This was my second Festival of Faith and Writing, and it was a bit different this time around. In 2012, I ran all over the festival, trying to attend as many events as possible and meet with as many friends as possible. I had only moved back to the Midwest about six months earlier, so I was catching up with lots of people I hadn’t seen in a long time. There were no students from our university in attendance (at least not to my knowledge), and I had three colleagues to spend time with. I was inspired by the Q&A with Li-Young Lee, giddy about listening to and meeting Jonathan Safran Foer, and really happy to be introduced to the writing of Amy Frykholm, whose book See Me Naked was my favorite discovery of the weekend. While most of the attendees seemed to have some sort of writing project they were working on or pitching, I was mostly trying to keep my head above water as a teacher, and my writing had fallen by the wayside.

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This year was a bit different. Four students from our university attended this year, but no colleagues from my department. I spent most of the weekend buddied up with Bryan Parys, a writer friend from grad school at UNH. I caught up with a handful of people, but many of my friends weren’t able to make it this year. I had a more active role to play this time, too, as I facilitated a Festival Circle on Thursday and Saturday with people who signed up in advance. I didn’t rush from place to place, but took a leisurely pace around campus, enjoying a session or two every day and chatting with new friends whenever the opportunity arose. As for my writing, I am happy to say that in two years, I have re-launched my blog, been published by Jezebel.com, Persephone Magazine, the Shriver Report, and Faculty Focus, and feel like I have a real focus. When people were talking about their writing, I actually had something to contribute to the conversation!

Oh, and did I mention that I had my nine-week-old baby in tow?

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That was the biggest difference between two years ago and now, by far. I wasn’t going to miss the Festival, especially after my Circle proposal was accepted. I also couldn’t leave my tiny baby behind. Chalupa has used all but a handful of his FMLA and vacation days, so there was no way he could join me in Michigan for the weekend, which meant I was on my own with the baby. And it was fine!

 
Sure, I had to leave several events a little early when Neville got fussy, but mostly it was fine. He never made a scene or caused trouble. It was a little difficult to have almost every feeding of the day be in public, but I dressed carefully and usually found a quiet place to feed him. Hopefully the friends I ate meals with didn’t mind me discreetly feeding Neville at the table without a cover-up (I don’t carry one anymore), but I think it’s okay because they have children of their own.

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Oh, carrying Neville around also gave me a great buffer between me and the rest of the world. For an introvert who is also trying to make friends and connections, this was the perfect way to do it! People wanted to coo at the baby, and I could strike up a conversation after they approached me, instead of me trying to find something to talk to them about. It was perfect! I can’t wait to find a baby to borrow for the festival in two years’ time…

Although, I have to throw this out there: there was one publisher who seemed to completely dismiss my attempts at a conversation with him at the book table while talking almost exclusively with the male friend I was with. I think because I was just a lady with a baby at a book fair. I found this dismissive and off-putting. I couldn’t get a word into the conversation he was having with my friend, except when my friend made an obvious attempt to include me, because evidently women with babies shouldn’t be treated as teaching colleagues or writers themselves.

I think the hardest part of the event for me was a twinge of loneliness. I had fun reconnecting with friends, but I was struck this weekend by how many people have built relationships with their readers and fellow bloggers–especially through Twitter. I’ve never really gotten the hang of Twitter, and I certainly haven’t forged many relationships because of it.

I have many friends from the internet who are very special to me, and I get together with them whenever I travel somewhere. They are not in the faith & writing crowd, though, so this was not an event I was able to share with any of those dear women. As I watched countless women connecting with one another after enjoying a few years of communicating online, I felt jealous that they had somehow found each other, and I still haven’t found my way into this circle of progressive, feminist women of faith. I like to think that it’s a penetrable group, but I don’t know. Twitter is just not my medium. I think I’m going to give it another try. Jealousy doesn’t feel good, and I don’t want to stay in this place of envy over the friendships I was witnessing.

To be clear: it wasn’t that anyone was unfriendly. On the contrary, people were extraordinarily kind! I just felt a twinge of jealousy for the fact that so many relationships were already so well established. I feel kind toward these people who seem so much like me, and I think the part that made me feel a little lonely was knowing that I was missing out on friendships that may just not exist yet.

As far as the sessions go, there were several good ones, but the best moment of the weekend came when Anne Lamott–SAINT Anne Lamott herself–asked if she could hold my baby when I came through the line to have my book signed.

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I repeat: ANNE LAMOTT HELD MY NEVILLE.

I hope that is a sign that he’s going to be blessed with sarcastic wit and creative genius, because I mean, come on. Anne. Lamott. Held. My. Neville. (And my phone battery died right that moment, so I don’t even have a photo.)

The other great part of the weekend was leading my festival circle on narratives of leaving fundamentalism, but I’ll save that for a separate post.

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It was a good weekend, and I’ll definitely be going back in two years, even though I won’t have a baby with me that time. The best thing about the whole experience was having Neville right there with me. I traveled so much with Ruthie when she was a baby, and it was always special when it was just the two of us on our own. I know I won’t get that very often with Neville, since he is second born. Ruthie spent the weekend with Chalupa, though, and had a wonderful time watching TEN MOVIES and “doing all kinds of things you don’t usually let us do, Mom.” Neville and I got to snuggle, share a king size bed, and be a little traveling team for the weekend. It was a special memory of just the two of us that I will treasure for a long time.

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