I have wanted to attend the Blue Mountains Writers’ Festival for many years. Each year as the dates approached, I found a ‘reason’ why I couldn’t go.
What about the animals while I am away?
I can’t justify spending the money this year.
I should have gone when I was living in the mountains, now it’s too late.
It will take me at least two and a half hours to get there.
I don’t belong to a writerly crowd.
Who am I to think I can go to an event like this?
When I examined each of these thoughts in turn, I realised that I was shying away from the real reason I never went. I felt awkward attending an event on my own and I didn’t want to face discomfort. It was never about the event per se, but the intervals where people stand with their friends, chatting, laughing and having a good time.
I am not someone who can walk into a room and start a conversation. I usually stand on my own like a shag on a rock staring into a drink or trying to focus on some detail on the wall. I could distract myself with my mobile, and sometimes I do, but I am so appalled by such behaviour in others that I can’t bear resorting to it.
Yet if I have a role, I can be gregarious and helpful. I don’t even mind talking to a crowd of people over a microphone. Speaking to a group of two hundred doesn’t faze me at all, it is small groups that I find terrifying. Give me something to do and I will do it. Consequently, you often find me either at the food table or taking plates around, which legitimately allows me to approach people.
This year I decided to become savvy. The moment I saw a request for volunteers, I put up my hand. I was thrilled to be accepted. It meant I could spend some time wearing an official T-shirt and lanyard which would give me a role and I would also have time to attend events. It’s what Stephen Covey calls a Win/Win.
It turned out to be much better than that. I met wonderful volunteers with whom I could converse easily, I chatted to speakers informally in the Green Room and I contributed to an event that was an important and enriching experience for everyone. The volunteer role enabled me to start conversations and, as my confidence grew, I continued to seek out more opportunities.
The more I let my vulnerabilities show, the more others disclosed their own sensitivities. Our conversations moved from the superficial to the deeply personal and established connections which I hope will continue well past the festival weekend. It made me realise how important it is to find my own ‘tribe.’
Then there were the writers. The ones I heard spoke with honesty, often self-deprecating humour, and they were generous with their time. There were many sessions running concurrently, which meant I inevitably missed some brilliant speakers. It was a sentiment I heard echoed in the hallways wherever I went. So, although I had some trepidation about attending, by the end of the weekend, I felt energised, inspired and comfortable in my own skin.
I am grateful to Varuna for organising such an eminent event and for their staunch support of Australian writers.