Sunday night, I returned from my first writers/readers conference (GRL) thinking about ‘the cool kids.’
Earlier that day while goodbying in the Albuquerque Hard Rock Casino lobby, a writer who I had been eager and nervous to meet signed one of her books for me. Inside the cover she wrote “Thank you for making me feel like one of the cool kids.” I was shocked by those words because *I* am certainly not one of the cool kids. Not by a long shot. Why would she write such a thing?
I hardly need to summon proof but suffice to say that the first night of the conference, I accepted a $2.00 bet to lick an ordinary electrical socket. We were in a steakhouse at the time. (And not even drunk.)
(By the way, it wasn’t the first restaurant fixture I licked that evening. But since the other dare only netted me $1, I didn’t think it worth mentioning.)
I suppose I could write about all the times I was ‘not cool,’ from my high school fat/book nerd days to my many Saturday nights studying at the university library, but that’s hardly the point. I would bet most of us do not feel we are ‘cool,’ or have not been part of the ‘cool kids.’ Not ever.
But perhaps the definition of ‘cool kids’ has changed.
Throughout the conference, I witnessed beautiful exchanges that made me tear up. Gushy fans of certain authors nervously asked for autographs only to have the object of their affection reply by saying, “Sure. And how about a hug?” Then, I’d watch that same beloved author turn around and “squee” (my new favorite word) on a different author whom she deeply admired. I loved the unapologetic gushing, the intensity of joy in meeting a stranger already deemed a friend.
Again and again, I overheard similar phrases, like, “You’re writing touched my heart.”
“Through this book, I feel like I know you.”
“I cried when they got together in the end.”
Nobody was exempt from squee-dom, and your giggly, frolicky, gushy self was very welcome to stay.
I felt bashful and happy to befriend certain authors who I have admired. I met email buddies for the first time, friends who gifted me valuable, hard won advice about writing, marketing, and publishing. These are my role models, the ones who are planning to become lifelong writers. I tend to make an ass of myself in these circumstances (re: Things Licked For $2.00) but they liked my idiocy and we played and laughed like new playground friends.
In fact, the entire weekend felt like a grade school playground where at last nobody held advantage over any other social group. Those first to the swings eagerly shared. The Four Square kids weren’t snobbish about their ability to master the red ball. Instead they said, ‘Come play.’
Those who wrote fiction about shape-shifting squirrels discussed their work with pride alongside those who wrote historical romances. The young adult writers danced their assess off with the BDSM readers, laughing and spinning on the dance floor. And those who didn’t dance discussed books on the sidelines, and they were just as happy. They could speak freely, loudly even, instead of nerdy whispers. They were now the cool kids, too.
Last weekend in Albuquerque, I think cool meant “to love” or perhaps to unapologetically believe in love. Cool might have meant unapologetically loving love between men, whether you’re biologically a man or not.
We love writing.
We love reading.
We love stories about shape-shifting squirrels.
Or maybe we don’t, but if you love shape-shifting squirrels stories, well then, good for you. You’re welcome here. Join us. Dance with us. Or not.
Bouncing along toward a large group event involving all 400+ of us, I passed an author friend alone in a side corridor. I stopped to see if she was okay. Crowds made her anxious and she was doing her best to control her fear so she could go inside. She is a beloved, award-winning writer. I joined her in the lonely corridor. I confessed my fear of big crowds, how easily I am overwhelmed by large quantities of people.
We talked and then not-talked, just reflected glumly on our limitations, the things that scare us.
When she felt ready, we joined the party to share coconut shrimp (with a ginger dipping sauce) with 400 other people who also get nervous in crowds.
Cool might be mean radiating your goofy, joyful love and also embracing your vulnerabilities. I like this new definition of cool. I like that all of us – all of us! – were part of the cool kids.
I have a few more stories to tell from GRL and I will undoubtedly blog about them in the days and weeks to come. Moments where I felt loved and aha’s about writing. I must tell about the Secret Vodka Party. I won’t name names. I won’t embarrass you. Well, not any more than when I licked that light socket for $2.00.
What the hell was I thinking?