Community

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.

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30 thoughts on “Community

  1. Fabulous post after a fabulous conference, Arthur. It was so charming to hear your inspiration for Monday is One day. There was no mistaking you as a dad when you stood at the podium and shared this special tribute to your son. So heartwarming!

    Your insights into the author-illustrator relationships, and emotional connections in literature were all so invaluable.

    We all hope you’ll come back to Austin again soon.

    1. Thanks Suzanne! Actually we headed out to East Side Cafe, but when we got there it was so crowded there was a 35-45 minute wait. I was too hungry and caffeine-deprived to wait so we headed to…Denny’s!! LOL Not exactly Austin cuisine, but it was totally fine. 🙂

  2. Nice to read this post and you echo what I believe, many experience. I tend to get a bit of PPD after every conference, workshop and school visit. Still, I wouldn’t give up that creative and inspirational zap I always feel, too. There is most definitely “power of community” which keeps this solitary writer going back for more.

  3. What a wonderful post, Arthur! I love that you felt the strength of our community — I’m always telling new writers in town about this. Austin — and the kidlit community on the whole — is about support and encouragement and craft. In Austin, bestselling authors come to monthly meetings and workshops to learn. In Austin, Caldecott honorees tell someone new to email them anytime with questions. I think we all have a sense that we not only need to pay it forward, but *love* to pay it forward. This blog post so captures this — so thank you! I think I can speak for all of us at the conference when I say we hope you’ll come back and visit us again soon!

    1. Thanks, Kristin! Austin is definitely a special place. It’s nice to know, also, is that there are SCBWI communities around the country (and the world) that do some of the same things. (For those enough not as fortunate to live in Austin. )

  4. Arthur

    We have a snow day today so I have the luxury of connecting with you today. In the hope of elevating all things joyful in your post that also contains much gloom, let me tell you how much I love Lost and Found. Shaun Tan is a treasure! I am reviewing this for MRJ. I have a Facebook review on my profile page that will be fairly similar to the magazine review. Cheers Arthur and chin up, you do excellent work.

    Ed

  5. I keep humming the James Ingram song- “How do you keep the music playing….how do you make it last…how do you keep the song from fading too fast…” That darn PPD. I suffer from the same disorder 😉

  6. Arthur, thanks for this encouraging post. You’ve always been such a champion of this community! It’s great that you got some championing in return. And congrats on “Monday”! Can’t wait to see it!

    (Okay, that’s enough exclamation points for one day!)

  7. Arthur,
    I, too, traveled from the northeast to attend the Austin SCBWI conference and am so glad I did, for many reasons. I felt the same thing you did ~ that warm, Austin brand of welcome mingling with an impressive, yet humble mix of super star authors and illustrators. What a treat! In the midst of all that, one of the highlights for me was feeling the love you have for your son shine through during your inspiring and educational talk with Julian. Loved the talk, love the book, and love your love for that boy of yours. He’s lucky, to say the least. Thank you for opening up and sharing your magical story. All the best.
    Nanci

  8. Arthur, what a lovely post about a wonderful conference. It was like tasting it a bit of it again to read your words. I agree that the Austin writing community is talented, welcoming, and inspiring! Thanks for your contribution to the atmosphere there.

  9. I am VERY VERY ENVIOUS of all you people who got to be at this conference, but I find consolation in the fact that Julian Hector followed me on Twitter and we’re now trading jokes about forming a professional wrestling league for babies. (Really. I’m totally not making that up.) An unsurprisingly wonderful post, Arthur.

  10. Great post, Arthur. And it was wonderful to have you at the conference. As well as seeing your book, I loved the small-group talk you gave.

    I’ve went to the LA conference years ago and loved it, but I really love the smaller, more intimate regional conferences too.

    Thanks, and do come to Austin again.

  11. Lovely post, Arthur! Thanks for sharing. I have the same feeling after almost every SCBWI event, but at least we know there’s always another one to look forward to, right? 🙂 Thanks so much for all you do for this community. It is infused with your kind and generous spirit. And I can’t wait to see MONDAY!

  12. Arthur, I really appreciated this post. As a previous teacher of 7th graders, I feel like I’ve got a long, slow bout of PPD. I am now a stay-at-home dad with my two-year old son, Tyler, and I absolutely love it. Absolutely. But I do miss my 11 and 12 year olds and the incredible connection we’d have together in the classroom. (Especially when I was sleep-deprived and so even more off-the-wall than normal.) But your post speaks to my soul about the tension of finding connection and joy, then moving on to times that are perhaps more solitary, then finding the same communities and connections again. Now that my son is talking more and more, I’m finding the two of us are actually having extended conversations (read: discussing the types of poopies he makes on the pot, his favorite colors, and our laundry basket rides). And writing, as ever, is an incredible way to continue on the narrative of life–both lived and imagined.

    Thanks for your words, here. They’re full of heart and wisdom.

    –Luke

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