What If

(A guest post written by Renaissance Woman Sheila Weidendorf.)

while wandering in the forest or by the lake I never went back to my life
but rather, crawled beneath the sumac and hazel
crept down amongst the bracken and dock, released, bit by bit,
my tenuous shell of bone and flesh into the loam, put on a new mantle of leaf and moss and twig, festooned myself with berries and briars or maybe,

tumbled low out of the Earth’s crevices, liquid,
poured myself into the waiting arms of the deep waters,
floated alongside the upturned faces of the water lilies
awaiting their turn to bloom or, instead, let myself sink to the bottom,
a pebble or weed, to lay with the silt, silken, and be rocked gently, gently
by the motion of the Earth beneath the waters

and what if, in doing this, I found myself to be no more
than a leaf, or a pebble, no greater than the lily or the fern,
but also, and certainly, no less.

Lionheart

Loneliness
is the giant chasm
between what you thought existed
and what actually is.

Take comfort
in the resilience
of the human heart.

Four chambers of strength
pushing you forward
with each beat.

Heartbreak is a misnomer.

The heart is not fragile.

The heart is tenacious.

The heart endures.

It endures until
we pass on
to the next
great adventure.
Claim your lion’s heart.

Its roar will
snarl and echo
through the chasm
of your loneliness
and summon a passion
greater than
the smallness
of other people.

Hostess

The hostess stands at her station.
She is wearing a tight black t-shirt
that scoops just shallow of her
young and lovely breasts.

The close-fitting red tartan
miniskirt hugs her hips
the pleats flirting
with her thighs.

Her thick black liner
betrays her eyes as she
looks down into the
short black apron
framed by the skirt.

(She has hidden
her cell phone inside.)

Her eyebrows knit
and her chestnut ponytail
whips angrily.

Although she greets guests cheerfully
she is waging war with a remote enemy.

I witness her surreptitious
maneuvers and tactics
in between
sips of
Jameson.

Ligament

Your elegant deception
floats mobiles
over my daydreams.

Once again,
I have lost
my better self.

A tear in the tendon
implies strength
now disintegrated.

I am ugly again
like every time
before.

This is where
hope goes to die.

The unbearable ache,
the parched mouth,
the unattainable ideal.
Remember:
You had me.

You lost me.

You decided.

Disarming the Target

Pie crust smells of possibility.

No matter what the flavor,
the crumbs of your poems cling
to the corners of my mouth
before melting into oblivion.

(So much for complex carbohydrates.)

Forgive me
each imagined gesture
of this shadow romance
orchestrated
by rolling pins.

Seduce me or refuse me:
we’re all clones anyway.

15 Tips for Tabling at Writing Conferences

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In the two and a half years I’ve worked for Hedgebrook, I’ve attended several writing conferences. Here are some observations I’ve made that I hope will help you the next time you’re hosting a table at one of these events!

 

1) Check out how you check in.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but pour over the registration information. Where do you load in? Print a map. Where do you park? Do you need a pass? Is there a limited window for load in?

If possible, reach out to the conference coordinator. Let them know you’re excited for the conference and clarify the aspects that aren’t clear in the registration materials. You’ll be thankful you’ve built the relationship before you arrive.
2) Pack light.

This cannot be overemphasized. If possible, consolidate all your tabling materials into a single suitcase with wheels. Hand carts are usually scarce and you can be left waiting for one for several minutes. Also, having all your tabling materials in a wheeled suitcase increases your flexibility in where you park.

Conferences often offer the option of a shipping service or have a FedEx onsite. Speaking from the personal experience of waiting two hours in a line at AWP Boston, I can tell you, you’re better off if you pack light.
3) Be social.

Starting 2-3 weeks before the conference, consider broadcasting your presence on your organization’s social networks as well as your personal feeds. See if the conference has a Facebook page or a Twitter handle and tag them in your posts.

Research if there is a conference hashtags (i.e. #AWP14). Use it!

An enticing image of you at your table can be a draw. I posted one on my personal Instagram and a friend from high school found me and brought other people with her to engage with my organization.

Bolster engagement by running a social campaign. For AWP this year, we ran an #EqualVoice campaign. We asked people to write down what they do to support women writers on a 2 x 3 label and we wallpapered room dividers with the responses. We also  tweeted all the responses we received.
4) Be wary of Wi-Fi.

