AWP 2012: Robot People, Monsters, and Me

March 2, 2012 § 5 Comments

 
By Betsy Andrews Etchart

I am in Chicago.

I am here for the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference and Book Fair. According to the AWP website, 7,999 others are here for it, too.

The day before I left, I explained to the Bots that I was going to Chicago. They know that I will be gone for one-two-three-four days. Mbot knows that Chicago is not too far away and on the North American continent, and, that, according to a Google Street View, it has robot people walking in front of the big castles, but he does not think they are bad robot people. Gbot knows that he can see Chicago by looking south from the top of the jungle gym.

I know that it is windy and I have been alone but surrounded by people now for twenty-four hours. The conference starts in an hour. Last night I sat at the bar and perused the four hundred on-site events that I could attend if I had Hermione Granger’s time-turner, everything from “Behind the Book: Debut authors reveal the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” to “Ear Candy: Teaching the Pleasures of Poetic Meter.”

There will be talk about composing narrative, the value of the traditional form, and the possibilities of breaking the mold. I thought of the story Mbot told me a few nights ago as I was putting him to bed. It went like this:

“Mom, do you know what camping is? It’s when you go into a dark forest. With a fork.* And if you find a monster?”

He raised his eyebrows, tipped his head to one side, and raised both hands, palms up, beside his cheeks. “Oh, well! The monster eats ya.”*

So much for the happy ending.

I was surprised by his story because Mbot has a distinct aversion to scary things, particularly in stories. Whenever anything unpleasant happens in a movie we are watching–even if happens to a bad guy–he jumps off the sofa and retreats into the kitchen with his giant, stuffed Junepbear, who apparently also dislikes onscreen unpleasantries.

But scary is part of every story, part of traditional narrative arcs and nontraditional narratives alike. Our heroes start in a place no more than medium-good, face scary parts, then conquer the badness to arrive at a happier place than they occupied at the beginning.

So now it is 8:27 and time for me to go out and learn. I am excited about that part. It’s the thought of meeting those other 7,999 conference attendees that makes me uneasy, the thought that I perhaps won’t try hard enough to meet others, although I know I will enjoy a good many of them and begin a few friendships. Even now, at forty-four,  a professional and a mother, it’s more comfortable for me to sit and write than to go out and meet people.

But Chicago is full of good robot people, and Gbot is keeping an eye on me from the top of his jungle gym. So it’s time to kick myself out of my capsule of comfort on the nineteenth floor and head out into the wind and the world. And if I’m a little scared? Scary is all part of the story.

Where are you along your narrative arc?

*Mbot is big into the fork as weapon, ever since he saw a picture in one of my books of a sculpture of the Greek sea-god Poseidon holding a trident.

**It is still unclear as to whether the monster eats you with your own fork.

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