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I just came home from the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference and I feel pretty rattled. Don’t get me wrong, it was WONDERFUL The layers of love and connection and communion I felt were terrific. And Jonathan Maberry is my new model, my hero for the kind of teacher I want to be back here in my real life. He practices what he preaches about writing not being a competition, giving encouragement and time and answers to writers, freely. His positive attitude and genuine ways are inspiring, as were those of all the presenters I met. But, I am unsettled by the discovery of the powerful community of support outside my door that I have until now never visited. How could I? My home is alone, and I am a solitary writer most comfortable insulated from society for the sake of art and craft. Or maybe it is because I expect there to be no one home in whatever world I inhabit just because I grew up that way. That’s what isolation is like. You are alone and it’s normal and stepping out of it is a risk. Getting me to this conference wasn’t that easy on account of that. I told myself over the course of the last six months that in June I’d go. I signed up. I paid. But I dreaded.
And then I dragged myself there and was overwhelmed by the largesse I found, the sincere joy of presenters in sharing their knowledge and in going out of their way to encourage and inform, a welcome surprise. Are we not all enemies vying for the same few precious opportunities out there? Thank you Philadelphia Writer’s Conference for informing me by showing and not just telling, that we are a community of people who want to lift each other up for the betterment of us all, and for the betterment of society at large, and that there is room for everyone. Alone I am no more. It is the obvious foil to my isolation, the actual face time with other humans, other writers. Jonathan gave me a mantra to take home when he said, ‘writers do best when around other writers’. Thank you, this is correct.
I met an eighteen-year old young man sitting in an otherwise empty community room near the end of the programming. We both were sitting out the last session, overwhelmed with insights and ideas about what to tackle next, and so we struck up a conversation, that old-fashioned thing everyone there was doing. We talked about how his generation is more naturally wired than mine and how much easier it is for him to connect on social media, my painful shortcoming as an oldster. He expressed longing for his own default setting to be something other than wired, so drawn to the electrical media, and he described how very different it is to interact with live people in the conference setting because like me, he said he felt the strength of community pulsing through the halls. Together we agreed that engaging with flesh and blood people who can be sized up and reacted to at a gut level feels more solid, more satisfying and more inspiring than the abstract parallel experience in cyberland. We found ourselves alone, together, in the social room, our distant generations connected.
I came from a life where I don’t expect others to want to share with me, the dark default setting of having been raised so alone, and maybe that’s why I am a writer, so I can stay there by myself. I fight such feelings every day so of course I am rattled by the multitude of connections I made this weekend at the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference. It’s what’s supposed to happen. I’ve been shaken up. Woken up. Inspired. Like a slap across the face when I’ve lost my senses.
I really needed that.