The “arriving” started the day before, with an Aug 13 touchdown in Montreal, whose airport had been renamed since my last visit. “Dorval” was no more. I had a lot of psychological build-up for the conference, not just because, hey, it’s fun to travel, but because my key reason for applying was that Alexander Chee was teaching.
This was big, because I’d been to a number of writing conferences and never once has there been a queer man of any description on the teaching faculty. (Do conferences have “faculty?”) So, unlike the other places I applied for that summer, for Bread Loaf I sent a work featuring a straight white woman as protagonist. I mean, I wanted to get in! (To everywhere else, I sent pieces featuring gay men. I got in nowhere. This is a recurring theme in my life. And by recurring theme I mean ironclad rule.)
Now, I know this is in some sense irrational, because you can learn from everyone and there are not enough gay writers around for every conference to have one. That’s a feature of being a minority: there are not a lot of you. And esteemed Mr Chee wasn’t the only one. Christopher Castellani was teaching a workshop as well. I put them both on my list of four preferred workshop leaders, but got neither. I also didn’t get the lesbian author who was number 3. (She didn’t show.) I did get my final choice, Ana Menéndez, and lest anyone think this was a disappointment, know that it was not. Having done this before, I knew that for me, there’s a lot of chance involved in getting someone good for you and I normally don’t ask for anyone in particular. I’ve on occasion done a ton of prep, reading everyone who would be there, and been disappointed or thrilled at learning who I was assigned for a workshop leader only to have the completely opposite reaction to the actual person. (In this case, it would be in between: I got someone I wanted, and was so happy with my choice. More on this later.) But Bread Loaf asked, so I did not overthink my answer beyond what I have just said. I confess here that there was in fact not a single person at this esteemed conference whose work I had read.
I know, bad me (I guess). But if I felt like I was going somewhere I didn’t belong, it’s not totally surprising. On the trip down in my rental car (that was its own story of neurosis), I listened to the radio. All in French, then 50/50 French and English, then all English. And all NPR. Every little hamlet has its own radio station (it’s the mountains, I guess), and all of them were NPR. I let the radio seek stations on its own. It made it all the way round the frequency band and every last one was an NPR station. I mentioned this to the folks working the registration desk when I arrived at Bread Loaf, beautiful in its fields of grass tuck in a bowl of mountains. No one laughed.
Uh oh, I thought. This is going to be a long week…