Tag Archives: #conferences #nonfiction

Confessions of a Conference Junkie

A few months ago I attended a writers conference in San Francisco. Prior to my leaving, I did some research on how to prepare. With workshops and speakers scheduled from early morning to well into the night, I figured a little planning would go a long way . . .

Most of the advice was commonsensical: prepare a schedule so that you know exactly where to go when; be friendly and open to meeting new people; wear comfortable shoes. But then I stumbled over one suggestion that made me sit up and take notice. It said, “Stand out. Agents and editors will be meeting hundreds of writers over the course of a few days, so make yourself memorable – put on a flowery hat or wear a bright purple jacket or carry a statement bag . . .”

Wow, what great advice! Every woman there would be in a uniform of black pants and white blouse or some variation on that look. What could I do to make my outfit special? Hat? No. Crazy color jacket? Don’t think so. Statement bag? Absolutely! The next day I ran to TJ Maxx and purchased a leather tote in candy-apple red. I imagined people admiring my chic accessory and later recalling my stylish fashion statement.

“I was the one carrying the bright red bag, remember?” I would say.

As soon as I got to the hotel, I unpacked my suitcase, freshened up, and transferred my materials into the new red tote. With my “statement piece” slung over my shoulder, I headed downstairs for the opening session. As I got off the elevator, somebody tapped my shoulder and asked if I knew where the ballroom was. I turned, and to my surprise, there was a woman with a tote bag almost identical to mine. I laughed and said, “Follow me. And by the way, great bag!”

Imagine that, two of us walking into the room looking like we’d just gone shopping together. I found an open chair, sat down, and put my bag in front of my feet . . . right next to another red tote. What was going on here? I glanced around. Three more women carrying red bags (one was a beautiful raspberry color, even prettier than mine!) entered the room. There were so many red bags it looked like a red-bag-convention! I thought about tagging mine so I wouldn’t pick up somebody else’s by mistake. So much for a statement piece when everyone else was making the same statement.

I crossed my arms, sat back, and focused on the welcome presentation. I forgot all about my disappointing red bag and absorbed every drop of wisdom the speaker had to offer. During the Q and A, I raised my hand. The speaker pointed to me, and I began my question. But then she said: “No, no back there. The one in the flowered hat.”

Next time I’m wearing my mini-mouse ears.

The Art of Forgiveness

I submitted this essay in application for the Dr. Ellen Taliaferro Scholarship to the San Francisco Writers Conference 2017. The prompt was this: Write 500 words or less on the power of forgiveness. So I did. And I won! The conference took place at the Mark Hopkins Hotel this past weekend. It was fabulous. Thank you Dr. Taliaferro!

“It took a long time, but as soon as I let go of my anger and resentment, I was free. I dropped the chains I’d been carrying around like Ebenezer Scrooge and felt as if a single balloon could lift me off the ground and carry me to the sky.”

I wrote those words some time ago while working on a story in which my main character had been betrayed. She was suffocating under the weight of her own hostility and venom. As the writer who created this character, I understood her refusal to forgive. In fact, I was quite sure I didn’t want her to. But as any writer knows, sometimes characters have minds of their own, as if they can jump off the page and poke the author on the shoulder and demand we go in a different direction. That’s what my character did – she forced me to allow her to forgive . . . of course that changed the trajectory of my plot, but that’s another story!

I used to think forgiveness could only be given following an apology. I mean, why should I let someone off the hook who isn’t sorry for acting against me? It makes sense that apology and forgiveness go together. They are opposite sides of the same coin. They complement each other like ingredients in a recipe: 

Sift equal amounts guilt, remorse, and admission of wrongdoing into bowl. Add an open mind, a kind heart, and a scoop of understanding; stir gently; bake as long as it takes. Enjoy the delicious blend of sincere apology and heartfelt forgiveness.

But over time I’ve learned that forgiveness is like a piece of art that stands on its own. It might be part of a set, but it is still complete and rich with possibility all by itself. A willingness to “let it go,” with or without the apology, makes us better people. People who forgive readily are happier, easier to get along with, and have more patience. They don’t hold grudges or revisit old arguments and are kinder than those who choose to stay angry. And what I find most interesting, people who forgive are quicker to recognize their own faults and apologize for their own misdeeds.

So, back to the story in which my character decided to forgive her betrayer . . . She and I ended up parting ways, and I decided to set the story aside. But my opinionated character left me with a wonderful gift, a message whispered into my ear:

“The true beneficiary of forgiveness is not the one who receives it . . . it is the one who grants it.”

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