Thursday, June 21, 2007

Surviving Conferences: A few notes

I've been to at least nine conferences in the past five years---some for education, some for writing, but all for work in some fashion. Here are a few things I've learned to survive conferences, which may be helpful to GA attendees or those attending writer conferences:

1. Attend to your basic needs. This means making an intentional effort to sleep enough and eat enough so that you can focus on what is important. We know that when we do not attend to Maslow's hierarchy of needs we are desperately unhappy. Exercise in some fashion is one of my basic needs. I try to take a morning and evening walk. When it's too dangerous or dark to walk, I do yoga in my room.

2. Watch your alcohol consumption. And I don't mean that in a "Watch as it goes down your throat" type of way. If you are an introvert, a conference may make you uncomfortable, which may make you drink more than you do normally. If you meet new friends (or old friends) at the conference, you may go out for drinks (frequently). I've found that since I can go for months and months without any alcohol, even a glass is more than normal and will make me woozy the next day.

3. Watch your caffeine consumption. Conferences often have free coffee and fat pills (Danishes), and you may be drawn to the coffee to compensate for a lack of sleep. If you have more caffeine than you normally do, be prepared for your sleep patterns to be disrupted in some fashion. Try water instead.

4. Watch out for the Energy Vampires. These are the folks who identify you immediately as prey, flatter you into submission, and then attach themselves to you for the rest of the conference while they suck your life blood. They want to make dinner plans with you. They want your cell number. They want to be your best friend for life. Learn how to say no. Learn how to say that you need alone time. Speaking of which...

5. Find time to be alone. Lying on your bed with the TV off is a good idea. It allows you to process information. And there can be a lot of information, particularly if you've given a presentation or had a story critiqued. You need time to think. Make that time.

6. Watch out for folks looking to hook up. And then see point 2. I don't have to mention Richard Ford's short story collection, Multitude of Sins, right? People hook up at conferences because they're bored, anxious, or maybe just horny. There are other ways to attend to boredom, anxiety, and horniness than conference sex.

7. Read up ahead of time. Reading the conference program ahead of time will help you plan your time. For writing conferences, I read the faculty's work, but am surprised by how many people don't. After all, how do I know if someone is a decent writer whose opinion I'm going to take seriously unless I read their work? Reading up will also help you make small talk with other conference members.

8. Spend time with non-conference people. If you have family and friends in the city that you are visiting, spend an evening with them rather than the conference folks. This inevitably relieves your own stress and gives you a deeper perception of the community that you're visiting. One of my nicest memories of a conference in Philadelphia was the evening with a minister-friend and his dog at the dog park. One of my nicest memories of Tin House was going out with a designer-friend for sushi in the evening.

More specific writing conference notes to come.