The Tribe of Us

by me and reblogged from Valarie Kinney’s Organizing Chaos and Other Misadventures

In February, I spent the five days in the beautiful city of Seattle experiencing what community really is. I’m not talking about Pike’s Market–though charming with its wealth of tulips in buckets, its yellow-clad fish mongers, and yummy fish tacos–nor am I talking about the city’s juxtaposition of old and new, the brick and arches of the Corner Market flanked by sleek Washington scrapers as seen from the Ferris wheel.

 No, I’m talking people, those writers who come from all over the world like Christopher Allen from Munich and May-Lan Tan from London as well as from every part of the U.S. including San Diego’s Bonnie ZoBell or Staunton Virginia’s Clifford Garstang. There are so many more I could name who’ve helped create a virtual community out of the ether and know what the word “kinship” means.

What brought us together this week—in real life—was the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. AWP hosts a conference in a different U.S. city every year, and I’ve been lucky enough to travel to two of them, Boston in 2013 and Seattle this year. There were over a rumored 12,000 writers who braved snow-bound airports to come to this Pacific Northwest city and the lime green ribbons worn by each reminded me that we are a tribe of artists and teachers and students who love the written form. For me, it’s been an opportunity to meet writers I know from the various online communities such as Zoetrope, Fictionaut, and Facebook.

Why is this important? If you write, you know. Slumping over a laptop until the sun yawns over the horizon can be a lonely business and often loved ones can’t figure out why a warm quilt and a soft bed aren’t as important as pounding out words until your fingers ache. But 12,000 writers en masse understand. And those who take the time to tap out encouragement to you on Facebook or offer you thoughtful critiques of your work at Zoe, they are your compadres, your soul mates, your honest evaluators, who keep you focused on your intention: to put out the best work you can.

The planners and executors who work behind the scenes of conferences like AWP’s deserve applause for bringing in people like Annie Proulx and Ursula Le Guin so we can learn from masters and for coordinating the panels that increase our skills and artistry. I appreciate all of you, and thank you for your efforts. Even more, for me, and I suspect for most, the precious jewel in this is just being with and surrounded by the word people—publishers, editors, and writers, new, emerging, established and those exploding wide open.

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