#AWP15: On Firsts


–by Chelsea Kindred


First AWP.

First plane ride where passengers are reading The Paris Review instead of US Weekly.

First snow rain in April, first city split in two and stretched across the Mississippi. The same river that crawls across the country, curving in and out of the words of writers past, present and future.

First panel, first page of notes, first inky smudge from tip of pinky to bottom of wrist on my left hand. That tell tale sign that I’ve been writing.

First fumbling of a newly minted business card from my pocket and pressing it into the palm of someone I hope remembers me.

First “off-site event,” first party, first awkward removal of my nametag thirty minutes later than everyone else. First lean in, first listen closer, first “tell me everything.”

First AWP whiskey, chilled in glass but fiery on lips, sipped while astounded at the art on the stage, the voices of the poets, these words they weave into the world.

First heaping plate of Chinese food around a table with writers new and writers long admired, chopsticks and wine, first feeling of camaraderie and connection.

First entry into the book fair and exhibit hall, a first overwhelmed and shaky breath, first step toward the first booth toward the first pile of books toward the future, my future.

First long list of books unread, first goal set to have them all read by this time next year.

First sweaty handshake across a table covered with magazines, covered with words, covered with new ideas and new writers and new worlds.

First shrug to say, nope, this isn’t a big deal, this author who wrote this book that split me in two and made me learn something previously unknown about the world, nope, this isn’t a big deal that we are standing here together in the registration line and commenting on the weather swirling around the convention center outside.

First morning coffee that doesn’t quite alleviate the exhaustion weighing down my bones. First coffee that doesn’t pierce through the feeling of density, of being submerged in information and ideas.

First struggle with my suitcase because of one too many books. First shimmy on top of the suitcase, pressing every pound of my weight into it and praying the zipper won’t break and it will make it down that Mississippi River back to Texas, where I’ll open it and spill the contents into a new time and place (one warm, one familiar, one on the cusp of summer, on the cusp of change.)

First attempt at articulating what “that conference” was to work colleagues and friends. “What did you do there?” they ask. “What was it for?”

First flurry of social media connections, casting a wide net for new friends and new acquaintances. First expansion of my writing tribe, my people.

First time I felt the scary edge of potential- the anxious excitement of what can be, what could be, what we can all learn from one another. First time I felt less worried about the “after” of the MFA- how will I keep connected? How will I continue to grow?

First introduction as “I’m Chelsea Kindred. I am a writer.”

But not the last.