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The Occupation of a Woman Writer

Bettmann, George C. Beresford / Getty, Photo Illustration by Homestead Studio

Kiley Bense | Longreads | August 2019 | 12 minutes (3,056 words)


I woke up to the sound of someone speaking. It was late on Saturday at a large writing conference, nearing midnight. A man was performing a stilted Ginsbergian ode to the empty hallway outside my hotel room, his voice so loud that my eardrums were rattling with couplets. Headphones and pillows couldn’t block the noise out. I shifted and frowned. He must not realize I can hear him, I thought. I shrugged off the sheets and called the front desk.

The receptionist assured me that security would come upstairs soon. A pause in the man’s rambling followed, and the silence held for a few minutes. Then it was broken; again he began to boom. I cracked open the door so that I could just glimpse a sliver of him at the end of the hall, a sheaf of papers clutched in his hands. I sighed, guessing that he had seen the security guard and cut off his reading before he could be identified as the culprit. I called again and again. It took four times before the security guard finally caught him bellowing and asked him to stop. By then, it was four o’clock in the morning.

I heard the elevators contract. A beat. And then: “Fuck you!” he screamed. “Fuck you! You’ve never heard great poetry before! You fucker!”

Alone in the suddenly quiet room, I marveled at the arrogance of this man, surely another writer at the same conference I was attending. How much ego was necessary to power that level of misplaced rage? How would I feel if I realized that I had forced a floor of strangers to listen to my cluttered first drafts? I knew: embarrassment, guilt, distress. His reaction was so foreign to me that I had trouble comprehending it. And yet there was some part of me that had suspected he might not go gently into the night. That inkling had stopped me from confronting him myself. Men can be combustible creatures. Better to wait outside the impact radius, if you can.

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