institute for documentary studies

{Week 5: Writing}

Week 5: Writing

I count the weeks on my fingers – one, two, three, four, five – and end on my pinkie. Five weeks since I started Salt. Five weeks since I drove up to Portland from Boston, watching from the car window as the buildings blurred into empty fields of snow. The earth keeps spinning, but the space-time-matter consortium that is The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies belies all sense of movement. Winter has overstayed her welcome, snow covering the sidewalk, coated with dirt, sealed by ice. When will winter be over? I ask a snow bank, my fingers curled inside my mittens. Why can’t Salt last forever?


This week, for the very first time, I called myself a writer. The site of my confession was less monumental than one would imagine; the bathroom of a convention center. AWP, or, The Association for Writers and Writing Programs, hosts a yearly conference , which brings in established writers, editors, and publishers, and more noticeably, gaggles of “emerging” writers, looking lost and in need of literary guidance, a notebook clamped to their chest like a defibrillator.  Isaac Fitzgerald, Managing Editor of The Rumpus, calls AWPee his favorite urology conference.


At 6:45 a.m. on Thursday, Mira and I packed into Donna’s (Salt’s executive director) truck and headed southward on our pilgrimage. Through sleet, snow, and Boston traffic, we arrived at the AWP Conference, soggy but smiling. The registration line was as long as one at Disney World, but replace children’s tears and spilled popcorn for New York City sighs and lost chapbooks. We waited. And waited. Mira’s baby bump eventually  bumped us to the “Elderly and Special Needs” section, which was half as long. Staff members rolled office chairs down the line to provide standers a moment of respite.


Standing was making me thirsty, so I left the line to find water. The concession stands were closed, the water fountains impossible to locate, so I squeezed past the line outside the women’s bathroom and sipped tap water out of my cupped hands like I had just found an oasis in the desert. As I leaned down to the sink bowl for a third helping, a cheerful girl next to me using the soap dispenser asked “Who are you here with?” She was an MFA student and she was thirsty, too. I explained that I was with Salt, and that I was a writer.


A small admission, I know, but it was the first time I was completely surrounded by my own demographic; twenty-something writer-somethings, who read books in bars, live in coffee shops, and fight over etymological theory.


In writing class, we are knee-deep in our second drafts. With only four of us, each piece gets almost an hour of attention, and we all feel invested in the development of our classmates’ drafts. I have seen them in their infancy, and now they are somewhere in their awkward middle-school phase – all gangly and in need of affirmation (mine included), But drafts grow up so fast….