Back in December I was surprised, proud, excited, and horrified to learn one of my papers had been accepted for presentation at Sigma Tau Delta’s 2015 International Convention. This year’s theme is Borderlands and Enchantments, and is aptly located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It really is an honor to be here, but my introverted self is not super excited about going solo to such a social event, or about opening myself to ridicule when I read, for that matter. But anyway, the tickets are paid for (thank you Western Carolina University English Department and the Theta Sigma chapter!), the time has come, and I’m off on my trip.
11 hours (six of which were in an airplane) after leaving home I found myself landed and bags recovered at the airport in Albuquerque. I’ve never flown for more than an hour before, so I’m exhausted.
I proceeded nervously to another personal first; I hailed a cab. The cabby was nice, talkative, and knowledgeable. He asked me where I was from, why I came to ABQ. We compared accents. He thanked me for magically bringing my mountain rain to the south-west. He dropped me at my hotel. I thanked him profusely, checked into my hotel, found myself in a lovely room with a gorgeous view.
I missed the abecedarian – the new people meet and greet – but if I hurried I could still make Gary Soto’s speech. I walked the couple of blocks – in my own magic rain – to the convention hall.
I missed his opening, but caught the rest of the speech. He was funny. His speech was on the conference theme, Borderlands and Enchantments. With wit, ease, and pop-culture references he spoke of the very personal borders of our identity, the effect of names, ethnicity, and age. he slipped into enchantment, asking us, mostly young people, if we agreed with him that people lose the ability to enchant and be enchanted as they get older. He commented that, as we age, we experience too much world – that the experience of life dilutes our ability to find magic in it. He challenged us to refute him, said he would love to find a way to recapture the enchantments he feels he has left behind. He continued and spoke of physical borders and how they affect history, memory, and identity. He talked about the way we acknowledge the changing of borders, and how we sometimes ignore it. The ramifications of both approaches are etched into the landscape here.
I was impressed by my fellow English nerds and their astute questions. A few brave souls ventured to challenge Soto’s comments on age and enchantment. He was asked about literary influences (Pablo Neruda), his poetics (a focus on imagism, no matter the genre), what he is reading now ( Jim Harrison), personal experiences, when he knew he was a poet. A few of the questions were so good he jokingly told the asker to go sit back down and think of an easier question.
I’ve challenged my introverted self to be more social on this trip – especially since I’m here alone. So far I’ve chatted with my cabby (totally counts) and smiled awkwardly at fellow conference-badge-wearers in my hotel. Progress!