Archive for March 2007

Welcome to Atlanta

March 2, 2007

I have come to Atlanta for the Associated Writing Programs conference. On the morning of my 42nd birthday I am scheduled to sign copies of What Becomes You. I vaguely understand I am some sort of debutante. As usual, when at a loss for appropriate protocols I consult Saint Quentin (Crisp), who assures me I have officially entered the smiling and nodding racket. I check my equipment and discover I can both smile and nod. Thus feeling fully prepared I board the plane. I am leaving the previous scene of costume-related agonies to the reader’s imagination.

I’m very curious to see Atlanta.

Atlanta looks like an airport. Then like the inside of a van. After a while, Atlanta looks like a hotel room. But first there is traffic. All traffic looks alike. So in spite of the fact that I’ve been up since four in the morning Pacific time, which in Atlantic time (Atlantic time? Is there an Atlantic time? Where the hell am I?) is half past the separation of light from darkness but well before the creation of the animals, I don’t collapse. I go to the window. Because even though it takes me fifteen minutes to figure out how to open the hotel curtains, I really want to see what Atlanta actually looks like.

Atlanta looks like a scene from a Phillip K. Dick novel. I am duly impressed.

In spite of the giant glowing UFO-on-a-stick hovering just outside my window (it attempts to conceal itself between a couple of buildings so tall that in a stock market crash oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling of each cubicle, but I am not fooled) I collapse and sleep dreamlessly. I am leaving the previous scene of hours of frantic late-night work to the reader’s imagination.

In the morning the conference begins. At 9 o’clock I eat breakfast with three extremely accomplished and sophisticated women writers of a generation older than my own, each of whom independently reports horrific nightmares involving their pursuit by punitive male authority figures. They ask me what I dreamed about. I smile and nod. This seems to work.
Two representatives of a generation younger than my own approach. They report that last night a white dove flew into their window and rebounded just in time to miss the grasp of a gigantic hawk. The hawk apparently also rebounded off the window. No casualties were reported.

I attend panel presentations about writing.

New information:
1. the phrase “blood relatives and body parts” describes the sorts of things one is encouraged not to mention in an essay. However, it may instead have been the sorts of things men are encouraged not to mention. Obviously, I’m not quite clear on this subject. Oh well. As my Melodrama teacher used to say, better a brilliant failure than a mediocre success.
2. Good news. A distinctive personal voice is okay.
3. A panelist mentions both Andrea Dworkin and Mary Daly as two of the greatest essayists of the twentieth century. I decide not to invite him to my book signing.
4. These Appalachians are really on to something.
5. Journalists are cool.

I eat salad with big shrimp.

I go to a panel on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community. The panelists talk for an hour about lesbian and gay community. Reginald Harris, a panelist from both gay and African-American writer’s groups, mentions that our definitions of community include a number of “loose ends,” or unanswered questions. I raise my hand. The only visibly trans person in the room, who is not me, is eventually acknowledged. She points out that none of the “LGBT” panels at the conference have included or even acknowledged the existence of trans people. She asks if perhaps she should assume trans people are considered a separate community, unrelated to lesbian and gay people? Panelists look contrite. I stand up, introduce myself, and point out that in spite of my surgical scars I have yet to identify a dotted line along which, even for a conference as important as AWP, one could successfully separate my transsexual parts from my gay parts.

I eat pot-au-feu in a revolving restaurant.

