We worked our $5 an hour jobs. We rode through the city streets without helmets on our stolen bikes. We stood on the corner smoking and talking with the homeless men who were our friends. We drank beer on our lunch break. We stayed out all night and still worked our full shift the next day.
Beyond everyone I loved then–all those who broke my heart; beyond how much we talked about the art we would make someday; beyond the passion we felt for everything we believed: What that time in my life represents is a great, unfulfilled sadness. I knew I wanted to be a writer and I had written plenty before but then I stopped and I couldn’t get back started. I wrote privately in my journals. I squirreled it all away. Every separate emotion categorized. Even when I was happy then, I couldn’t stop feeling like I would never get to be where I wanted to be. I couldn’t help feeling like I would always be unfulfilled.
During all the years I lived in Boston, I passed by the Hynes Convention Center hundreds of times. Thousands. I worked conventions there. I passed through. I stood in its shadow.
20 years ago I never thought that I would be there again but this time with 12,000 other writers at AWP. I never thought I would be among them. Beyond that, I never could have imagined that I would be there because people had said yes to me. Because people had published my books and because people actually wanted to buy those books and read them.
20 years ago, this thought would have been incomprehensible.
It was a moment to stand among you and realize that I had circled back to just beyond my beginning. It was a moment to realize that even though it took me 20 years, I was there.