i’m currently at a weekend-long poetry workshop and retreat, in Breckenridge, about an hour and a half from where I live. Mucho months ago, Wendy Videlock invited me. I’ve known Wendy for about two years, and although we’ve actually met just once before, we’ve kinda kept up via Facebook and the poets’ grapevine.
I arrived here, yesterday early-evening. Just a handful of folks had arrived already. Many (most?) of us are staying at a lodge that’s a VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner). Wendy and Laurie James (who lives roughly just a mile from me) greeted and hugged me when I stepped outta the van. As more folks started arriving, I began wondering what I’d gotten myself into, agreeing to this workshop with who knows how many other people, and being jammed-in with twentysome strangers in a suddenly-not-really-all-that-huge lodge. I feared I was about to enter introvert overload.
This first morning has been quiet and calm. Seems the majority of folks are night owls, whereas I’m an early riser. Fortunately, there was enough dawning light coming through the window that I was to be quietly active without (I hope) waking anybody. It’s being an overcast day, and we’ve had a bit of drizzle. On paper, the day’s schedule is packed. However, in practice, it’s being relaxed and open. My introversion is being nurtured, rather than assailed.
But, there’s this, and it isn’t something new: I’m looking around wondering, in a different sense, what I’m doing here. Because I’ve placed so much crap onto the notion, I’ve pretty much forbidden myself from using “belonging” in reference to myself and my place in things. But nonetheless, I’m at it again. With the likes of (what seems to me, correctly or not) the majority of folks here being published poets, and many with award-winning, or at least nearly-so, books, what am I, unpublished poet, and scarcely-so writer, doing here, hobnobbing with the likes of say, Valerie Szarek, whose most recent work is a Finalist for this year’s Colorado Authors’ League, Book of the Year; Rachel Kellum, whose, ah, is highly-regarded; and also Wendy Videlock, who’ll be in this year’s Best American Poetry, and Laurie James who is considered an Elder in the tribe?
One of the many reasons I’ve placed myself on hiatus in using, “belonging,” is because I’ve placed something of an unattainable extremism upon it—likely coming from my dad only being happy with me if, “you’ve done your best.” (What is, “best,” anyway? Couldn’t you have always done a little more, a little better?) What was my best was, itself, an unattainable extreme. But it’s still somewhat the ruler I measure myself by. So, amid such successful poets, such _actual_ ones, what the hell am I doing, thinking I’m worthy of hanging out with ’em, thinking I’m anywhere in the same league?
Well, one reason just might be because they’ve accepted me as, “one of us.” And one them, Wendy, did make a point of inviting, after all. If I hold these people as being higher than myself, then doesn’t it also hold that their perceptions might hold more weight than mine? Maybe. But, rather, I think it’s moreso the case that what they think and perceive simply, intrinsically, matters—period, never mind whether they’re “higher” poets/people than I. What they say matters too. I don’t have the sole and final word regarding who and what I am.
So, what am I doing here? I’m honoring an endeared one, Wendy, who asked me to come. I’m following through with what I wish my life to become: more writing-centered. I’m rubbing elbows with others of my tribe, some of whom, like Rachel Kellum and Valerie Szarek, make my jaw drop in humbleness when they act as though I’m their equal. And perhaps the biggest thing I’m doing here is stretching my comfort zone of my own perception(s) of who I am, and whom I can become.