind. I wanted to make myself useful as a writer – to my peers, my communities, my country, the world. I didn’t want to limit myself by genre. I felt myself grow up a little as a writer.