AWP was amazing and exhausting. When D and the girls picked me up at the airport Saturday night, I squeezed myself in back between Stella and Zoë, and I gave Stella a huge hug, kissing her repeatedly. She went on and on with “Mama, I missed you,” and “I love you,” and “I’m so glad you’re back,” and she happily rattled off the details of her day. But little Zoë refused to look at me, even after I practically gobbled her up. She turned her head to the window, and would not be wooed. We were almost home before I convinced her to smile at me. But as soon as we were inside, she was pulling at my shirt and nursing greedily, as if she had been starving (which she wasn’t). And she nursed on and off all day Sunday and yesterday. (As if she wanted to get her fill before I disappeared again.) Poor thing. But maybe she’s nursing continually during the day because I’m not nursing her at night anymore! D did it! She’s sleeping in her crib ALL NIGHT LONG! On Saturday night, she cried out a few times, but she fell back to sleep on her own, and the last two nights she cried out only once. Hopefully soon she won’t cry out at all, and Stella can move back into her bed. (She’s currently sleeping with us, which is a little tight.)
But even though it was difficult to leave my kids, and especially my nursing eleven-month old, I’m so glad I went to the conference. I finally met some of my virtual friends, like the amazing Susan Ito (whose writing I’ve discussed here), and all of the talented and wonderful Literary Mama folks. I went to their reading Friday night, and it was so lovely to finally hear their voices! They rock!
It’s incredible to be able to be in the same space with so many of my literary heroes! I accosted Scott Russell Sanders in the book fair on Friday, and he was even more gracious and lovely than I expected. Whenever I meet one of my heroes, I always worry that I’ll act like an excited puppy, and that in my effusiveness, it will seem like I just peed on their legs. But Scott Russell Sanders took my admiration in stride, and we talked about what he read at the Loft Mentor Series reading and about the Parents as Writers panel. He said how much he wished he could have been a part of that discussion, and he talked about how having children was one of the things that made him move from writing fiction to writing essays. Being a father heightened his need to make sense of the world, to question what kind of world we were leaving for our kids. And becoming a father made him question why he wrote. (I’m paraphrasing badly here.)
This question—why write?—came up again and again over the weekend, from different people in different forms. Some people write to try to change the world. To change a perspective. To expose our violent history of racism. To help us rethink war.
I’m thinking of Wang Ping’s amazing poem “Dust Angels,” which is about migrant workers in China who only last a year or two in the factories that make jewelry because the dust from metal and stones poisons their lungs. I’m thinking of Shari MacDonald Strong’s essay about raising sons in a time of war in The Maternal is Political. I’m thinking of Eula Biss’ essay “Time and Distance Overcome,” from her new collection, Notes from No Man’s Land, which won the 2008 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. You can read an excerpt of this essay at Harper’s, but I wish everyone could hear Biss read it aloud. I sat among hundreds of people Friday afternoon, and I felt as if I was being kicked repeatedly. I felt as if I would vomit. She’s that good.
I write to discover what I know. I write to survive. I write to make sense of the world around me. And always, I hope that something I have written will help someone, even if it is only one person.
A few weeks ago I asked why you blogged, and now I want to know why you write. Are the reasons the same? I’d love to hear what drives you to your computer or to the coffee shop with a pad of paper and a pen. Why do you write?