This past weekend, I spent some time in Indiana with about a dozen other writers who mostly met about three months ago at the Festival of Faith and Writing. We decided to come together because we're all at similar places in our careers, like-minded in ideology and vision for our poetry, and we're all outrageously funny. At least we find ourselves to be.
I think it is unusual to find and make fast friends with people, but especially other writers. There is a competitive air that surrounds most writer gatherings (except for the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference and the Ashland University MFA Program, but then again, I'm a smidge biased...), a chance to name drop, a chance to prove your superiority or make yourself feel better by pointing out the faults in well-known poets' work, a chance to spread your feathers and strut about with one's accolades ablaze. This is of course a generalization; not all writers are this way, and not all retreats and conferences take this tone, but we all know those writers who seize any opportunity to establish themselves, sometimes at the cost of other poets.
This retreat was not that way, though we leaned that direction a time or two, mostly in good fun. What we did was laugh a lot, share our passion for language and poetry and our belief that words have the idealistic power to change people. We talked about ways we might collectively use our words to make an impact within groups of people who are not as inclined to buy a collection of poems or pick up a literary journal. We shared meals and drinks together. We got to know one another and traded stories from each other's lives, and we left eager to meet again, hopefully soon. And then we began emailing and Facebooking each other to continue the conversation.
That is what community is about--taking the time to feed each other with laughter and truth and common concern for each other's well being. Community, even across state lines, is sustained by the simple, "Hey, I was just thinking about you and..." I am ever so grateful for having found this particular set of friends to mutually encourage and challenge as we work toward our personal and collective goals.
In ten days, I get to participate in yet another writing community, this one in my own backyard. Sixty students and about 20 visiting writers and faculty will descend upon Ashland, Ohio for the annual two-week summer residency (writers' boot camp), and I can hardly contain my excitement to see students and faculty that have become more than colleagues--many are friends. Even though it is a stressful two weeks involving a lot of administrating, it is also one of the highlights of my year.
AND, I get to read from my new book for the first time. Insert several smiley face emoticons here.