The Story in My Mind at a Writer’s World
During a massive purge of stuff last month, I happened upon a file of old programs from writer’s conferences I’d attended years ago. I seriously want to go again, I thought excitedly, and then my mind flashed to 1998, and my stomach churned and I remembered my old friend, DOOM.
I’d decided to attend that first conference—the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, to be specific—on a whim. My interest in, and growing passion for, writing was new. I knew I wasn’t a writer-writer, or, in my mind, even a writer, but I’d begun to write, a little. More, I was a lifelong, voracious reader, who had recently left her career to raise her kids and challenged her mind with words. I was someone who’d accidentally—thank you Birch Island house fire—landed herself a job freelancing at a small-town newspaper, who’d tapped into a bit of unknown talent, whose mind was newly on fire and who decided on that same whim to play with that fire.
Being unconnected to the writing world—it was my early days of Internet, I lived in a relatively isolated community and didn’t know one writer—I have no recollection how I learned of the conference, but, nonetheless, I did.
I registered on a whim, and after learning my registration allowed me a one-on-one meeting with an actual living, breathing, maybe New York agent or editor, began, on a whim, to write a novel. (Who wouldn’t?)
And it was Whim who packed my bags, waved goodbye to my family and carried me off to Surrey and, finally, into a fourth-floor, king-room at the swanky conference hotel.
And then, BAM. As the door closed, with my suitcase and my new leather attaché case of writing laying on the plush carpet at my feet, Whim left, seemingly riding off on a magic carpet fueled by my dreams. In its place, I met DOOM, the horrid truthsayer I was left with to the battle the image in the mirror—a reflection of a fraudulent, pity-some poser and writer wannabe.
My long night of fear and loathing and waning belief had only begun. What had I done? A WRITER’S conference? Me? What the hell had I been drinking? Surely, I’d experienced a break, was a psychotic victim of a lapse into extreme and magical thinking? I’d be demonized. Made a fool of. At the very least, laughed (rightfully so) right out of the room. How insulting they’d find me, a writer? Sad, sad girl, be gone!
Come morning, exhaustion and reality had decided I would face my fate and attend the conference’s opening address, if only to give me the means to honestly tell people I’d attended the conference. (I may have been a pity-some poser fool, but I was not going to add liar to the list.)
The ballroom was packed. Stuffed to the gills with hundreds upon hundreds of successful, real writers, editors, agents and important people, chatting about, the whole super-powered, uber-talented, gifted, rich and famous clique of them. There were even uniformed men at the back, quite obviously body guards for the most famous among them, charged with keeping the likes of posers like myself out and away from the precious fray. This, now, was even bigger than I’d imagined. Imagine.
Fortunately, prior to dumping me, Whim had the forethought of a smart new outfit to help me blend—a simple knit sweater over a short black skirt completed by the most foreign of shoe, heels. Gripping tight to my bright purple clipboard folder, I managed to teeter, tight-kneed to a seat in the middle of the room.
Unfortunately, Whim had not had me sit in the short black skirt prior to that moment, an act that proved impossible while maintaining ones dignity. No matter, my bright purple clipboard folder proved an adequate anatomy blocker, while its contents provided busy-work as I avoided eye-contact by shuffling through its now meaningless content (the first 50-pages of my sad little novel) and fiercely doodling disconnected words, trying to make myself appear vitally interesting and important. All good though: the famous were busy with the famous and the speakers were about to begin.
It was difficult at first to hear what was being said: The echo chamber in my head was filled with the voice of DOOM, taunting my ridiculousness, gurgling my stomach, inching up my skirt. Na-na-na-naing.
And then it happened—the speaker announced the winner of the Special Achievement Award. There was a burst of activity at the back of the room, heads turned, and to avoid the attached eyes, so did mine.
The bodyguards had converged, their focus on one man. A threat? A poser, like me? No. There were flashes of metal. Handcuffs? Not bodyguards, at all, they were prison guards now unshackling a man dressed in a suit, who soon walked head down to the front of the room, stood in front of the podium for what seemed like ever before he raised his tear-stained face to talk.
He was an inmate at Matsqui Institution and had won the award for inspiring other prisoners to write, through a writer’s group he’d helped create.
“I don’t deserve this,” Deltonia Cook said. “I’m just a con who found out he loves to write.”
And, that was it. Not only was I a poser, and a short-skirted skank, I was now a tear and mascara stained, snot-globbed hot-mess, forced to quell the flow with the inside cuff of my new knit sweater. I’d hit bottom. And, it was there, at the bottom of that sorry lot of other tear stained writers, some also sporting drivlets of mascara and globs of snot, I realized my place in the room: I belonged.
We were all, fancy, famous and whatnot, cons who loved to write. And while Deltonia Cook had found freedom in words while a prisoner, I had nearly let fear and self-doubt imprison me, rob me of my love of playing with words. I was a writer, damn it, just like every other beautiful, humble, welcoming soul in that room.
Pursuing a passion isn’t about fame and fortune and stature in a community, unless you want it to be. Pursuing a passion is about allowing yourself the freedom to be who you are, to fly with it. Someone who strums a guitar is a musician, just as surely as Hendrix once was; as someone who strokes a brush has the possibility of Van Gogh; and someone who weaves words shares the wonder of Hemmingway.
We all belong.
Those hundreds of super-powered, uber-talented, gifted, rich and famous turned out to be welcoming and, just like me, lovers of words, of weaving, people who get lost in their craft. They know about the zone, how 8 PM turns to 4 AM, how it feels to channel through a delightfully mysterious muse. They wonder, they know, they marvel, they write. They get it. They’re writers. Like me.
Sometimes the very moment when it all falls apart, is the magic moment when it all comes together. I found Whim again. She flew back in and banished DOOM, somewhere in the smile that overtook the muck on my face while I was lost in the beauty of that moment when Deltonia Cook tearfully talked of his love of writing and the difference it had made in his life.
I know, for sure, that was the moment we were both granted our liberty. In that room, surrounded by kindred spirits, we were both freed for a time by the magic of words, only to be found in a writer’s world.