How to AWP by failing

Here's a little piece I wrote after this years AWP in Los Angeles.

I’ve had the privilege of producing 120 episodes for The How The Why podcast for 1888. 120 unique voices talking about their love for literature and the literary arts (that’s a rough number, to be honest. Some episodes had multiple guests, some episodes had a guest for the second time, some live episodes I wasn’t even the host, but I like the roundness of 120). 120 opportunities for me to learn a little more, dig myself a little deeper into the the world of literature and publication, and to make fairly strong connections. 120 people, most of whom were strangers to me aside from our 45 minute conversation, most of whom were going to be at AWP this year in Los Angeles, my adopted home. It was going to be my chance to put faces to voices and to intensify established relationships. It was also my chance to reconnect with Jensen Beach who was at the conference with Green Mountains Review and also to promote his new book of short stories published by Graywolf Press. We had grown up together, went to school from elementary on up. It had been twenty years since we had seen each other.

This was going to be my first AWP. I’d heard stories about the panels, the parties, the opportunities to connect and network and pitch your projects. I was going to pitch my projects. On top of the 120 episodes, I had my first book published the past year and I still didn’t know/wasn’t fully comfortable with how to pitch my own work. I was beyond excited to participate in the conference, to walk the convention hall, to meet new people, to discover new Lit Journals to geek out on, to buy books and get them signed, to sell books and sign them, to maybe drink too much and hug all of my new friends telling them how much I loved them.

WEDNESDAY

I showed up about noon to help Kevin Staniec and Ryan Gattis set up the 1888 booth. Both of them were seasoned with the convention and gave me tips on how to traverse the hall and which programs were can’t miss. I met Eric Weintraub for the first time after multiple conversations online. It was his first time as well. I half expected some sort of initiation process, like the way they make you roll in the dirt at Burning Man the first time, or write “V” all over you the first time you see a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Ok, I didn’t really expect that at all, but it would be cool if everyone was required to recite a quote from Chaucer, or Hemingway, or Yeats, or Junot Diaz, or have their favorite book or author or poet printed on their lanyard. I stood around watching them discuss the placement of the bookshelves and then we had lunch. Then I left for work with only a slight taste of what to expect over the next few days.

I should mention that AWP coincided with me getting a huge opportunity at my day job, which is really a night job. I work at a highly rated with all different types of stars and awards restaurant, and starting the Tuesday before AWP, I took over the beverage department as the Sommelier for one month while the official Somm toured France. I was nervous, afraid I wasn’t prepared enough, worried that everyone would see me as a fraud and chastise me. Kind of the same way I would feel before my podcast interviews and when someone has shown interest in reading anything I write.

The night went smooth. Better than my first night. I looked forward to the morning, wondering which panels I would attend. I had brought my computer with me to do inventory and enter new invoices for the day, and not wanting to take up too much space, I put my computer bag in my car. My new car.

I should also mention I had a new car. Three weeks earlier I was in a car accident and my car of ten years was totalled. My insurance allowed me to get a new vehicle. Something happens when you have a new car. You feel like a better person, like you have achieved some higher level in life. The shoulders come back a bit, the chin lifts while you drive, a smile finds itself on your face more often. I had the new car, new job combo. I was going to own AWP the next morning.

I walked out of work carrying my suit to my car at about 10pm. I may have been strutting a bit as I said farewell to my colleagues. From about a hundred paces away I saw the destruction. A hole in my driver’s side window. The rest of the glass splintered into thousands of pieces miraculously held in the shape of my old window. One touch and the entire thing transformed into diamonds covering my driver’s seat and the parking space around my car. My computer bag was gone. My computer was gone. The last few months of work on my novel was gone. The unedited episodes for the podcast was gone. The photos of my daughter were gone. My three week old car was aggressively violated and covered in shiny, tiny, clothes ripping, skin tearing shards of glass.