The restaurant’s panoramic windows are opaquely feathered with clouds. As we enter, these cause the whole place to resemble one of those carnival rides shaped like a wooden barrel, which spins at an increasing rate until the bottom drops out. At this point, you are prevented from falling only by the centrifugal force pinning you to the walls. Luckily, at breakfast one of the experienced writers provided tips for avoiding seasickness. One of the younger generation, while remembering stories of her childhood on a disused Coast Guard cutter, has noticed that the lighting is provided by bulbs embedded in enormous metal nests suspended almost directly above our heads on long bronze chains. The chains are slowly but visibly swaying.
The sky clears. The view is dazzling. The wine is excellent. The food is excellent. The conversation is dazzling. It is revealed that technology, when thoroughly saturated in art, develops extraordinary new levels of tensile strength capable of life-saving applications yet to be fully explored, as well as a vastly improved fashion sense. I note the lighting fixtures lack saturation. A member of the younger generation shows me where, hidden behind a new skyscraper, he used to live. The wine is really excellent. I eat some of Hilda’s scallops. I consult on the view with the locals. We conclude that a nearby bank tower is formed entirely from spun sugar. (Dixie Crystals are apparently a preferred construction material here in Atlanta.) And that when we rule the world we will indeed utilize the revolving restaurant as our headquarters, but the fixtures will have to go.

After an astonishing amount of creme brulee, we descend seventy-five floors in an elevator bolted to the outside of the building and made entirely of glass. I stagger back to the hotel with the younger generation and those of us who no longer qualify but are unwilling to admit defeat. Those older and wiser have elected to travel by cab.
In a spirit of completion, I stop off at the late-night party. A hired musician in a gold lame jacket is inviting women up on the stage for the men in the audience to judge. The music, like the band, is a rainbow of human harmony united in a single purpose. The young women seem to be enjoying themselves. I consider joining them, but decide I am more or less off duty. I do not notice any men dancing together. I attempt to encourage a few, who politely decline. So I dance with a graduate student in fiction from Florida, and while I am not at my best and there is not really enough room for her motor chair to be at its best either, we both have a good time. When the singer in the gold lame jacket feels the need to change into a hoodie before delivering a rap song, however, I decide the evening has passed its peak.
Let me not fail to say that in my brief adventures outside the hotel, I discover Atlanta is filled with beautiful men with less restrictive ideals.

The next morning Hilda and I sign books. An astonishing number of people visit us and say things so flattering that I am sure some of them must be thinking of someone else. As the day moves forward I discover I am wrong. By 11:30 in the morning, we have sold every copy of our book the Press has brought. Sometime during the afternoon I stop by the bookseller’s room to drag Hilda to lunch. After an hour of helping her give people order forms for our book, I achieve this goal by threatening to carry her out on top of my head.
The next afternoon I speak on a panel with Stephen Dunn, Rosellen Brown, Lee Martin, Hilda, and Mimi Schwartz. I am still not sure quite how this happened, but it was very, very nice.

After the panel, a teacher from Florida tells us a city manager there with a 14-year history of successful public service has just been fired and ostracized for the crime of being transsexual. The teacher wants to find a way to bring us to Florida. When the bat-signal shines, my job is frequently to put on a nice shirt, casually mention that I also am transsexual, and continue to breathe in and out.

Parenthetically, the sites for the day are:
The question for the day is: why are the pronouns in these two articles different, and what is the significance of the expert sources quoted and the ways their expertise is identified?
The action for the day is: those so inclined may politely communicate their opinion on the case to the city of Largo, Florida at:

Hilda and I celebrate my birthday by eating at Trader Vic’s. We share a Mai Tai. The staff give me an orchid and write “Happy Birthday” on my dessert plate in chocolate.

At midnight on the last day of the conference, I drag Hilda bodily out of the last University of Nebraska Press event. She is clutching the savaged remains of a stack of book order forms.
While Hilda loses conciousness beneath the weight of her Armani jacket, I watch a film in which the hero discovers he is the protagonist of a work of fiction. And while he is not the sort of hero who saves the world through lifelike karate-chop action but rather the sort of hero to whom events inexplicably happen, he finds it is nonetheless possible for such a hero to both save lives and change his own fate.

On my way up to bed I am invited to stop off at the room of my fellow future rulers of the world, co-conspirators from the revolving restaurant. They have a view of the sky. On their window, faint but definite as a trick of the light, are the prints of wings.

The word for the day, says Merriam-Webster, is profligate.