This weekend in Pittsburgh, while serving cup #761 of conference coffee, I heard a jingly sound behind me. This sent my finely developed jewelry radar on red alert. Sure enough, when I turned around to check it out, behind me was an arm with four silver bangles on it. Attached to the arm was a Pennwriter.
“Oh, I love your bracelets!” I said and held out my arm to show her mine. When you are a bracelet junkie, this is the proper show-off protocol.
I wear three silver bracelets. Always. I add others for variety, but these three are my constants. One I bought at the French Quarter when it first opened after Katrina; one is a treasured gift from a special friend; the third is a solace bracelet I treated myself to after bombing a public reading at the Pure Sea Glass Writers Conference in Rehoboth.
(How do you know you’ve bombed a reading? Maybe your gut says you were off your game, but the audience politely applauded, so you tell yourself it couldn’t have been that awful, right? But later, someone approaches you at the bar to say, “I was at your reading and I wanted to tell you, I really like your shoes”–that’s how you know. I fled the bar and ducked into a local artist’s gallery and soothed my wounded pride by buying myself a cute bracelet.)
Back to the Pennwriters Conference. After I gushed over hers and showed off mine, the woman started to remove one of her bangles. I watched in shock as she pulled it over her wrist and fingers and then handed it to me. Of course I protested (albeit weakly), but thirty seconds after I admired this stranger’s bracelets, she had given one to me.
That, friends, is what happens in a community of artists. For four days, the 200+ writers gathered in Pittsburgh gave to one another. Some gave advice on Facebook and LinkedIn; some lent a practice ear to pitches; some served M&Ms; some gave hugs or thumbs up as needed. The best part was, no one had to ask. The offerings were instinctive and sincere. This is what we do.
At my Mastering the Art of Self-Editing workshop on Thursday, I handed out plastic bracelets to the attendees and said they were editing bracelets. I explained that a writer works with a creative mind, but an editor must work with a critical eye. The bracelets were a mental aid, to remind them to shift gears from the creative to the critical.
I wear my three bracelets to remind me of important moments in my life. Now I have a fourth. How often in life do you admire something, and it is given to you, immediately, without expectation of anything given in return?
It was a small but beautiful moment that I will always remember. I am grateful to the lovely lady who handed me the bracelet off her arm in a gesture of camaraderie, but she was not the only person generous to me at Pennwriters.
I am grateful to the person who broke the awkward silence at the end of one of my sessions by asking a pity question.
I am grateful to the woman who brought up Rebecca as an example at my story arc workshop.
I am grateful to the writers who trusted me to read their openings.
I am grateful to the brave individuals who participated in the read and critique session.
I am grateful to every person who offered a personal origin story about how they became writers.
I am grateful to everyone who attended my workshops, chatted with me in the Hospitality Room and offered their experiences and friendship.
I am grateful to the Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime for the Saturday dinner invite.
And I am grateful to Julie and Meredith for putting together a flawless conference.
I was sad to leave my friends–both old and new–in Pittsburgh, hence the title of this post. I came home with much more than I gave, and I am grateful for that, too.