I called the Santa Monica police department. They had only two patrol cars available and it was going to take them hours to get to me to file a report. It was clear the dispatch officer didn’t give a fuck about me, or my car, or my computer. There were “real” crimes that took precedence. I called my insurance to file a report. They needed a police report to proceed. I was stuck with two options, wait for hours for a cop to unenthusiastically file a report, or drive back in my windowless cutting machine to Hollywood and park my windowless car in Hollywood where I have witnessed people defecate, urinate, and fornicate all around my parking lot. I chose to wait for the police. My colleagues bought me pizza and beer while we waited.

Two hours passed and I called the dispatch once again. “I told you, sir, it’s going to be a while.” I chose to go home. I did my best to clear the glass from my seat and steering wheel and any part of the car my body would touch. I started the car and my phone rang.

“Is this Jon?” I didn’t feel like explaining that my name was Jon-Barrett.

“Yes?”

“This is Officer Stephens. You reported your computer stolen?”

“Yes?”

“We may have recovered it. We saw your name but didn’t know how to contact you, and then we saw the report of your break in and theft.”

“Really?!?”

“The individuals responsible were involved with another serious crime which is why we haven’t had a chance to get to your incident. They were in possession of multiple computers and one of them is yours. We are sending officers to you to take a report and take fingerprints. Is that ok?”

“Yes! Fuck yeah, that’s great!”

Twenty minutes later, two of Santa Monica’s finest showed up to interrogate me. Good cop, bad cop routine. The tall, Draco Malfoy looking cop, without a smile asked me the same questions multiple times. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to catch me in a lie or if he was incompetent. They caught the kids with my computer. Why did he need to know where I worked and where I lived? His partner, the veteran, had a softer edge to her as she repeated his questions and chastised him for not having cards or gloves on him. We waited another forty-five minutes for the Edward Snowden looking forensic officer to show up and take multiple photos of my car and the parking lot and cover my car in fingerprint powder. They were building a case against the kids they caught holding my computer.

When I asked about getting my computer back, Edward Snowden told me it should just be a couple days while the processed it as evidence. Cool. This weird little hiccup happened and then everything would be back to normal and I got a funny story to share at AWP.

THURSDAY

I got home at 3am and covered my driver’s side door with dry cleaning plastic to ward off anyone contemplating sleeping in my car, or using it for a bathroom, or just taking it. After a few hours of sleep I was up and on the phone. I needed to file the insurance report, find a repair shop, and fix the window. AWP was on hold those things were done. My hope was to get everything taken care of and make it to the conference for a few hours before I had to go to work.

I called the insurance agent. He informed me that my deductible wouldn’t cover the window repair. Fuck. Ok. Well, I would be out a couple hundred dollars. I was making more at the new job, so it would be ok. I called multiple repair shops getting quoted $420, $457, $470 and they wouldn’t be able to get the glass for a few days since it was a new vehicle. Fuck. Ok. I was waiting for one mobile glass repair to get back to me. They were willing to meet me at my job and fix the window while I worked. Hours went by. Out of desperation and fear of having my car be exposed for another night, I took it to the dealership where I bought it three weeks earlier. $470 for repairs. Fuck. Ok. My insurance was going to cover a rental. I’d get a rental car and make it to AWP for one hour before I had to leave for work.

I Ubered to Enterprise Rental Car. I love Uber. I waited for the understaffed attendants to get to me. I filled out my paperwork gave them my credit card and pulled out my driver’s license and my chest collapsed. As I looked at my smiling photo I remembered my license had expired the week before on my birthday. I had forgotten to set an appointment with all the hassle of the accident, the new car, and prep for the new job. Maybe she wouldn’t notice. Sweat beaded on my lip and my brow.

“Sorry, sir. The license is expired. We can’t rent to you.”

Fuck. Ok.

I ran home. Got ready for work and took the most expensive Uber ride from Hollywood to Santa Monica. My driver forgot to take her Waze App off of no freeway mode. I hate Uber.

