Texas Book Festival: A Retrospective

Fall 2009:

I sit on a bench, draped in scattered sunshine and shade, outside the Texas State Capital.  I call my mom, because that’s what you do at pivotal moments in your life.  Or, at least, that’s what I do.

I tell her about the stunning fall weekend in Austin and the authors I’ve seen and heard at the Texas Book Festival.  Jill S. Alexander, in particular, struck a chord with me with her story about a small-town Texas girl.  I’ll soon read The Sweetheart of Prosper County and have her sign a copy for me that summer.

I’ve been unhappy.  I’ve been looking for purpose and peace and sense of self.  I find a few stolen moments of those things at this event, surrounded by strangers and literati, books and bibliophiles.  I’ll soon join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and come out of the Writing Closet.

I’m thirty.  Not young, not old, but somewhere in between.  I’ve lost a little bit of myself, and I’m not sure how to get her back.  She’s peeking out at me from the pages of my journal, tucked firmly under my arm as I traverse Congress and Lavaca, shifting from panel to panel.  She’s sitting next to me at this quiet spot on the Capital grounds.


Fall 2010:

Something has altered.  Subtly, gently, bit-by-bit I’ve re-claimed the girl that I was.  I’ve rooted back into myself, explored the shadows, and found strength.  It’s been a year since I perched on that bench, and I’ve done a year’s worth of self-work.

But this new-old person doesn’t fit into the life that I’ve built.  She’s an alien.  An outsider.  An unwilling transplant who’s figuring out how to get home.  I brought her here, but now that she and I are re-acquainted I realize that she doesn’t have a seat at my table.

Back at the festival, I stalk Holly Black to the signing tent.  She’s dark and whip-smart and a little cold (perhaps uncomfortable with my extreme FanGirlhood).  I’m distracted by the fact that she lives in my hometown.  She signs White Cat for me, and I devour it.

I call myself a writer now – the first step toward being me again – and talk to people with a certain level of confidence about my WIPs and my manuscripts.  Like they’re real things.  (Probably because they are real now, even to me.)  But these tangible and legitimate things also take me away from My Life as it is, as I’ve constructed it, and I don’t know if the pieces all fit together after all.


Fall 2011:

Everything has changed.   And it isn’t subtle or gentle at all.

I’m on the way to a divorce.  I live in a different house.  I teach at a different school (following a brief brush with full-time writer status).  I have a new short story and a host of new blog posts.  I’ve filled three times the journals that I did last year.  I have my old friends close by, and a host of new friends and colleagues.  I’m laying the foundation for a new life that looks so much like the one I had before I had a husband.

I know that it’s my fault, and that I let this better, stronger, more authentic version of myself and this life disappear like the smoke on a blown-out match.  I know that I’m responsible for the rise and fall of this relationship – the one that I have with myself as well as the one that I built within my marriage.  So it’s up to me to step up; to own it; to fix it the only way possible.

The Festival is a bit of a blur, but I remember Rebecca Stead and Kate DiCamillo, and talking to a delightful student and her mom in line to have our books signed.  I feel healthy and alive.  I’m owning being a writer; I’ve converted the inner transformation of the past year into an external life.  I’ve taken control of my happiness, and I believe that it shows.  Every day is bright and promising.

But despite my fresh perspective, I wrestle with how to talk and write about this.  I feel responsible for this change and guilty for this surge of relief; this infusion of joy.  Common wisdom is that it’s dangerous to be close to a writer, because she’ll inevitably use you for material.  I don’t want to do that – to throw people into the writing fire – so instead I’m vague and inspecific.  My blog is packed with veiled references to my tumultuous life.  I know that, eventually, I’ll let it rip.  That I’ll have to.  That I’ll want to.


Fall 2012:

I take stock now, during fall’s last gasp, as I listen to Paolo Bacigalupi and Maggie Stiefvater and Naomi Wolf.  I scribble away in my notebook and hope to absorb a fraction of their genius.  This isn’t only about writing, of course.  This is about my identity.

When I reclaimed my writing, and my Writer Self, I became more honest.  I found a lot of Truth in my pen.  I was looking for something when I first arrived at this even four years ago.  I wanted answers, and I found them.  I just couldn’t de-code them yet.

The answer is that I adopted a life that wasn’t mine, with a person who wasn’t my match.  And eventually, I couldn’t do it anymore.  When I found my heart and my spirit again, they read the words that I could barely write.

Every day doesn’t burst with wonder.  I have fear and worry.  I cry and lose sleep.  If last fall was about celebrating a new world opening up to me, and a second chance, this fall is about settling in.  Seeing this reality for what it is and accepting it.

So here I am, deep into revisions on my primary manuscript.  Deep into the PLAY of the festival once again.  Deep into a relationship with a musician who is my challenger and my partner.  I’m Dorothy having landed in Oz – so familiar, but so different.  I’m Alice, emerging from the rabbit hole.  I’m Katniss, post-revolution:  broken, perhaps, but deep into the process of reconstruction.

But here, amidst people of words and letters, it feels the same.  I feel the same.  I felt like myself here all those years ago, and I feel like myself again now.  As the variables are modified in this experiment of a life, the words – my pen, my journal – have been the Always.  The Me.

And maybe that is the true key to my happiness.  If I have a soulmate, it’s the person who sees that.  Who reads my words for what they mean.  Or maybe that person is me.

2 Responses to “Texas Book Festival: A Retrospective”

  • Mel Says:

    You write so beautifully. I love when I find good writers. My brother is someone I’ve always admired for writing, but he’s so busy in Vietnam I never get to read any of his (non-existent) writing. You’ve inspired me to revisit my blog, which sadly hasn’t been posted in since before the start of the school year–does first year teaching have anything to do with that? Possibly.

    Anyway, keep writing. I’ll keep reading 🙂

  • Colleen Conrad Says:

    Thanks, Mel! I appreciate that so much. Stay tuned…I have another post queued up for next week…

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