Over Memorial Day weekend, I attended my very first writers’ conference, which was hosted by Creative Nonfiction, a literary magazine based in my hometown. I definitely had some highs and lows during the three (two?) day experience, so I wanted to share it with my readers.
The event kicked off in downtown Pittsburgh on Thursday. I was glad to be in my hometown, but because of my anxiety and Pittsburgh’s maze of construction, one way streets, and dead ends, I only know my way around bits and pieces of the city. This only added to the nerves I felt over my first conference. I knew which garage I wanted to park in, and as I was waiting to make the left turn towards it, I almost got plowed into by a bus, whose driver apparently didn’t think it was appropriate that I was yielding to pedestrians. The near-miss set me even more on edge, so much so that once I’d parked my car and exited the garage, I was completely lost. I ended up walking two blocks in the opposite direction in eighty-five degree heat before I realized I was going the wrong way. I stopped at a Starbucks to pee and get my bearings, only to realize that I was getting blisters in the new sandals I’d recently purchased. By the time I arrived at Point Park University’s campus, I was a sweaty, disheveled, and pissed off mess. Oh and did I mention that I discovered a parking garage approximately five hundred feet caddy corner from the campus?
Registration went smoothly, and here I acquired an official-looking name tag, convenient tote bag, and conference schedule. After milling around with other writers, all sorting through issues of Creative Nonfiction or mingling with co-workers or acquaintances, we headed to the ballroom where the introduction and welcome would take place. It was at this point that I realized I was starving (this may have been the first time in my life I was too nervous to eat dinner), so I was happy to see that hors d’oeuvres and drinks were being served. I guzzled down cup after cup of ice water, then made my way over the the food where I piled veggies, cheese, and bread on my tiny little plate. I braved a table of strangers and we all chatted politely while munching. Despite my growling stomach and the feeling of being lightheaded, I found that the vegetables I’d picked up were . . . pickled, and I could barely force them down. Instead I politely covered them with my cocktail napkin and dumped them in the trash before we took our seats for the official kick off to the conference.
After a brief introduction, the founder of Creative Nonfiction, Lee Gutkind, took the floor. Although I admit that I’d never heard of Lee prior to my discovery of his magazine, I found him instantly likeable, humorous, and undoubtedly inspiring. By the time he’d finished speaking, I felt comfortable and sure that I’d made the right decision to attend my first conference. Unfortunately, I was going to have to miss Friday’s festivities since I wasn’t able to get my vacation day approved at work, which dampened the renewed excitement I’d felt after hearing Lee’s speech.
An informal meet and great was to follow the welcome, and I desperately wanted to join these writers, young and old, male and female, experienced and novice, to mingle, shake hands, and make some connections. But I was exhausted, my feet were aching, I was starving, and the thought of finding my way back to the parking garage in the dark was giving me another panic attack. Drinking alcohol and introducing myself to strangers was not something I felt I could handle at the moment. I was also furious that I was going to have to miss Friday’s events because of work. Realizing that I wasn’t in the best place, mentally or emotionally, I made the difficult and incredibly frustrating decision to skip the meet and greet and left.
After navigating yet another detour (multiple bridges had been shut down due to an escaped barge on one of our three rivers), I stopped to grab food before making my way home.
The only good thing about being absent for the conference events on Friday was the fact that work was so incredibly busy I didn’t have time to think about what I was missing. That night, I planned on going to bed early so I could get a good night’s sleep and put my best foot forward at the conference on Saturday.
But, of course, that didn’t go as planned either.
Stayed Tuned for Part 2 Next Week!