Yesterday I shared the few pictures I got on my trip to Austin. Today I want to share the inside story.
The decision to go to Austin for the one day VCFA conference was a sudden one made in the burst of confidence that I was riding after a conversation with an editor who had said all sorts of great things about me. Still flying high I quickly signed up and paid the registration before I could change my mind. It took about a week for me to start to freak out.
Sure, I "knew" some of these people online, some of them for many years. But was I really going to get on a plane and fly to a place where I had no backup, no one I would be assured to walk around with, no one to pull me out from behind the potted plant when I wanted to hide? On top of that I am taking an online course which requires 10 pages of writing per week and I hadn’t finished my work for the week. I haven’t been able to succesfully write away from home since my kids were little. (They’re 27 and 30 now, so it’s been a while.) And of course there were the various choruses of doubt, what if they didn’t like me? What if we had nothing to talk about? What if I stuck my foot in my mouth?
I am an introvert who can fake the extrovert when I’m in the public but who needs a lot of quiet alone time to recharge my energy. I am a doubting Thomas when it comes to believing in myself and my gifts and my right to write. I am a person who has let a lot of life slip on by because I was too afraid to go out and live it. But I want to be different. I want to but sometimes I just don’t know how.
When I got off the plane in Austin the first thing I saw in the terminal was a Schlotzsky’s deli. Back when I lived in New Orleans I ate at Schlotzsky’s a couple of times a week because it was the cheapest place to eat next to where I was taking some night classes. So when I saw that Schlotzsky’s sign I was instantly transported back to New Orleans. I tell you, I went weak in the knees and felt like my trip was over right then and there. (For those who don’t know, no, I did not live there during Katrina but it was a traumatic time for me for other reasons.) Honestly I had to find a chair and sit down before I fell down because instead of coming in one at a time, memories washed over me like giant waves and I was drowning in things I didn’t want to remember.
But I shook it off. Reminded myself I was not in New Orleans, I was in Texas. And Texas welcomed me with open arms.
I was so glad I went early to have time to visit with friends, Don Tate, Mary Sullivan, Liz Scanlon, Peni Griffin – the four of you set the bar high for the rest of the trip. There were no awkward moments. There were no long stretches of silence when no one knew what to say. There was just wonderful conversation and sharing and laughter that flled up holes in me that I didn’t even know I had.
By the time I got to the conference I was feeling like someone had released a super power that I never knew I had. From the first hug from old friend Cynthia Leitich Smith to the last hug from new friend Donna Bowman Bratton, it was a near perfect trip.
There were some odd moments, like when I came out of the bathroom and looked around and everyone had someone to talk to and for a minute, I felt myself falter. And then the foot in the mouth time when I not once, but twice, mistook one person for someone else. An important person that I should have known. And the scariest part of all was when Kathi Appelt was talking about a verse novel that didn’t quite work for her and I kept thinking, Please don’t let it be my book. Please. Please. Please. And thankfully, it wasn’t Hugging the Rock.
But those moments were few and far between. To meet friends in person that I have built various relationships with online was such a gift. It changes things once you have that face-to-face time. It changes things for the better. I never once stopped to ask myself what I was doing here or why these people might want to converse with me. I just did it and in the doing it I realized that we each brought something special to the table that once shared, was made even more special. With each conversation I felt my confidence grow.
What I found most fascinating and perhaps frustrating is that I was able to relax and be myself in this place so far from home and yet I find it so hard to do the same thing in my own arena. I’m not quite sure how to work on that but I need to figure it out.
What did I learn? I learned that I could, again, write away from home. And not just crummy pages but good pages that earned good feedback. I learned that my years in the business had taught me much and I was able to share some of that knowledge with others. I learned that most of the other writers there felt just as lost and unsure of themselve as I did. Most importantly I learned to look at myself differently, as an equal, as a person of value. I learned to let go of a lot of negative voices that were fighting in my head telling me the opposite of what I could see for myself.
None of this matters to anyone reading this blog as much as it matters to me. That’s okay. You can read or pass on by.
I know the inside story and that’s all that matters to me.