It’s a look back again at that old treasure trove of files in the old external hard drive and I found this entry written on August 9, 2000 and posted as is. I am really dating myself but while reading this, I don’t even remember the part where I stood in front of three airline counters not knowing which one would take me to Sun Valley, Idaho because I didn’t even know where Sun Valley was. Ah, the times before Google and Maps…
I went to my very first writers conference in August of last year with no expectations, whatsoever. First of all, I had no idea where in the world Sun Valley, Idaho was. All I knew, as I told the ticketing agents at the Del Amo mall, where I stood in front of three airline counters, was that I needed to get to some resort town in Idaho, and who among them could fly me there.
Lucky for me, the bewildered ticketing agent at the Delta counter raised her pen and beckoned me to come over. I had forgotten what city I was supposed to fly in and so I asked her to name all the resort towns in Idaho. I honestly think she really believed I was crazy.
When she got to the name ‘Sun Valley’, I told her that was it and booked my flight. She reminded me, three times, that my ticket was non-refundable so I better be sure I was going to the right city. I reassured her that I was sure, and prayed all the way home till I found my confirmation letter.
And so I found myself in Sun Valley, Idaho, standing in a small airport with only one terminal, having been flown in by a prop engine plane. Wow. The view from above was awesome and I wondered how it looked in the winter time when, the woman next to me said, was really more beautiful. When I smiled in acknowledgement to her, I still had no clue where I was.
It wasn’t as if I did not know my geography. I simply had never been to a writer’s conference before where one rubbed elbows with Pulitzer Prize winners like Frank McCourt and Jane Smiley, and my confusion had carried over to my geographically addled brain. It was as if I were sleepwalking into the conference, inundated by too many obligations and responsibilities of real life, and when given the time to simply relax, was totally unable to do so, or even comprehend that this time, right now, was entirely mine. Mine to do as I pleased.
And so I listened to the babbling brooks and creeks at night, trying to understand what I had just paid almost a thousand dollars to be here for, struggling to coax words out of my head. People I met told me that writers conferences such as this either left one totally invigorated and inspired, or totally distraught and overwhelmed. I didn’t have a problem with that. I could tell that I was all of the above, and very confused as well. I was walking on a cloud, not entirely comprehending the fact that I was talking to real writers who had honed their craft and now were teaching others what they knew.
Frank McCourt, after hearing that my best friend was a teacher about to demonstrate along with other teachers for higher wages, lamented to me about the plight of teachers in America. How could Julia Roberts command millions of dollars while the people entrusted with the country’s young barely scraped by with what they could get? Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, United Nations Ambassador to Kosovo, had asked me whether I had grown up in the United States or in the Philippines, where he knew both the Marcoses and the Aquinos. Even sweet and quirky Annie Lamott commented on the uniqueness of my name, asking me what I wrote as we walked towards the school house where lunch was being served. I wondered offhand if any of their talent and skill would carry over to me, like osmosis.
However It would take me four days to really get it. Which meant that on the fourth day I was back atwork in a cramped office in the small beach town I lived in, realizing that I had just met a few of the coolest writers on the planet and didn’t even realize how lucky I was. I remembered what one of the women said about how most people felt after attending one of these conferences. Invigorated and inpired, or distraught and overwhelmed.
I still knew I experienced all of the above. Invigorated and inspired by the very people I admired, and overwhelmed over the words and ideas crammed in my head, just dying to come out. But just as Annie Lamott wrote in her book about writing, I had to take it Bird by Bird. One thing at a time. One word at a time.
I don’t know if I’d ever return to that one particular conference again. Each year the list, it seems, get tighter and tighter. But I do know that I’d never forget the lessons I learned, no matter how confused I had appeared to have been. A year later, and a few projects later, I had finally gotten it.
Did you know I would end up losing all but one autographed book 10 years later when my husband ended up donating the wrong box of books to the library? The only book that didn’t get donated because I was reading it at that time is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.