the kindness of strangers

… and of a friend.

The conference this weekend could have been disastrous: I was itchy with anxiety going into it.  Add: more than 400 people in the main ballroom for opening speeches and panel presentations.  Combine with: 400 servings of anticipation, intensity, and expectation.  Top with: caffeine. 

Result: extreme tension levels.

When everyone unfolded from the ballroom into the hallways, this introvert cringed and hid from the pitch and volume of the voices.

Thank goodness for Holly, who took me under her wing and introduced me to some of the shining stars in our SCBWI community, people I would not have otherwise met.

I was tongue-tied and awkward with most of them, but it was still a pleasure to meet real people, shake their hands, see their smiling, three-dimensional faces.  Highlights were: Molly Blaisdell, Sara Easterly, Kim Baker, Laurie Thompson, Jaime Temarik, Suzanne Young.  I know there were more, but that is about where my brain shut down remembering names.  Thank you, Holly, for the shared awesome.

There were also the folks I saw from afar, faculty and attendees I was amazed to find myself in the same room with.  People such as: Nathan Bransford, Jon Scieszca, Ellen Hopkins, Laini Taylor and Michael Stearns.

And Justina Chen Headley and Jolie Stekley, who are each so beautiful in person they glow.  From-across-the-whole-room kind of glow.

I know intellectually that these are all real humans, kind humans, the kind of humans who care about children’s books, but I COULD NOT just walk up to any of them and say hello. 

Saturday was full and frantic. Sunday was the opposite: relaxed and calm.  To look at the schedule on paper, there wasn’t a logical reason for the days to be so different, but they were.

I know there must have been a great number of extroverts there – they do make up the majority of the population – and I could see them, mixing well, enjoying themselves, laughing heartily, greeting new and old friends. 

And yet.

Somehow, I think the community of writers and illustrators must be disproportionately composted of introverts.  Either that, or we are just good at finding each other.

Of the people I met on my own, every one – every one – identified themselves as an introvert, as someone overwhelmed by the numbers of people and the constant pace of the days, as someone intimidated by the very nature of the conference, as someone overstimulated and barely coping.

I met Rick, who was taken aback when I talked about pig farming on Kauai; Linda, who is getting ready to move to Arkansas to research family history with a diary from the 1800’s as her starting point; Sue, who wore a lovely coral scarf she bought in France for only $8; Julie, who was my table-mate at the Hugo House workshop a few weeks ago, and others.

There are a lot of shrinking violets out there, apparently.

But we did it.  We overcame our fear and our inertia, to join this open-hearted community of other writers and illustrators, and the agents and editors who support them us.

More highlights and takeaways tomorrow, including my favourite moment from Sunday, meeting Martha Brockenbrough.

Glad to be home and held by my family, who have listened to me go on and on and on about the conference, so you don’t have to.


listening to: Joe Dolce, She’s a Writer


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