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Righter Conference

Happily, my run of fifteen flights in three weeks is over and I’m home for the next nine days, when I leave for a writer conference.  As you know, I have been making an effort to go to at least one writer’s thingy a year, as I miss the snobby no-pointedness of graduate school. This year, the two I was most interested in were either studying with Robert Olen Butler in Brittany, France or with Dan Chaon in Indiana. My husband suggested that if I couldn’t decide, I should do both (because hey, we’re crazy that way) but also just assumed I’d be going to France and needed to be convinced to take the Indiana one, because holy crap, it’s FRANCE. And Robert Olen Butler wrote one of what I consider the only two perfect short stories in the universe, and since the author of the other one died tragically at a very young age, he’s really my only shot at glimpsing perfection. And also, hello, FRANCE.

So obviously, I chose to go to Indiana.

Here’s the thing (and also, the Greek Chorus is clearing its throat right about now): I do love Robert Olen Butler very much, but the man LIVES in the United States. It’s not like he’s Nicolas Sarkozy. There’s no reason to work with him in France, other than the fact that he happens to be leading a workshop in France this summer. Similarly, I adore Dan Chaon’s work. “Adore” might be too casual a word, actually. I called him out specifically during my master’s thesis defense as being a critical author in whatever it is that we’re publishing today (Post-post-post-modernism?) and as a writer, he’s a genius. I don’t think I’d be reduced to stammering nonsense talk in the presence of Chaon that I know I would with Irving, Boyle or Atwood, but, you know, it just might happen.

While I love Butler’s parrot story more than just about anything ever written, that story is more than a decade old. I love what Chaon is doing RIGHT NOW, which means… he’s brilliant right this minute. Not to say that Butler’s not brilliant right now (he is) but using that workshop as a touch point, would working with Robert Olen Butler be worth paying several thousands of dollars (not to mention, spending many many hours seething at my fellow passengers in coach or blow some bazillion number of my hoarded frequent flier miles to upgrade to first class) more than Dan Chaon’s thing? No. Not even with the France thing. France will always be there. Robert Olen Butler will (shhh) teach other workshops on US soil and I will participate in one of them. Can the France talk, I’m going to Indiana.

So in nine days, I’m driving to southern Indiana in the much maligned Murano. Originally the plan was to fly to Indiana and then jump to San Francisco for a week to meet my friends’ new baby and also celebrate someone’s upcoming birthday, but the in-laws are now taking some kind of extended road trip and won’t be available for pet-sitting duties, and while we could board both of the animals, it would probably be cheaper to buy San Francisco and have it shipped FedEx overnight to Wisconsin. So now we’re postponing the baby-meeting and birthday trip and, hopefully, the birthday too, and thus, it becomes a little more silly to fly. I need some mental distance before I am trapped breathing a stranger’s male pattern baldness for several hours and last week my husband offered to come along and keep me company in Indiana.

I’ve decided to workshop the body image story, which was the story I sent to get accepted into the conference, which leaves me feeling all weird and fuzzy, because a) when writing the story several years ago, I pictured it happening in my grandmother’s house, so I’m afraid I’ll get emotional when it’s being workshopped; b) the narrator is fat and the author is fat and everyone will picture me as the narrator, which I hate so much; c) writing workshops make me crazy–I hate the stupid pack games that are being played, I hate the sizing up that happens and I hate the mental bullshit, and I worry that I’m revealing too much of my own vulnerability in this particular story, which was inspired by the decline of my great-grandmother into Alzheimer’s Disease when I’m still upset about my grandmother’s death; and d) what if Dan Chaon thinks I’m annoying and stupid?

Also, I cut off all of my hair and worry that my hair was my secret writing strength and now some kid with cancer is going to have a magic writing wig (which is a shitty consolation prize to getting cancer, let’s be real).  And then I tell myself to stop being stupid because that lunatic thought assumes that there was any magic writing ability in the first place.

As if you needed more of a glimpse into crazy stupid writers’ heads, I saw a list of all the names in my workshop and I quickly scoured it, to see if I recognized anyone. And then realized that I think I was worried that I’d recognize someone. You know, it’s one thing to be in a workshop with Dan Chaon, but if your fellow combatants participants are, oh, I don’t know, a Blake Butler and a Matt Bell?

Kill me now, please, and save me from spending the fossil fuels to drive to Bloomington.