"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Celebrate the Written Word

I've just returned from one of my most extraordinary weekends - ever. The February workshop with Jennifer that birthed this blog and a multitude of other changes in my life is the only recent event that tops these last few days.

Four old friends, a book group with more than a decade's worth of reading and playing together, take their act on the road. The Los Angeles Times Book Festival at UCLA. Our hotel is an easy walk to the center of the action. We have tickets to panels, maps, lists of authors and high hearts as we enter this magical world of words. The weather is Southern California in the spring perfect. The crowds are mellow and happy and united by the love of books. I fit in perfectly.

I might be walking on air, I'm so happy, except that my tired feet remind me they are definitely treading solid ground.

I'm rooming with Patty, who has been my friend the longest in this group. We have shared rooms together often enough over the years that we settle in together as comfortably as an old married couple. My days begin in incredible fellow-writer conversations with the other Deb in the group. My days end as co-pilot with Lou, our planner and event coordinator. She drives us out on our nightly adventures while I navigate. I drive us home while she navigates. We're a great team. Such different relationships with each other, such a sisterhood, such a powerful force. I love them deeply, these women who are one of my best families.

We all have different things we want at the festival itself. Our wants overlap occasionally and at those times we wander the hundreds of booths together or sit together to hear authors talk. At other times we go our separate ways and don't see each other for hours. I share S.E. Hinton, Cynthia Kahodata and a love of children's literature with Deb. We're thrilled and shocked to learn how incredibly funny S.E. Hinton is. Patty and I share Mark Doty and a panel about memoirs. The four of us enjoy David Baldacci together, giggling like schoolgirls at his rugged good looks and polished presentation. Children's literature again brings Deb and I together to see Cornelia Funke - the one thing I promised my students I would do for them. I try to memorize her so I can take as much of her back with me as possible.

I go alone to hear another panel on memoir (I found three in all and felt like I had discovered chocolate in the words of my soon to be peer group.) and listen to Arianna Huffington. That's a treat I'll give to myself again as soon as possible. I saw movie stars (familiar faces, but no names to go with) in this session and had the most satisfying conversation with an elderly man who seemed very academic and curmudgeonly until he tapped me on the shoulder and wished me luck as he was leaving. That simple sweet gesture is one of my favorite memories of the whole time.

I have an unofficial date on Saturday afternoon at the Border's booth. I know that one of my favorite authors will be there at 4:00, and I rush out of the Cornelia Funke panel (Deb already said she didn't want to join me - I don't exactly abandon her), run up several flights of stairs, and stand out of breath as Border's employees get her set up for the signing. I'm the first one there!

Yup. It's Monica Holloway. World renowned author of Driving With Dead People. My friend and fellow writer. Her joyful energy, generous spirit and beauty spill over the table and out onto the bricks of the courtyard. I don't realize how excited I am to see her again, my sister of the yellow couch, until she looks up and smiles at me. Our visit is short but energizing and inspiring. I meet her husband Mike, the proud guy sitting next to her; Wills, her cute promoter son; and her sister whose warmth, sweet smile and welcoming hug made me feel like she was a favorite cousin. I'm so excited I forget to take pictures, so circle back again - and I'm so glad I did.

It's going to take some time to process all that I experienced in those four days. I'm excited at the prospect. For now it's enough to know without doubt that I was fully present, fully grateful and fully joyful for every minute. Amazingly that presence, gratitude and joy seem to have become permanent residents in my heart.