How not to eat at AWP 2012
This week I’m flying to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Chicago (a conference for writers, teachers, and book nerds of all varieties). It’s the first year I don’t have to sit at a table and force flyers into writers’ unwilling hands or present a paper that I’m only 20% sure is legitimate. I’m free to carry a flask (even if I fill it with water and only pretend it’s gin), wake up whenever I want, and be only marginally cooperative. I’m going to AWP to see old friends, meet people in real life that I’ve only ever met on the internet, maybe go to some panels and readings, and schmooze. Well, in my head I’m schmoozing; in reality I’m standing in the corner staring at someone important while I try to get the courage to go up and talk to him, and he walks away before I can make up my mind. I will not be eating.
Normally, eating is the highest of my priorities. Sometimes it’s even above getting dressed properly. I always eat three meals a day. If I don’t, my sugar level crashes and I become a monster whose superpower is whining and complaining about migraines, intent only on eating but also unable to decide what she wants or how to get it. My days are planned so that this monster stays penned up in her cage. But at AWP, it’s feast or famine. All my normal eating habits go straight out the window. I eat like a 10-year-old child left without a babysitter. My brain is too scrambled from the simultaneous presence of great writers and fear of looking like an idiot.In the morning I’ll join the long line snaking out of the Corner Bakery nearest to the conference hotel. Even though I made sure my face looks good, I keep head down to avoid eye contact. Pretend like I’m not a tourist like the twenty other conference-goers in line. I order a bagel. They are out of all but onion bagels. I order an oatmeal. They will somehow forget my order and I have to order again. Now I’m starting to run out of time to make it to the first panel. On the way out the door, I realize I’ve made no plan where to actually eat the oatmeal. I try to eat it while I walk, but the steam from the oatmeal fogs up my glasses and I can’t see. I drop the spoon on the sidewalk.
Once I’m in the conference hotel, I sit in a corner behind a stray table and bend the oatmeal lid to use as a spoon. I hope no one can see me but of course someone I know will come up to say hello. I’ll have to hoist myself up from the ground to hug her. I will get oatmeal on her coat. I vow to get a portable breakfast sandwich tomorrow morning.
I hurry to the first panel and sit down in a seat at the end of one of the rows, unwinding multiple scarves and trying not to breathe too loudly. Sitting at the end of an empty row means everyone has to step over me. But I will not yield because the hurry and the oatmeal have made me sweaty, and it’s best if I keep as far away from everyone as possible.Once the panel is finished, I realize that, even though I’m not hungry, this will be my only chance to eat until dinner. I’d Yelped a cute lunch place nearby but there’s no time for that, so I duck my head and make a beeline for Subway. Half the conference had the same idea. We cram in next to the plastic tables and try not to graze elbows (unless the writer next to me is famous, in which case I WILL try to graze elbows). Everyone is fumbling with their conference badges and standing on their tiptoes to glare at the cashier, as if that will make the line go faster. I give up and leave. I bought my ticket to AWP and I WILL NOT spend it in a Subway.
While I climb the stairs to the next panel, I remember the peanuts. Every time I fly, I ask for peanuts and only eat one of the two little bags. It seems silly to throw it away, so I save the extra bag in my purse for some indeterminate time. I realize that NOW IS THAT TIME. Outside the conference room, I pour two salty bags of peanuts into my mouth so that the crinkly package doesn’t annoy everyone during the talk. I wash it down with a paper cup of free coffee.
By the time I’m supposed to meet up with my friends for dinner, I’m jittery and my blood sugar is so low I want to buy one of those $8 sandwiches they were selling in the lobby that were more bread than anything else. I know I’m on my way to dinner but I’m concerned I legitimately might not make it. When I get to the lobby, the caterers have gone home to their own dinners. I go back upstairs and walk from conference room to conference room, peeking in each until I find the leftovers from some reception or another. I dart in and grab a sad-looking smashed half of a brownie. To assuage my guilt and shame, I take one of their pamphlets. I never read it.
I meet my friends for dinner and we order all the courses, even though they make you pay extra for salad and bread. We order overpriced bottles of wine. We imagine ourselves a night full of telling stories with strangers, pretending we’ve read books we haven’t, and remembering why writing matters. Instead we are so full we end up in our beds early. I write myself a reminder to get a sandwich in the morning. I lose the note and fall asleep.
By the time I get home I’ll be craving fresh fruit like someone with scurvy. I’ll lay on the couch and eat apples and vow to eat like a normal human being next year. By next year I’ll forget, but I keep collecting extra bags of airplane peanuts.