VONA and other things

I'm two (three?) weeks out from VONA, and still reeling from how transformative, magical and eye-opening it was. I'm afraid I was sleeping for the past year, because I emerged from that beautiful week-long fairytale with a renewed sense of this-is-what-I-must-do. On the flight back from Miami to Austin, the plane was dark and full of snores. I sat in the window seat, clutching the wall next to me because I think as I get older, I grow more terrified of flying (maybe because as we grow older, we have more to lose?). To calm myself down, I got out my notepad and scribbled some hasty, half-drunk thoughts about how VONA affected me:

On the plane back to Austin, and I still feel so very surreal, I still feel as if I'm experiencing this world from outside my body. As if I'm viewing everything from 5 seconds behind real time. This is the deliciousness. This is what magicĀ feels like.

Sunday. 70+ writers of color in one room. The first thing I could think of was that this was the most amount of diversity I'd been surrounded by in 15 years. I stood and said, "I can't wait to get started," and it was so very true. The acceptance, the understanding. The utter care and affection--such affection. It was like coming home to family, or to yourself. It was like never having to explain or apologizeĀ for who you were and are. I never felt so affirmed, so in love, than that moment after I read my first piece, and the other Asian-American writers in the room approached me to say--"your piece really resonated with me", or "I identified with that", or "I remember a time when my mom wouldn't let me shave either!" What a beautiful moment of community--what beautiful moments throughout of community!

It may be very long before I get to experience this again, but I cherish it, and feel lucky to have ever been in this space, this magical and transformative space.

I am not the same person I was when I came here; I was still hung up about myself, still hung up about things that didn't really matter.

This is real. This is real life.

I am full of hope, happiness, joy, new friends. I admire the people I met, love them deeply and accept them, I am humbled by their strength, courage, their struggles and triumphs. Outside of just being moms or daughters or wives or sisters, we are beating hearts and timid children, we are dreamers and lovers and sometimes scared, sometimes spiteful, sometimes so very foolish--but we let ourselves feel, and that is a brave thing indeed.

I don't know how I am supposed to go back to the real world after this--I feel as if I am in a cloud (perhaps appropriate because I'm on a plane right now). I didn't think it'd be possible to be this tired, but I am. To the point where I am too tired to write, too tired of writing--and yet all I want to do is write--I want to write and write and write until my heart bleeds and my hands bleed and my eyes are dry.

I am ready. I am ready. I walk away believing so hard in myself that it hurts. I walk away believing in my fellow writers. I walk away more confident, more brave, more focused, more uncompromising. More strict, more kind. More understanding. I walk away better than I was before.

This is just the beginning. This is just my beginning.

What I have lost in fear, in silence, in swallowed words and emotions, I have gained in the courage to do what I want to do, to be who I want to be, to say yes or no. I am going back to Austin with a plan. I'm going to write myself to a better place. Life is short, and forgetting is so easy.

Other things I learned:

  1. The writing community is a beautiful thing. And being around only writers of color? I don't think I've ever felt more at home or cared for.
  2. You can't take a serious picture in Miami because there are palm trees everywhere, and palm trees are positively comical.
  3. I'm a little in love with and a lot moved by everyone I met. If my heart wasn't breaking for someone, it was full and pouring.
  4. I never knew how much I could cherish hallway conversations about shaving, body hair and eyelids with other Asian-American writers.
  5. A song exists called 'El Gato Volador,' and it is hilarious.
  6. Don't abandon your books after you write them - it's the equivalent of being a deadbeat father.
  7. I am most confident when talking about my writing.
  8. Deadlifting on a platform is so much better than anything else I've ever done.
  9. You are very much needed.
  10. Dreams. Fear. Discomfort. I owe these things to myself, and I mustn't tarry.