The Weather

What I Learned at AWP

I want to be a writer. Perhaps this seems like too obvious of a statement to begin with here. After all, I’m writing to you now. Literally at this very moment. I’m not convinced I knew this, though, as recently as a year, month, or week ago. I’m not entirely convinced I understand this feeling even now. Nor do I doubt how delayed this revelation might seem to onlookers, like some irritatingly simple-yet-stunted, post-adolescent defining experience straight out of a Zach Braff movie. And I hate Zach Braff. I am twenty-four years old, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with qualifying whatever I think could be termed a “defining experience,” or, more specifically, “my defining experience.” Why? Because in high school my college counselor always told me not to worry about choosing a career path until later. And in college, no one told me anything. Because my favorite movie growing up was Now & Then and because Demi Moore’s character never forgot about that summer her parents got a divorce and she got some great advice from Crazy Pete, forever solidifying her future as a science fiction author. Because I can’t recall a single time when everyone around me didn’t seem more sure of their aspirations than I was and because up until, well, today, I would’ve very much liked to have pocketed a “defining experience” for myself, too. It pains me to think of how many hours I’ve spent running through every major event of my life in my head, desperately attempting to identify the exact moment when I realized who I was, who I had been, and who I was going to be. For a while, I tried to tell myself it was the day I finally walked out of that weirdo rehab facility in Missouri (think Alice in Wonderland, only with a lot more drugs and velvet purple couches), but that turned out to be mostly a lie. I don’t remember feeling so changed back then, just nervous, and probably a little bloated. After that, I swore it must’ve been the three days I spent not sleeping and flirting instead with an Australian man on the beach in Busan. I was twenty-two and it was the only time I’ve felt completely disassembled by a stranger, and it happened just like that. But in all honesty, I’ve been actively falling in love with someone somewhere ever since Halloween 1991 (my older brother’s best friend, Tom, came along trick-or-treating; he, a prisoner, and I, Robin Hood, were a questionable match from the start), and besides, even after spending some time traveling I couldn’t claim to know any more about where I meant to go in life than I had before I’d left New York. Despite what I eventually put on my MFA applications, I started writing not for any pivotal spiritual experience or newly discovered calling, but only because I suddenly felt I had a promise to keep, albeit to a man I’d never see again and who probably lied to me about his name and had a steady girlfriend back in Melbourne or whatever, but still. He’d asked me what I intended to do with myself back in America and in response I’d mumbled, “I want to write.” For some reason, I couldn’t just forget about it, as if keeping my word with this one off-hand comment was the way to make up for every friend I’d ever flaked on and every opportunity I’d blown off. And I know what you’re thinking. Where is Zach Braff now? The whole thing seems too cliché to merit remembering, let alone sticking to. I don’t feel totally comfortable confessing this, nor do I disagree. I mean, how often do you watch the sunrise on the beach with a charming, single Australian? No one has dared write that scene into even a B-list movie since Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Our Lips Are Sealed went straight to DVD in the year 2000. But we are often loyal to these moments because they are unreal, because of all the sparkling promise they hold to perfectly correct our faults. So I did what anyone else would do. I got myself on a plane back to New York, picked up yet another unfulfilling office job, and I wrote. A little. Tentatively. Never once feeling like I had any clue what I was doing, and still waiting for that defining moment to spill itself out on the word document in front of me. Clearly, and preferably in twelve-point font. It’s been almost two full years of waiting now and still—nothing. There was no reassuring awareness of my life’s purpose when I moved to LA for graduate school, not the first time I was published, and definitely not this past weekend, at my first annual AWP writers’ conference, when I theoretically should’ve felt comforted and surrounded by peers, people also on the grand literary journey, so to speak. Truthfully, though, I’ve never felt less comforted, only a little sick to my stomach when I saw so many writers scrambling for a front seat at the Don DeLillo reading in the main conference hall, then raising their hands to ask him how he did it and how they could do it, too.

Adriana Widdoes is a writer currently living in Los Angeles. She is a coastal hybrid of sorts.