There’s nothing like sitting alone in an airport full of people to show you the difference between being NEAR and being connected. An airport can be the loneliest place in the world, filled with families squabbling as they make their stressed ways toward or from a vacation, friends together on an adventure, lovers flushed from their time alone.
As a writer one spends a lot of time alone too. Usually for me, it’s sitting with my laptop, trying to make progress…. the world going on without you. Connection can strike you as purely an Internet term, a virtual possibility, attractive, yet remote.
I wrote the above two paragraphs, waxing melancholic because I was in what I call “Post-Play depression” on the way home after the National SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles, this past summer. PPD was a phrase I had coined when I was in high school (I’m sure thousands of others used the term independently), in the cast of school plays, where months of work and camaraderie would lead up to one or two performances, intense excitement, exhilaration…and then let down. What do you do the day AFTER the play, when there’s no rehearsal to go to? No performance to anticipate?
I find myself thinking the same thing after a terrific SCBWI conference in Austin, Texas this past weekend. This was, of course, a much smaller, “regional” conference. It lasted one evening and a full day. But it was, in miniature, what the National Conference is writ large. As I sit on the plane home I can close my eyes and hear the friendly, Texan accents. I’m smiling thinking about the generous authors who took time to pick me up at the airport, take me to lunch, allow me to consider myself one of them as I read from MONDAY IS ONE DAY with Julian Hector my co-creator (whom I met for the first time this weekend, and is as sweet as he is talented!).
It’s amazing to me that some people actually used to be a bit snide about SCBW (as it was called many years ago.) Let’s face it, there was a pervasive idea that in its early days the organization was for folks who were just beginning to pursue the idea of being writers, and whose learning curve was steep.
Well, there are still plenty of newcomers at every conference, thank goodness. (After all, wouldn’t literature be like a dried out river bed if new people weren’t always deciding that NOW would be the time to start adding their stories to the stream?) But the SCBWI has become much, much more than a source of information for “newbies.” At the Austin conference, in typical fashion, I would move from a conversation with Kimberly Willis Holt, a Newbery medalist, to a conversation with a group of writers who’d met at the Vermont College MFA program, to an exchange with a Librarian who’d been on every award committee sponsored by the ALA, to lunch with a brilliant picture book author whose book had won a Caldecott Honor. Over here in once corner would be a thoughtful newcomer trying to parse the difference between an Imprint Head and a Publisher. (I think perhaps if I still had hair I might wake up with Imprint Head. Sigh.) And in another corner would be Carolyn Coman, Printz Honoree, National Book Award Medalist, and one of the finest writers working in our field, talking to Caldecott Medalist David Diaz.
Furthermore, we’re ALL learning something. In the Austin sessions, I gained some powerful insights, and even a bit of optimism from listening to Stephen Roxburgh talk about the electronic future. I got hints from social-networking Guru Greg Pincus on how I might help get the word out for MONDAY IS ONE DAY. And, as always I met writers who I am sure I will be publishing some day. (Especially given my determination to pour my energies into working with people who are as nice as they are talented!)
It feels like a blessing to take five seconds to REFLECT on what I’m doing as a publisher and actually think about how I might do it better. And it feels great to get out and do some teaching and some sharing of information to a group, when my day job is often taken up with the logistics of working effectively in a large organization. (It feels great to be appreciated for doing this sharing and teaching too, which I almost always do feel at these conferences.)
So, no wonder I’m feeling a bit of PPL right now. But I’m also feeling inspired. The bookselling landscape, the financial formulae underlying corporate publishers, even the format in which books reach their audience…these things may be changing rapidly. But what hasn’t changed is the love of writing and storytelling that binds so many of us together. And what hasn’t changed is the power of community – the reassurance and the support of people with shared goals and passions, coming together.
Thank you for that, SCBWI Austin! And thank you to author Chris Barton, who, as he dropped me off at the airport, gave my writerly tush one final kick: “Think you’ll write another blog this year, Arthur?” he asked.
“I’ll try!” I said. It takes a village.