Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Notes on BinderCon

In October, I took myself to Out of the Binders: a Symposium on Women Writers Today (which I, along with many others, documented on Instagram).

It was such a gift to listen to so many excellent writers address biases, harassments, setbacks, and struggles in a space really electrified by excitement and the sheer necessity of the conference. And, for me, to be in New York by myself.

I get exceedingly ungraceful when all I can say is "I had a great time," but — not only did I have a great time — I also wanted to extend my help to everyone trying to power projects, to justify my own nervous energy and insecurity, and do just as the feedback form figured: run home and write.

That was part of the poignancy of the experience, since most of the panelists had a career arc to discuss, had achieved significantly, had manifested dreams to some degree, and this year was the first year I stood still. That was an achievement for me — I had not kept a job for a year since graduating from college. I love my job. It is challenging, and it absorbs my energy in a way that I have never had to negotiate before, and that has made keeping my momentum outside of work harder. I am terrifically harsh on myself about this, though — during this same time I claim to have stood still, I wrote a book in half a year! Something I've never done before! That is nothing to denigrate. But I find a way.

The "Writing While Trans" panel was my favorite, and not only because the Lillian Vernon House is punishing in how beautiful it is. Ashley Lauren Rogers and Imogen Binnie's panel demonstrated the importance of trans writing and writing about transgender experiences gaining greater visibility, and the fun they had doing it was a fantastic testament as to why. I admire Imogen Binnie's writing so much — I will never stop recommending Nevada; I have never been so excited reading a book — I really wanted to say something but I ran away. I've physically ejected myself from a lot of high (emotional) stakes interactions lately, so that's looking like my thing for 2015.

Other things: the sight of Leigh Stein and Leslie Jamison first thing at BinderCon reduced me to some kind of middle school version of myself, I was so excited/so awful about articulating it. Anna Holmes' talk with Rachel Sklar resonated profoundly, especially everything she had to say about exhaustion. The way working on a web publication can consume you. I'm afraid I alarmed Dodai Stewart in the bathroom, but I had to tell her what her work means to me and was, by that point, quite emboldened by how much I had been crying.

I didn't know Jenna Wortham or Anna Fitzpatrick were going to be there, and those were two episodes of crying — in part because it was such a great event, in part because of how badly I needed that time alone with myself, and the relief was intimidating, knowing I could not sustain that. I did a lot of work with sports this season, which was new world of stress.

My behavior hardly departed from the time I went to &Now. I get overwhelmed — I never knew people who wrote growing up, never saw evidence that people did that work or could achieve and be proud of themselves and share that work.

Amanda Hess, Beejoli Shah and everything out of the "Don't Read the Comments" panel tore me apart — I am a comment moderator, I have experienced sexual harassment by commenters, and I was expecting something more practical about how to manage those interactions, but instead — and the content of the panel was more necessary than what I just described as expecting — the speakers described severe episodes of harassment and threats made against them, and how they were dismissed and confronted by how they have little to no means of recourse in defending themselves and holding those harassers accountable. That was a discussion I wish all the writers I know could have heard and that I hope to see again at other conferences.

Jill Abramson's talk with Emily Bell made me wish I could reflect on a long career. I could really feel my soul leaving my body at that point, especially when the conversation expanded to include the audience. People were seated on the floor, the tables were packed, and being in such an intimate space with so many people, all of whom I would have loved to listen to. And as many people were there, I kept thinking about the people I know who were not there, who I would have liked to have taken there with me and how many writers — especially young writers who do not see evidence of other people doing that work — should be there to take part in something like that.

And it's happening again! In March, in L.A., which is a dream, but, maybe.

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