FRIDAY

The one good thing from this annoying ordeal was that I didn’t have time to stress out about running the beverage department of the restaurant and hosting the wine dinners with bottles worth collectively over $10000.

I woke up early Friday morning and rode my bike to the DMV. My plan was to get my license, rent the car, call the police about my computer and spend a few hours at AWP. At 8am, the DMV line was stretched around the block, and that was the line to check in. After four hours at the happiest place on Earth, I rode quickly home, got dressed and walked to Enterprise Rental. I waited my turn and gave the lady my temporary license, or what I thought was my license. In actuality, it was the receipt from DMV. I ran home, found the license and ran back in time to realize my credit card was in my suit for work. I ran home again and back to Enterprise. I got the car. The second rental from Enterprise in less than a month. The fourth car in my possession in less than a month. I drove home, grabbed my work clothes, and got on the freeway in massive traffic. At that rate, I would have been able to spend maybe thirty minutes at the conference before I had to leave for work.

SATURDAY

I made it to AWP. I drove my Hyundai rental to the LA Convention Center, proudly adorned my lanyard, loaded my tote bag with copies of my book, and made my way onto the convention floor. I walked over to the 1888 booth, hugged Kevin, and sat down, realizing for the first time during this whole ordeal how exhausted I was. I didn’t want to walk the floor, or go to panels or lectures, or geek out on Lit Mags or authors or poets. I didn’t want to talk about my book or the podcast. I just wanted to sit. Other attendees wore the same beat down look as I did. Theirs came from attending readings, and parties, and gatherings, and full days at AWP.

I sat. I shook hands. I talked about 1888. I sold some of my books. I signed some of my books. I connected with a handful of people I had interviewed for the podcast. I hugged people and put faces to voices. I even, eventually walked the hall, overwhelmed by everything. I visited Neela Banerjee at Kaya Press and signed a copy of my book for her. I saw Kevin Smokler and chatted for a bit. I saw Dani Hedlund from Tethered By Letters and apologized for not getting coffee over the last few days. I saw Deena Drewis from Nouvella and eeked out a smile. I ran into Lilliam Rivera and hugged her with whatever energy I could muster. I sat with Veronica Bane in the 1888 booth and talked about Harry Potter. I talked to Gallagher Lawson about his new book before he went to do a reading. I shared a pizza with Kevin and Janet as we informed passerbys about 1888, and our books, and the podcast. I never found Jensen. After six hours, I left AWP 2016 and went to work.

That night, in a last ditch attempt to connect with my long time friend, I sent Jensen a text. We met up after work. I stole him away from his literary friends and we ate burritos and drank 40oz beers overlooking downtown LA marveling at our lives and how the hell we got so old. All in all it was an awesome AWP.

AFTERWORD

My window was fixed and because of other damage to the car caused by the break in, I got a whole new door and only had to pay a fraction of my deductible.

About a week after the incident, I got a call from the Santa Monica police department that my computer was processed and ready to be picked up. At the station, the officer put on rubber gloves and opened a manilla envelope. He handed me the computer and some paper towels, telling me to be careful of the dust. It was covered in graphite fingerprint dust. The metallic shavings filled every hole of my machine including the magnetic port for the power source. The bag was gone. The charger was gone. Just the black smeared computer.

I took my machine to a repair shop to see if they could clean it. They said the dust had infiltrated the components of the computer and that the dust was highly conductive and that if I were to plug the machine in it would fry the whole thing. They took three days to backup my hard drive. I had to buy a new computer. It had been three weeks since I posted an episode for the podcast. I was in the hole over $2000 from the incident and my files from the backup weren’t loading properly on the new computer. It took me a full day to figure out how to get my editing software on the new machine so I could post an episode.

I think I have stabilized everything. Not only did I get everything up on the new machine, I also got technicians to fix the old machine and get my money back for the cost of backing it up.


What did I learn? Nothing will ever work out the way you plan. Also, don’t ever leave your computer in the car.