Attending a Writing Festival on your own.
I was thinking too much. My phone was dead and my book was in my checked luggage. The blind was up on the porthole window to my left and all I could see was the steady blip from the red light on the wing. The boarder between New South Wales and Victoria disappeared unmarked below me as I crossed seamlessly into the darkness of Victorian airspace.
I had held a small seed of doubt at the airport, before I boarded the plane. In pressure of the high altitude; the darkness, the quiet, the humid warmth of my hands pressed together, and the seed had germinated. It had sprouted a little root that was now tickling my stomach.
I was nervous about going to a Writing Festival on my own. I was sure that everyone else would already be friends. I told myself that I had chosen the wrong sessions to go to, and that all the real writers would be attending different ones. I felt certain that I had no clue what I was doing. I knew if I attracted too much attention to myself, I will be uncovered as a fraud and get kicked out.
The pilot of our tiny Saab 340 prepared us for landing at Tullamarine Airport and my stomach flew up into my throat. The plane shuddered at the drumming of turbulence. The red light on the wing shook about. I calmed myself with the thought that at least if I died in a plane crash, I would have an excuse not to go to the Festival.
I knew this kind of thinking was not productive. I gave myself a stern talking to and set a solid task of introducing myself to three new people at the Writer Festival and to volunteer two questions during discussion.
I like quantifiable goals.
Two days later, as I walk home from the National Writers Conference, I am astounded at how many people I met. Today I chatted with people on the stairs heading up to the Yarra Room and I spoke with the strangers I was sitting next to, I tweeted with others online, connected with new friends on Facebook and started following new people on Instagram. I don’t recognise myself. I never do this kind of thing!
How had I suddenly become so brave?
As I talk to other people who are attending the festival on their own, I get a similar impression; everyone is so impressed with how many people they have met. How has this happened?
A lot of the credit must go to the Emerging Writers Festival Organisers’ and their gentle insistence that we all talk to each other. Sam Twyford Moores’ constant stressing of the importance of meeting each other shows just how many times we need to hear an instruction before we act.
A woman walking towards me on Smith Street holds my gaze and smiles as we pass on the street. She looked at me as though we were on the same team. How much of my anonymity and single-status is contributing to my bravery/approachability? Does being alone make you appear more approachable?
Being at the Emerging Writers Festival on my own, I have placed myself in a position where the only way to move forward is to step out of my comfort zone and speak, with my own voice, to strangers. I have noticed that people who have come on their own are more likely to come and say hello to me too.
Liz McShane @Liz_McShane and I walk to The Thousand Pound Bend discussing going to a writing festival unattached. Those of her friends that would be interested in a Writing Festival like this, she says, work full time. ‘That’s the good thing about being retrenched, you have a lot of time.’
Liz spoke of her friends taking too long to book tickets for events and workshops that she really wanted to go to. She was not interested in waiting for their commitment before booking a ticket. If this is really what she is going to do, she tells me, then I can’t wait any longer.
I know exactly what she means. Sometimes there are events that I feel compelled to lock in and friends don’t always share my urgency. ‘If I waited till everyone was ready to book, I might have missed out.’
Liz tells me she is glad she went on her own and would do it again.
I ask her if she has been to other Writers Festivals on her own and she says yes, Adelaide Writers Week. I ask her if she intentionally went there on her own and she says it was ‘Not for any other reason than I hadn’t yet established a writing group there’. Coming to the festival alone has been ‘terrifying’ she says, but has certainly offered ‘…more opportunities for creating friendships.’
‘Being unsafe is really challenging,’ she says and we explore the idea of learning to live with that discomfort instead of waiting for it to pass. It feels like the same message is being said again and again; don’t wait for the fear to pass, don’t wait for permission, don’t wait for your friends, don’t wait till you’re ready, don’t wait till you feel like you belong – Just get in there on your own, even if it is scary.
‘Have you met many people at the festival?’ – Meg
‘Yes! I met Benjamin Law, who is my idol. I exploded fangirl all over him!’ – Lou
As I finally arrive where I am staying for three more nights, I ask myself if I am glad I came to the Festival on my own? Yes! I would not have been this brave if I were protected by my friends.
As I prepare to leave the The Emerging Writers Festival 2014, I worry that I have may have met too many people. The Festival continues for a few more days and I reluctantly relinquish my cloak of anonymity; spelling my name to new friends and telling strangers about my blog. I realise that I may have found another potential reader and think fondly of a time when I could post obscure nonsense.
I am already nostalgic for that time before I flew to Melbourne, when no one knew my name and I could write drunkenly on my blog because I knew no one was reading it.