1:24pm. BJ for V Day jokes in the elevator up to “Avoiding Sick Mothers, Absent Fathers, and Losing Your Virginity: The Tropes and Traps of Nonfiction,” with BJ Hollars. Again, the small 8th floor room is packed, though other panels, such as “Literary Mama: A Model of Grassroots Literary Community Building” are noticeably empty.
1:30pm. I land in “Writing in the Windy City: Local Writers Reflect on Making it in Chicago,” featuring Time Out Chicago books editor Jonathan Messinger, StoryStudio Chicago founder Jill Pollack, and School of the Art Institute of Chicago MFAW faculty Janet Desauiniers and Anne Calcagno. There are several of my fellow SAIC students here today, many sitting cross-legged on the floor in this room. Calcagno, who happens to be my “American Dream” seminar teacher, and like Pollack moved from New York to Chicago in the ’80s for the burgeoning theatre scene, brings up that one of the great things about writing in Chicago is that you have the freedom to take risks because housing is affordable and the job market not as cut throat as in New York. Here, you can buy more than half a week’s groceries for the same price as a taxi from Union Pool to Union Square.
1:45pm. They’re discussing finding the balance to reconcile the desire to write fiction with the desire to afford more than mac and cheese– for once, this conversation is inspiring rather than depressing, as hilarious Desauiniers debunks the myth that if you want to be a writer you have to move to New York, if you want to be an actor move to Hollywood. But, a good rule to remember: if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write!
2:38pm. There are more people taking notes here than in any of the other panels I saw. Moderator and SAIC alum Erin O’Neill begins the Q&A with, “I’m gonna be an ass. I don’t want questions where you stand up and tell me a story about yourself for five minutes before you come up with some sort of question they can’t answer.” Someone asks what the best and worst things about New York are, and Messinger answers, “I grew up in Boston so I’ve always hated New York, except for maybe one day after September 11th.”
2:42pm. A strange consensus that New York isn’t the best place in the world. “Do any of you read Gawker?” Desauiniers asks. “They made enormous fun of Jesse Ball, the way he looks, and then he won the Plimpton…what’s wrong with those people?”
2:57pm. I’m in the fourth row of the Versailles-inspired Grand Ballroom, waiting to hear Stuart Dybek read. I should’ve brought him some Valentine’s Pet Milk. “Stuart Dybek knows his place,” David Gessner begins. On September 25th, 2007 Dybek won both the MacArthur Fellowship and the Rea Award for the Short Story…now that sounds like a good Tuesday.
3:15pm. The sign language translator girls switch spots. Dybek’s about to read “Pink Ocean,” which first appeared in the January 2008 issue of Poetry magazine. “One time when I had taken some mushrooms, and was keeping a little journal, I had this realization that each time I wrote the word look it was looking back at me…I’m also going to assume that even if you were born eight years ago you’ve been affected by the Doors’ music so I don’t need to sing,” he says as introduction.
3:45pm. “If I had my choice I’d be playing these stories on a saxophone,” Dybek says in conversation with Donna Seaman, “but if I were none of you would be here…Ernest Hemingway is an imagist, just like Ezra Pound. Sensory clues are the only way a writer can swim upstream against abstraction.”
3:50pm. What would Saul Bellow have thought of text messaging?