I’m at the Association of Writing Programs’ annual convention (this year, it’s in Boston). This is the big professional organization for people affiliated with writing programs (which, by extension, has turned it into the big convention for writers of literary fiction in the U.S.)
It’s good. Kind of big. Twelve thousand people. Pretty much all of them are writers. And I know barely anyone. I’m here with almost all of the MFA fiction writers (and some of the poets, too), which definitely assuages some of the loneliness. But I still feel a bit on the outside. Obviously, as a student, I’m a bit low-status. But it’s more than that.
I’ve come to realize that, regardless of their states purpose, almost all gatherings—AA meetings, churches, meetings at offices, corporate retreats, concerts, protests, etc—are basically social scenes. There are a bunch of regulars, who have the most connections (mostly with each other) and power, and they basically organize the whole thing for their own benefit. They’re the ones who the gathering is for. And, because of that, when outsiders come in, they always feel a bit rejected and shut out.
The important thing for the outsider is just to realize that the left-out feeling is a normal thing that everyone has to go through when they try to break in. And you can try to be friendly and outgoing and that helps a bit, but, really, the moment when you start to fit in is this weird, invisible transition. You come back a few times and, suddenly, you recognize people in the halls. Your schedule fills up. You get invited to dinners and parties. You start only going to panels that your friends and acquaintances are on. You don’t know quite how it happens, but suddenly you’re part of the in-group.
I’ve experienced this process a bunch of times. I was part of my college’s newspaper staff and twice a year we’d have banquets. During my first few, I stood in a corner and was desperately lonely and really made no attempt to talk to people or anything. But during my last few, I had a lot of fun. My first few science fiction conventions were miserable and lonely experiences. My last few were significantly easier and more filled with, like, talking to people and having them talk back to me.
So yeah, I imagine that my fifth AWP will be a riot.