Some conferences will assure you that there is on-site Wi-Fi open to all participants. Others will offer Wi-Fi packages for purchase. I’ve found that in either case, the Wi-Fi is rarely reliable. If you’re running a Square off of your phone or tablet, do a test run before the conference is open to the public. Have a hard copy of a credit card order form at the ready in case the network gets overloaded. Bring your device chargers and scope out the nearest plugins to make sure you can get through the day without with a full battery!
5) Know thy neighbor.

You’ll usually have at least a couple of neighbors. Introduce yourself! Find out about their organization, sign up for their mailing list and ask them about past experiences at conferences. It’s good karma and may give you greater insight into that given conference or others you might not know about.
6) At what cost?

Having a table at a conference is rarely free. Know the rates: booth, table, and half table. Make your decision deepening on the locale, rate and audience, which leads us to…
7) Know your goals.

Be specific about what you want to get out of the conference. “Having a presence,” or “Because we’ve always gone” or “Because we should”–none of these reasons have measurable goals associated with them.

Hard goals, such as a number of mailing sign ups or total of books or merchandise sold–you’ll know when you achieve these goals.

We attach a value to each mailing list sign up (based on an average of donations and tuition for earned income programs received for each name received.) When entering conference attendees into your database, make a note of the conference so you can better track the return on your investment.

For help with goal setting, check out marketing guru Lance Leasure of Orange Gerbera.
8) Scheduling is key.

If you have a table or a booth, it’s wise to stagger shifts. Reach out locally to stakeholders who may be attending the conference and see if anyone is interested in volunteering. Note: be sure to be clear if they’ll need to have a registration badge or not. Some conference require badges at all times, while others let people come and go freely. If you’re attending alone, you may get multiple badges.

You may think that you can sit and stand at a table and talk to people about your organization, but by hour four or give, you’ll be wanting a break.
9) Snacks are important.

Tabling is the olympics of marketing for writing organizations. Be well fueled. I always bring a refillable water bottle and a couple of high-protein granola bars. Remember, you are never too busy to be well hydrated!
10) Make the rounds.

I try to set aside 1-2 hours where I can do a tour of the other tables and booths. I make note of the booth designs and tools to promote engagement that catch my eye.

Introduce yourself to like-minded organizations. Sign up for mailing lists. Pick 1-2 sessions that excite you–these can be great talking points for you when you get back to your table.
11) Meaningful Swag.

Swag, or branded take-aways, are a staple of writing conferences. Everyone wants to have the coolest stuff. Make your swag work for you! At the very least, have your website clearly printed on your swag, if not a unique url (i.e. AWP.Hedgebrook.org) so you can capture page views. Food is great and will draw people, but make sure it’s individually wrapped, or the conference food service may take it away.
12) Dress for success. 

Maybe it’s the actor in me, but I carefully consider my conference attire (or costume.) Think about the kind of writer you want to attract to your table. People have a lot of ground to cover during conferences, and the way you (and your table) are dressed can influence if they stop by or not.

Personally, I opt for dressy jeans and a bold top over which I can layer a blazer or a dress dressed down with leggings. Shoes should be COMFORTABLE. You’re going to be standing on cement floors for several hours–opt for practicality over fashion.

For your table attire, consider a custom table cloth with your logo and/or a tall pop-up banner. Put posters and books in uprights or stands and make sure your mailing list signup isn’t an afterthought. A legal pad does the job, but isn’t enticing. Even a basic sign up document created in Word and printed on colored paper, framed by a clipboard classes things up a bit. As an alternative, consider creating paper slips that enter participants into a drawing.

Also, setting up your table before you travel and taking a picture can be extremely helpful in confirming that all your materials look they way you want them to.
13) Get carded.

Bring business cards. And use them. Exchange them. Collect them. I bribg my official Hedgebrook cards, but I also bring my personal writer/actor cards that point to my personal website.

 

14) Writers are introverts.

While this is not an overarching rule, I have found it to be a trend. Conferences are overwhelming explosions of awesome like-minded people. Be mindful that there are some people who may be out of their element. Be gentle.

I make the choice not to be aggressive when people approach my table. There will always be those who prefer to surreptitiously take a postcard to read later and then they’re on their way. I respect this.

If someone approaches the table and sticks around for longer then 5-7 seconds, I’ll ask them one of the following questions:

“Are you a writer?”
“What genre do you work in?”
“What’s your favorite session been?”
“Have you heard of us.”
15) Have a drink.

