AWP 2016

10 min read

March was a blur to me. I lucked out and got 2 weeks off. 1 was spring break, so that was a given. In lieu of class meeting the week after, we had one-on-one meetings with my workshop teacher. I managed to swing it so that I went to the meeting, and then attended a poetry Q&A and reading with Louise Glück, my spirit animal. But it was also a random little Easter break, so my poetry class ended up not meeting again. The last week in March, I had 1 class meeting and then it was AWP.

I was afraid of traffic kicking my ass so before the one-on-one meeting, I used my annual pass for the Walt Disney Family Museum and watched the Parent Trap. I love that place. I love that movie. That is all.

Louise Glück has numerous accolades to her name, I would run out of space if I listed them all. She was so cool. I had a question I was going to ask her but someone else asked it before me. Isn’t that always how it is? She read “Mock Orange” from her “Wild Iris” book at the reading and that was probably one of my favorite poems of hers. I bought her anthology, which I haven’t gotten around to start reading yet, but I will!

Louise Glück autographed my book
Louise Glück autographed my book

AWP was an onslaught of information and positive vibes. It was so inspiring and cool to see people from all walks of life actually doin’ the damn thing and writing and publishing. The panels I attended all advised pretty much said the same thing: write, write, write, read promiscuously, and send your stuff out. Rejections are a part of life. These journals and agents and publishers have limited time, space and money. So whatever you want to publish, make it count.

That’s the worst feeling, though: being rejected. I wish I had a thicker skin in my younger days. I most likely would’ve published earlier and more often, if I hadn’t let the fear rule me. But I didn’t have any mentors. No one I knew growing up was ideal for that, meaning I didn’t know anyone who was in the industry. They were supportive but not the way I needed. Now I do have mentors, and I have resources. I plan to exploit them, completely. I also feel more comfortable with my voice that I’m ready to share it with the sick, sad world.

I drove up on Thursday because the panels I wanted to attend on Friday started early. I dropped off Jack with my friend A, bless her. I can’t thank her enough for saving my ass. If she hadn’t volunteered ages ago to watch Jack for me, I never would’ve gone, or I would’ve had to swing a trip back home to Vegas so my family could watch him, which would require even more time off that I couldn’t swing.

The weather in LA was incredibly dry, about as dry as Vegas. I know we’re in a drought but goddamn. When I left Nor Cal, it was way cooler. I tried to stay hydrated but I was feeling icky.

The hotel I chose was part of the Choice Hotels program, and I’m determined to earn points whenever I go on trips, if possible. The hotel I chose was within 20 minutes walking distance of the Los Angeles Convention Center where the conference was taking place. What struck me the most was the location. LA is (becoming) gentrified. Where I was staying was hella ghetto. Like you don’t want to be walking back to the hotel in the dark. As such, I made it a point to be back in the room before the sun went down. That’s how I was taught growing up. If I was anywhere else I probably would’ve been OK. I’ve taken the shuttle from Disneyland at midnight with no issue.

Los Angeles Convention Center, host of AWP 2016
Los Angeles Convention Center, host of AWP 2016

But you walk under a bridge, and immediately to your right is a brand-new, high-tech Regal Theater. The neighborhood around the LACC is called LA Live, and it’s got a very cool vibe to it. It very much reminded me of City Center in Vegas, all chrome and glass and soulless. I think it’s sad – and perhaps tragic and somewhat hilarious – how quickly the vibe changed from the ghetto to upscale, all by crossing a bridge. There’s a story or poem there, I know it! I want to let it percolate a bit more before I commit it to paper. I’m so used to growing up in ghetto areas and knowing where the rich and poor divide is more obvious. Down there, they were within 10 feet of each other in any direction.

I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going, so I did what I usually do: follow the white people. Something told me that all the folks power-walking the same direction were my people, so I followed them. And what do you know? I was right! I budgeted some money for the book fair but I knew if I stopped for too long, I would end up buying the whole lot. So I didn’t. Simply walking into the book fair caused me to have PTSD/flashbacks of my previous life at Mandalay Bay too. Creepy.

On Friday, I attended the following panels:

  1. Hybrids, Bastards, and Half-Breeds: On Writing Hybrid Forms
  2. Are We There Yet? Revising Towards a Finished Draft
  3. Angry Asians: A Hyphen Magazine Reading Dismantling the Model Minority Myth
  4. Women Writing Fiction in a Post Feminist Era

My senses were on complete overload this first day. Overloaded but energized. The whole conference and the decision on panel attendance is almost an echo chamber, isn’t it, reflecting back to you what you already should know. If not, maybe it opened some eyes, but not mine. I felt more resolute that this writing thang is what I’m meant to do.

