On this blog, I do my fair share of complaining ("My ass isn't attached!" "I walk like a broke-down marionette being operated by someone who's high on paint thinner!" "America keeps trying to break up with me, despite my clinging harder than Jessica Biel on Justin Timberlake!"). When you break it right down, however, my life is pretty sweet.
I mean, a few days ago I was hanging out in a hotel room in Denver with L.T., who plays for the Australian national team. The last time I saw L.T., we were in a cafe on the streets of Paris eating dainty pastries and speaking the kind of French that made actual French people ask me if I was sure I'm Canadian, since don't Canadians speak French? (In my defense, I took Chinese in high school). L.T. remarked on how great it is to have the kind of lifestyle where you can hang out in Paris with someone a few years back, get drunk on pineapple tequila shots with them in a bar in Champaign Urbana, then chill in a hotel room with them in beautiful Denver, Colorado. I mean, who else can say that? Who else has that life?
Yes, I am indeed lucky. Right now, my two passions (wheelchair basketball and writing) have come together in Denver. (Denver the city, not Denver my brother....which is a source of endless confusion). My former wheelchair basketball team the Fighting Illini are playing today in the national championship (I-L-L! I-N-I!) and there's also a huge creative writing conference called AWP on. It's like someone designed a weekend just for me.
Now, I tend to be a pretty shy person. I was 20 before I could look people in the eye and, even now, meeting new people tends to give me the same symptoms as overcaffeination/ meth addiction: talking quickly! Making large hand gestures that occasionally cause me to hit people in the face or knock steaming cups of coffee into my lap! Slight tremor of the hands! (The fact that I am usually overcaffeinated on top of this doesn't help matters). For that reason, AWP gives me the cold sweats. Not only are you supposed to talk to people, but those people are generally anti-social writerly types like yourself, who are equally nervous and overcaffeinated but who suspect that their entire writing career might rest on their ability to charm someone at the conference into publishing their brilliance. (The fact that half of these people confuse "writer" with "someone who wears outlandish clothing in a bid to get attention" is topic for another day).
Until last night, the only new person I had met at AWP was the woman who also walked with a cane (cane friend!) who I met in the registration line-up. We bonded over our mutual gimpiness and our taste in canes (she had a sleek fold-up model with a little hook on the end so you can prop the cane up against tables and stuff and it won't fall over on the people and cause great injury and embarrassment) and the fact that we were wasting our walking time standing in line. Luckily for me, this Cane Friend was not afraid to tell the woman in charge of registration that they should have a special line for people who had trouble standing and got us to the front of the line, saving us at least 30 minutes! Go Cane Friend! The registration lady obviously didn't want to face the wrath of two angry chicks armed with metal poles.
During the conference, however, I tended to keep my head down. Like, what was I supposed to say to people? "So....do you like words?....Because I like words...." "So....are you wearing that fedora ironically?....." "So...do you also find the bookfair filled with thousands of people whose sweat smells like raw, unbridled ambition a little disconcerting?"
Luckily, however, you don't need social skills when you have good friends. Last night, M. and I hit the town and stumbled upon a fiction reading at a cool little bar. M. is a social butterfly and quickly made friends with tons of people, dragging me into the conversation with her. Long story short, we ended up at a party in a house/gallery talking to all sorts of writerly types about writerly things. Thanks to M.'s icebreaking/wingman skills and the assistance of some Coors Light (hey, when you're in Denver drinking Coors is practically a requirement) and Fat Tire, I ended up speaking words to people I did not know! This is progress, considering that most of my social skills were learned when some of the lesbians on the Canadian national team got sick of watching me blush and stammer my way through interactions and took it upon themselves to teach me how to pick up men (I know, I know) and would give me little homework assignments at tournaments (talk to 5 people, find the "sole mate" of one of the single-leg amputees on the team, etc) in attempt to hone my skills. That, however, is a story for another day.