21st Century Brontë #15 by Brontë Bettencourt
Last week, I attended the AWP Conference & Bookfair. With my good friend Onyx and my boyfriend Alex, I braved the mountainous, eclectic city of Los Angeles by train, bus, Uber, and foot.
I learned very quickly that high-heeled boots were a terrible choice for navigating terrain unlike flat, humid Florida. But despite the burning in my shins and feet, my outfits were definitely on point. Also, the “Buy a Book, Get Three Free” seemed like a steal, until my thin, twiggy arms groaned beneath the weight.
My time at the convention was a success, despite not doing everything that I wanted. In fact, I’d say it was a success because I limited myself to researching MFA programs. Instead of rushing from panel to panel and ducking into the book fair during my downtime, I lived at the bookfair, fleeing to take a breather from all the free swag. I was less of a student hastily copying the speakers’ presentations, and more of an anthropological researcher. I concentrated my efforts into what I can only describe as the next chapter of my life.
I now have six programs that I want to apply for, when before the convention, I only had two in mind. (More on that next week.)
The scope of what lies ahead excites and terrifies me.
But that’s what AWP has always been for me since initially attending in 2013: forking paths leading from my everyday routine into infinite opportunity. That child dreaming big and yearning for connections through writing can come out in full, all the while hauling a sack of books that Santa couldn’t carry.
I regain that childlike spark that anything was possible, before I learned that negative outcomes were possible as well.
Before the plane landed in LA, Onyx and I kept singing the chorus to “California Love.” This song readily came to mind thanks to an episode of South Park, where the boys lure a crowd of homeless people from their town to The Golden State.
Once again, the show’s obscene humor alluded to a very real situation. On about every street corner we were greeted with a rattling cup and a smudged, weathered face that searched to make eye contact with any passersby. Orlando also has a large homeless population, but in Florida I am seldom a pedestrian, and so don’t have to look them in the eyes. I kept apologizing to every homeless person I encountered, until Alex told me to ignore them, since that was what everyone else in LA did. But I couldn’t fully disengage from all the shopping carts piled high on the sidewalks.
The lack of exchange felt so detached: a pedestrian, accustomed to the beggars, continued forward without a second glance. The beggars remained monotone, asking for money like a mantra because of habit, not emotion.
I avoided eye contact but my thoughts lingered on the voices falling on indifferent ears. Sister Carrie taught me that people are more inclined to give you money if you appear physically groomed; nice clothes and brushed hair can mean the difference between a few dollars and avoidance.
How shabby do people need to look before they are no longer deemed worthy of charity? George Hurstwood did not descend into poverty overnight; his status changed from a wealthy, sophisticated man to a sick, broken beggar. He embodied the American Dream of hard work and determination equaling success, and to see a character who isn’t evil slowly lose everything reflects the uncertainty of life itself.
Opportunity had very much shut its doors on so many of these people while my group and I traveled to the beach, restaurants, museums, and Hollywood.
We sat in one of the restaurant booths of our hotel on our last night in LA, gorging ourselves on chex mix and exotic beer. On the top floor was a lounge and restaurant that gradually rotated to grant the viewers a complete view of the Los Angeles cityscape. In our inebriation, we attempted to create some portentous, quotable utterance because the moment felt too moviesque to be real. We drunkenly settled on this: “The vast majority of mankind knew they’d never reach the billions of stars out there, so we decided to create our own.”
I didn’t want to insult the homeless by snapping photos, but I won’t forget that aspect of the trip, either. To witness two separate lifestyles juxtaposed in a single city was simultaneously rewarding, terrifying.
Brontë Bettencourt (Episode 34) graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelors in English Creative Writing. When she’s not writing or working, she is a full time Dungeon Master and Youtube connoisseur.