A lot of deeper connections are made off-site, at after-hours events. Attend readings and find out where the hotspots are. You’ll be glad you did!
What’s what I’ve learned while tabling. How about you?

Five Shallow Saucers

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The first person who arrives at work
goes into the Farmhouse to make coffee.

It’s nine o’clock on a Friday morning
and none of the writers have come down
from their cottages yet: I like to think
of them snug in their sleeping lofts,
dreaming up ideas for their next novel
or poem or play or essay.

First, I fill the grinder with the
regular beans, three scoops full.
Next, I add three scoops of the decaf beans.
(They are darker in color and less oily,
I remember this from my training as a barista.)

The grinder whirs as I fill the carafe
with water and wait. Vito makes the coffee
best, I muse. He must have superhuman
coffee-making powers associated with being
Italian, as he does with parking and
bending the laws of space and time
when driving in his Prius.

As the coffee brews, I look through the
window over the kitchen sink and see
the crow who has once again returned
to wash what he has scavenged in the bird bath.

A writer arrives and cuts up an apple:
“I like to cross the road first thing
each morning and feed the llamas.”

“I swear they recognize the word ‘apples,’
if you call it out,” I offer.

We agree that the male llama seems to be
the ringleader–he’s more aggressive than
the other two, only allowing them to partake
after he has gently smacked down apple chunks.

Five shallow saucers filled with water
upon which flowers float adorn the
Farmhouse Table.

The light hits the table
at just the right angle and it is a light
for all writers, full of hope and possibility.

As I dump the coffee grounds into the compost,
I reflect on how nice it is that at Hedgebrook,
no one minds if you take a minute

to stop
& write a poem.

The Triumphant Return of Max Cole-Takanikos

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Max Cole-Takanikos is the first friend I made when I moved out to Whidbey Island almost seven years ago. I was attending my first play on the island, a production of Orphans starring Ken Church, Ed Cornachio and Dave Gignac. Susie Richards, who was the site supervisor for the South Whidbey AmeriCorps team, grabbed me by the elbow and said, “Oh, you just HAVE to meet, Max. He’s into theatre, just like you!”

And thus a legendary friendship was born.

Max and I have worked together on eight productions together, including a one-act play we co-wrote, called Chemistry. We have played Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, James Bond and Vesper Lynd and Mr. Toad and various human roles in The Wind in the Willows. We have also eaten a box of 24 corn dogs in one sitting between the two of us. (Yes, Max was able to eat many more than I was.)

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(The Wind in the Willows, Whidbey Children’s Theatre, Photos by Sue Frause.)

Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them will be our ninth production together. I play Felicity, and he plays my husband, Zamir—who I have no recollection of meeting or marrying. It’s written by one of my favorite playwrights, Christopher Durang. I’ve loved Durang since college, when I directed a production of Beyond Therapy for my senior project.

The play is a satire about terrorism and “homeland insecurity.” Durang is a master of comic absurdity—the script is well-written with dialogue that snaps, crackles and pops. And I couldn’t be happier to have Max as my extremely bi-polar husband who’s possibly a terrorist.

Theatre is family. That’s why I keep coming back. That is why I love this community of South Whidbey theatre artists. Max is like the brother I never had. Ned Farley and Andrew Grenier are the uncles that know best and give sage advice. Ahna Dunn-Wilder and Melanie Lowey are my sisters (forever!) And Amy Wheeler and Kate Buzzard are my radical feminist aunts, constantly creating scripts with powerful female protagonists. And the audience is family, too.

I hope you’ll come and see me and Max and the rest of the crazy family of Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them. We’ll save a table for you at Hooters. ;-)

 

Why Torture is wrong and the People Who Love Them runs July 11-26. Purchase your tickets here!

Lobster Tails

I’d like a souvenir with a different memory.

I still associate you with all things crustacean.
I turn the corner and without warning
a lobster in miniature inserts his claws
inside my ribcage, aiming to pinch my heart.

At the thrift store, I avert my eyes
from gazing upon anything associated
with the sea.

What was once swells of love
became tidal waves of betrayal and heartbreak
crashing against the vulnerable place
I prefer to show to no one.

If I could deconstruct your nonexistent backbone,
I would strategically place each severed vertebrae:
on top of window sills, in mail boxes,
under our favorite bench at the dog park–
each bone demarcating the space between
staying and leaving.

 

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