I love gatherings of writers and word lovers. And I don’t.
At a certain point during such things, I always feel like I’m about to turn into a pumpkin—oversized and bulgy, a little too orange for a human, pulpy on the inside, particularly my brain parts. What I’m realizing is that at that certain point, I actually need to go and hang out with pumpkins. I will explain.
Last weekend, I had the delight of facilitating a YA panel on Keeping It Real at Portland’s own wonderful Wordstock Literary Festival. The panel featured David Levithan, Katie Kacvinsky, and Lisa Burstein. All three offered warmth, wisdom, and humor while discussing contemporary YA writing—their own, others’, and the genre as a whole.
Hanging out at Wordstock, talking writing, looking at books, going to events—all awesome. And a teensy bit overwhelming. My beau kindly accompanied me to about five different events in two hours—see a snippet of a reading/Q&A with new friend Jeffrey Hannan about his book Hugo SF, get book signed, catch a reading by awesome old friend Lish McBride from her new Necromancing the Stone, bounce to ten minutes of an interview with Erin Morgenstern about The Night Circus (check out Eva Langston’s great reviews of the latter two books), and then hustle off to the writers’ bull pen to be ushered into Panel Time (which is not only a little bit like Hammertime).
I was at the festival for only a short time on Saturday, but like I said, I was already feeling pumpkin-like. I was taking in a lot of stuff, not limited to, but including: gems of writing wisdom, awesome live interviews with people I admire, inspiration for new projects, connections with potential new friends and collaborators, ideas for working with my own clients.
Last week, I had a conversation with a wise woman who wondered if I had a bit of a pattern of receiving and gathering up lots of great energy and then giving it out, right away. And she was right to wonder. She also suggested that I take more time to take things in.
The day after my Wordstock Whirlwind, I was tempted to get right back out there—to go back to the final festival day’s events, to chat with friends about it all, and to process what I’d learned out loud and with others. But I remembered my conversation, and instead, I went and got apples that Portland Nursery and had a quiet night in.
And the next day I remembered again and went to the pumpkin patch with my friend Stephanie. We climbed a tower of straw bales, walked in a corn maze, drank cider and gathered a bag full of wee decorative gourds, which, by the way, are disarmingly adorable.
I gave my brain and heart and body a rest and let them digest Saturday’s wordy wonders, and I’m feeling much more able to appreciate them today. Not to mention that my brain/heart/body are grateful.
I think there’s an important lesson of balance in there for we writers—we need both the fill-up time and the sink-in time. Time to learn and time to reflect. One is not better than the other, but too much of either can be dangerous.
Staying isolated and still can lead to becoming stuck and stagnant. Alternately, if we run ourselves down to the last minute, it’s likely that we will turn into pumpkins—pulpy brains, weirdly colored skin, bulgy in strange places. A gentler possibility, one that I know works for me, is to notice when I’m starting to feel full and to go to hang out with the pumpkins instead.
As a writer, I’m trained and encouraged to closely observe everything around me. And I’m learning how much I need to turn that trained eye inward. Notice myself, my balance, what I need and what I have to give. And my writing—and living—is better for it.
Jen Violi is the author of Putting Makeup on Dead People. She also mentors writers, helping them to bring forth the books they were meant to write. Over the last twenty years, she’s created and facilitated hundreds of retreats, workshops, and experiences for people seeking to discover themselves, their own stories, and their creative potential. Jen enjoys making her life amidst the green and caffeine of Portland, far from Pennsylvania, where she was born. She’s always had a little west coast in her soul, and one of her superpowers is making dipping sauces. Learn more, and sign up for her free monthly newsletter at www.jenvioli.com.