But there was a convention two years ago that had me crying for days on the back end, because I knew even then that it was a singular, amazing, never-to-be-repeated event. I tripped over another one this weekend, and it has knocked my emotional teeth out.
On the face of it, it was a pretty straightforward exercise. Fly up to Portland, stay with my legendary lifemate Jennie, and together she and I would go to the Willamette Writers Conference. They set me up to teach one two-part class on Sunday, and the rest of the time was free. So Jennie and I decided to do some volunteering. It was all set up to be a fun, productive time.
|This part was decidedly more fun than productive.|
Then they needed an emcee for one of the "Pitch for the Prize" events on Thursday night, so I signed up for that. (It was a blast - gave me an excuse to reprise the 'world's worst pitch' from DFWcon 2015.) Then on Friday morning they asked if I would work the pitch corral. You know how every flight you take requires a flight attendant to first give the schpiel about how to buckle your seat belt and where the emergency exits are? This was that, but for a roomful of writers waiting to go in and pitch to an agent. The main difference is that instead of being ignored by people on their smartphones, you're talking to thirty desperate creatives on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
And somehow that became my entire weekend. Every ten minutes on the dot, we started the pep rally all over again.
Welcome to the Hunger Games, career introvert edition! Who's here to pitch to a film or TV agent? Excellent - District 1, head to the right. Who's here for a literary agent? District 2, to the left! You will enter here, through the Door of Destiny. When your time is up, you will exit to the left, through the Portal of Glory, smeared with the blood of your enemies and the last burning shreds of your self-doubt. Take a moment to prepare yourself: fly-check, cry-check, phone-on-silent-check. Good? Good. Now rise up to meet your destiny, word-warriors - your time begins as soon as this door opens. No shame, no surrender, and may the odds be ever in your favor!
It was fun in the moment - fun to talk to people about their story or listen to their Texas jokes or see pictures of the dogs or kids waiting for them back home. We joked about turning this whole pitch thing into a drinking game and shared horror stories about the wild speed-dating scrums from other conferences. And when someone came back waving a business card and vibrating with giddy disbelief, they wafted their good luck all over the people still waiting to go in. It was an incredible rush - the kind of wire-tight camaraderie you get among people who are all waiting to parachute out of an airplane. As the weekend wore on, the hugs and thank-yous piled up.
Then during Sunday's lunch, Jennie texted to say that they needed me in the ballroom ASAP. I thought something had gone seriously pear-shaped. In hindsight, I should have known better.
|As usual, the only pear-shape was me.|
The thing I want to emphasize here is that there was no awards presentation going on. This was not part of some kind of pre-planned ceremony. There were the usual lunch announcements - room changes, deadline reminders - and then I was up on stage, being named "sheriff" of the Willamette Writers Conference, and getting my badge pinned with a Portland flag.
|Chief among them: finding hot sauce in barrel-mounted spigot-pail form.|
And what REALLY gets me is that it almost didn't happen. I almost said, "I can't afford to give away 40 hours for the fun of it - I'll just sit in a corner and catch up on work." (Makes you think about how many insanely talented people aren't getting heard because they really, literally can't afford that time... but that's a separate rant.)
|And to think: I nearly missed out on meeting Benedict Cumberbatch!|
So... thank you for everything, Willamette friends - for an incredible conference, a fantastic initiation rite, and a sorely-needed spiritual affirmation. You've wrecked me in all the best ways, and since there's no riding off into the sunset when you're already out on the west coast, you better believe I'll be back.
Remember, y'all - it's a trash CAN, not a trash CAN'T.