On normal days, I juggle several lives at once. I’m a writer with new writing to write, old writing to sell, and published books to market. I produce three blogs that require my responses to a steady stream of comments, especially my Childless by Marriage blog. I seem to have become the Dear Abby of the childless set. But I’m also a musician with a “day job” as a church choir co-director, plus numerous solo gigs, jams and open mics, and a constant need to practice on the piano and guitar. I also have a massive house and yard to maintain in addition to taking care of myself and my dog—and she’s not much help. Bills, laundry, groceries, doctor appointments, walking the dog, worrying long-distance about my elderly father, trying to find time for my friends . . . you know, real life. Sometimes I get all tied up in knots trying to do it all.
But sometimes I get to run away. Sometimes I get to focus on just one life. That’s what I did last weekend when I drove to Portland for the Willamette Writers conference. I have been part of Willamette Writers since shortly after we moved to Oregon. I co-founded the Oregon coast branch with my friend Dorothy Blackcrow Mack. This year, as part of the new Timberline Review staff, I was there to represent the magazine and celebrate our first issue, to teach a poetry class, and to pitch my unpublished books to editors and agents. I helped judge the Saturday night open mic, too. In between, I participated in workshops that got me inspired, educated and anxious to write, write, write. Tom Robbins was there. I got to study with Jennifer Lauck. I hobnobbed with Bryan Doyle. As equals! Well, almost. I also ate, ate, ate. Those cookies with peanut butter in the middle? OMG!
It was all writing all the time. I could forget everything beyond the Doubletree Hotel. Yes, I kept getting text messages about church choir, and yes, I had to play a funeral Monday morning, and yes, I needed to call the vet, take the car to the shop and a dozen other things, but for three days, all I had to do was eat, sleep, write and talk about writing.
It’s amazing and a bit alarming how many people want to be writers. Hundreds of writers attended this conference, most paying a big chunk of money in the hope of getting that nugget of information or that successful meeting that would rocket their manuscript onto the bestseller list. It happens. Every year, we have success stories, people whose careers were launched at the Willamette Writers Conference. That’s why people keep coming.
It’s a weird conglomeration of folks. Writers are not necessarily social people. They’re more comfortable alone with their books and their computers. The conference setting forces them to “network” and we don’t all do it well, but we do our best. We sit down next to another writer and ask, “What do you write?” Thus the conversation begins.
A central activity all weekend is “pitching” our books to agents and editors. People walk around looking like they might throw up or faint because they’re so nervous as they approach the “pitch marketplace,” a room full of “buyers” sitting at little tables waiting to hear their pitch. This year, we had eight minutes. We were herded in one door and escorted out the other when the organizer shouted “Time!” Handed an evaluation sheet on the way out, we staggered down the hall, some euphoric, some suicidal, most somewhere in the middle. Three out of four agents wanted to see my work. But this is not my first conference. It’s just like speed dating. Maybe there’s a spark, but it might fizzle the next time you meet.
Eventually the conference ended with a last speaker who urged us to “never give up.” Then it was time to take off my lanyard with the card that identified me as part of Timberline Review, as teacher, editor, author. I felt so naked without that identity when I finally walked to my car and left the hotel. I immediately took a wrong turn because I couldn’t read the street sign until I got too close to turn back, then ran into a five-mile backup behind an accident on I-5. Ah, reality.
Yes, I got weary of lining up at buffets and in the ladies room. Yes, I was sick of taking the elevator up and down. Yes, my body was starting to whine about sitting too much. But oh it was nice to live just one life at a time.