Thursday, August 24, 2006

Day 7

Okay, so Tuesday turned out to be my BL day from hell. Not any fault of the conference, mind you, but a fault of personal scheduling, and the inescapable syndrome of FMS: Fear of Missing Something.

I had workshop comments to finish after breakfast, then workshop, then lunch with my workshop, which I had to leave early because I had a meeting with the editor of Orion Magazine, a periodical that I just adore for its emotional take on environmental and social issues. It is also gorgeously put together. our meeting was productive, and he said they are taking fiction again, which is good. (I haven't seen any in the magazine for two years, but always thought they would do well by a story, so I'm glad to know they are accepting again.)

From there, I went to a craft class taught by Laila Lalami, which was very interesting and informative. She had a handout of excerpts from different authors who write in English but whose characters do not speak English, or for whom English is a second language. There was a wonderful discussion of the politics of using italics to set off "foreign" words, which of course then makes the assumption that anything other than English is foreign, much in the way we always start out reading with the assumption that a character is white and American. She said that certain words are often not translated and/or nontranslatable. The list included: endearments, insults, explatives, idioms, food, greetings, place names, metaphors, proverbs, and an especially fascinating one: animal sounds. In the US, the rooster says cock-a-doodle-doo, in other languages, the "translation" is quite different--"kree, kree" for example.

After Laila's class, I really wanted to hear Emily Raboteau's reading, but unfortunately the weather decided to turn foul. Since we had a major outdoor reception half set up, things got hairy, really quickly. Eleventh hour decision--move to the barn. So we schlepped everything through the rain, against impossible odds (dramatic writing) and re-set everything up. It was a book signing and turned out wonderful, once the staff all caught their breath and calmed down. But then there were two places to break down afterward. When the crowd finally left, the staff sat around and had quick bloody Marys and laughed with giddy exhaustion.

Then we went to dinner and a combination of things came together to send me over the emotional edge. (I feel compelled to mention that I'm not prone to going over the edge, but the combination of academics, physical exhaustion and social overload lead most Bread Loaf waiters and/or staffers to have one day when everything comes crashing down. It's most often intense, but short lived. As I had to give my reading in a mere two hours from my moment of breakdown, I could not afford to be the exception.) Here's how it built: By a purely clerical oversight, my picture was not included on the bulletin board with the other staff photos. I mentioned it to a few people, but we're all busy and that really is a small thing. No worries. But as we sat down to dinner, the head waiter named the staff that would be reading. Everyone was listed, except for yours truly. Oops. Another clerical error. Nothing personal. So I rush to the podium to tell the announcer my name wasn't read, so that he can amend his announcement. "Oh, he said, checking his notes, it wasn't my fault. You aren't on the list." He doesn't return to the microphone.

My God, I start thinking, maybe I don't exist. Am I really here at all? So, barely containing my rising panic about the actual state of my existence, I return to my seat at the dining table, where my plate of food was waiting for me. I think, you're just tired, Mare. Tired and hungry. And I talk down the panic. Then, as I approach the table, I see that someone is sitting in my seat, eating my food. I kid you not.

What can I conclude, but that I am in fact invisible? Mary Akers, The Invisible Woman.

Of course, I wasn't, but the cry I had over it was very cleansing and actually helped to give me some attitude for my reading, which was very successful. I chose humor to read, since everyone here is desperate to laugh, and was rewarded in my choice. The audience was great, very encouraging, supportive, and enthusiastic and the day ended on a high note, thankfully.

Oh, and my picture is now on the board.

6 comments:

Stephanie said...

No wonder you felt invisible! You were made to feel invisible three times in a short time period! That's enough to send anyone over the edge.

It sounds like your reading went really well though, Mary.

Clifford Garstang said...

It's an understatement to say that the reading went well. The next day one of the fellows approached Mary to compliment her and this morning at breakfast an important agent sat with us at breakfast and told Mary how much she'd enjoyed it. It was wonderful.

Myfanwy Collins said...

You do so exist, Mary Akers! Sounds like your reading was a smashing success!

Anne said...

A person was actually eating your food? Oh, man. I feel for you.

I'm so glad your reading went well.

It does make me wonder something though--Bread Loaf is known for "stratifying" its participants. (Wrong word probably. "Ranking?") Do you suppose this contributes to a lot of people feeling invisible at one time or another? I'm just curious. Or, is this bad reputation undeserved?

Don't answer that question if you aren't comfortable, of course. I'm not trying to put you on the spot, I'm just tossing questions out.

Jim said...

What a day from hell, and what a great save to the day with that reading, Mary. You are my hero!

Katie said...

Serious bad day! It does sound like things got a lot better after.