AWP Invasion! John Beisner on flying in to Boston

john and charlie-edit

This year, MAPH and the Graduate Student Administration got together to send our Creative Writing Option students to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference in Boston from March 6-9th! The AWP conference is a major annual event in the writing world, regularly attended by upwards of 10,000 writers and writing enthusiasts. We have forced asked our attending MAPHers to write us a series of blog posts about their adventures there, which we will be uploading to the blog as they come in.

The first is from John Beisner, current MAPH student, pictured above representing the (Mid)Westside out East in Boston (that is, he’s on the left). His post on flying into Boston is after the cut. Oh, and after the impromptu mouth harp concert of course. Take it away, Charlie!

I’d have been excited to go to the 2013 AWP conference even if it were being held in DeKalb, IL.  All the better that it’s in wonderful historic godawful conceited Boston.

I’ve never met anyone who has been to Boston and come away without an opinion.  These opinions seem to vary widely, which puts Boston in the same league as New York and Los Angeles and an entirely different league than Chicago.  In the former you must either love or hate, but in the latter you can feel free to do neither.  Boston seems to do pretty well in its league:  the majority of the opinions I’ve come across have been favorable, even enthusiastic.  “It’s nice,” says the friend of a friend whose couch I’ll be sleeping on, “but you have to walk everywhere.” (I award points in advance, L.A. is so much the poorer).  “Also, all the conferences come to us.”  I’m inclined to call her out on the “us,” (she lived in Chicago until recently) but she’d probably just point out that not only is it nice that conferences come to Boston, but that conferences come to Boston because it’s nice.  We shall see.

Myself, I’m from all the way Out West in California, which is so far away from Back East that we need an entirely different proposition for our cardinal direction.  Most of what I know about Boston comes from movies.  All of these movies are pretty rough, and so are the people in them.  While I’ve come to love the warm midwestern friendliness that reaches even to the heart of Chicago, I expect such friendliness to be a sign of weakness and/or imbecility in Boston.  I’m expecting a city both intellectual and anti, blue collar and blue blood, besotted with the spirit of Sam Adams and with spirits/Sam Adams, equally happy to debate, berate or celebrate.  I will have to form an opinion soon because Boston demands it.  It’s a significant place, whose culture and history overflows into grade-school textbooks all over the continent, and yet it still enough is left over to supply whole armies of violent sports fans.  It has its own accent.  It’s New England; it’s Old America.  And not just Old; Ye Olde.  Not just brick, but stone.  In California we have only wood and stucco.  I’m a sucker for this stuff.

Yet from the air, though, Boston is not like I expected.  It wears the same winter wardrobe as Chicago—bleak grey and brown—and is forested with the same species of petrified winter trees.  In Boston this forest looks thicker, the buildings sparser.  Trees shrug up through the city and shiver along the surrounding hills.  From the air, Boston looks widely but tenuously settled, as if the 400 years since the city’s founding have not been enough to dominate the land, as if the Last of the Mohicans might still be just over the next hill, in a two story colonial.  The city seems to have grown into itself over time, walking in pace with history, thickening and entwining its roots with those of the ash grey hardwoods that follow the hills.  No terraforming here; just actual topography.  Chicago is a vast prairie-scape of brick and glass and steel, massed beside a gently curved, softly beached lake pool:  A perfect place for a mid-continent supercity.  From the air, though, Boston is so much different.  We descend along the jagged coastline.  I looks like it’s been fractured by the kick of a cold ocean.  It’s smaller than I thought, and prettier.  I’m excited.

The plane lands smoothly despite a strong headwind.  The man driving the conveyor belt up to the belly of the plane sits erect, like Washington crossing the Delaware.  I’m afraid I’m going to inflict my preconceptions on this city.  I’m going to give it too much credit, not ask enough of it, miss it for what it is as I going around pointing at things and calling them venerable.  The airport is no help.  There are posters commemorating all of the movies upon which I’ve built my pre-conceptions:  Goodwill Hunting, Mystic River, The Verdict, The Town, The Departed, and Paul Blart Mall Cop.  The mayor comes on the speaker and with an excellent Boston accent reminds me to go see the historics.  Then the governor pipes in, his smile audible as he assures us new arrivals that we would find the his locals to be among the most “thoughtful, open-minded, hardworking and dedicated people anywhere in the world.”  I will rush to my own hard opinions, thank you.  Like this one:  Most of the men have goatees.  And this one: It’s no DeKalb.

John Beisner

John Beisner


About the Author: John is from California, likes animals and baked goods and is completing a creative thesis in MAPH.  He tries to write fiction and poetry.  Tries real hard.  He enjoys traveling, reading (obviously), magnifying glasses, going to the cinema, and deja vu.  After MAPH, he plans to take a nap.

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