On the personal side, I didn’t really plan a break time to eat so I ate a decent breakfast at the hotel and was snacking all day. I ended up eating after the last panel. I swore I would stay on top of eating, but I was just so excited to experience everything that I ignored my hunger pangs. I decided to stop over at the Regal Theater to watch Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice in 4DX. The experience was OK, definitely worth the money, but I’ve said my peace about the movie itself. Bloated and somewhat confusing story-wise. I’m so much more judgmental when it comes to stories now. I guess it’s a mark of my schooling, which is why I’m in this program. I need to be hypercritical of all stories, everywhere, all the time. I thought I did plenty of that studying English literature for my undergrad, but I was wrong. Look at what my education is doing to me!

On Saturday, these are the panels I chose:

  1. The Poetic Past: Crafting Poems Through Historical Material
  2. Everyone’s a Critic: The Need & Opportunities for Professional Book Reviewing
  3. In the Realms of the Real and the Unreal
  4. Women Publishing Women: The (Under)representation of Women in Print and in Publishing
  5. Slouching Tiger, Unsung Dragon: The Next Chapter of Asian American Writing

I missed some of the Poetic Past panel but I think it was fascinating, what I heard. I hope there’s a historical figure out there whose story I can tell through poetry. I think book reviewing might be a nice side gig, at least based on the panelists’ own career paths. They were all writers to some degree with reviewing on the side. The Women Publishing Women panel got a bit heated during the Q&A section because a lot of the older women in the audience felt slighted that some of the panelists were skewing towards the younger crowd.

On the way back to the hotel after the last panel of the day, I walked through the Grammy Museum, using their proffered student discount. That was fascinating to experience. They focused on the history of music, rather than specifically the Grammy awards ceremony. I have personally studied the history of music in depth so a lot of the stuff they provided I already knew, but it was still fun to see it in a museum context. Their exhibits were interactive, which is a fun experience. I sometimes wish I had pursued museum/archival studies because I love museums so much. I walk through them and say to myself, “I could do this!!” I wouldn’t be a great teacher in terms of standing in front of a class and droning on and on, but give me a museum with a theme that I know, and I would KILL it. Let’s be real. They had great temporary exhibits for Hawaiian music, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding and the Supremes. I wish they had a student discount at their store but that’s OK.

Grammy Museum haul!
Grammy Museum haul!

Overall, the Asian American panels didn’t bring me clarity. That’s not their fault. But it was nice to know that the struggles I face as a writer of Filipino descent were all the same as the other panelists. I’m aggravated that we don’t have a voice in mainstream literature. It infuriates me. I guess my struggle is that I don’t want to be known as only an Asian-American writer. My siblings and I didn’t have the typical immigrant experience either. My dad was born an American citizen because a) the Philippines was still under the protectorate of the United States when he was born, b) he further gained it through my half-Filipina/quarter French/quarter German grandmother, even though he was born and raised in the Philippines.

I decided recently that hyphenating my identity because of that didn’t ring true for me. I’m Filipino adjacent. My dad served in the US Navy, so we’re as American as apple pie, as I like to say. We don’t speak the language (thanks Kuya!). I make a mean sinigang though. My pork adobo is pretty awesome too. So I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I don’t write to be seen as an Asian writer. My stuff is cinematic absurdism. It’s off kilter, multiversal, on par with the Twilight Zone. But I know my Asian-ness is what people see when they see my slanted eyes and unevenly tanned skin, or when they read my Portuguese surname. I feel conflicted like maybe I should write to give voice that part of me, because it is me. I don’t want to deny myself. I want to be like Dionysus and enjoy the bacchanalia of my identity by gorging on the good, the bad and the ugly.

Being of Asian descent in America is an uphill battle. I don’t know if I have the answers but the more voices that are in the conversation, the more the dialogue will educate the masses. We shouldn’t have to hide in our bubbles anymore. It’s time for us to headline the show.

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  1. Great post to catch up with what you have been up to. Would love to go to a conference like that, so proud of you for stepping outside of your comfort zone and doing something so cool. Those panels sounded amazing, and I look forward to seeing more of your work 🙂

    • Thanks! I had to let it percolate because there was so much going on after I got back from LA. I usually unwind on my blog but it was nice to breathe and let it cook in my head for a bit.

      I’m sure the UK has a themed con that is right up your alley. It still surprises me how many different conferences there are. There’s something for everybody!