week 51: portland writer’s picnic

In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’d never done before then writing about it. This is week 51.

nun51Here, nearly a full year into this personal challenge project, it’s become clear that there are stages I go through most weeks.

1. Decide on an activity I’ve never done before. If it’s something social, take note of the event on Facebook.

2. If on FB, click the “going” button so I’ll be reminded of the event and at the same time create a very thin layer of obligation (even though a “going” agreement on FB is the world’s weakest form of accountability).

3. Find something else, something easier, I can count as that week’s new thing.

4. On the day of the activity decide I will NOT go because I’m tired or busy or because I decide my reluctance is a form of intuition telling me the new thing is actually the wrong thing for me to do.

5. Breathe.

6. Breathe deeper.

7. Remember that the churning in my stomach is familiar. Not once has it caused me to actually vomit.

8. Remember the supportive voices in my life that, if they were with me, would encourage me to move forward, step into the fear, etc. Other voices will tell me to get the fuck over myself and just do it.

9. Remember that I am almost 47.

10. Remember all the first dates I’ve been on that I actually enjoyed (more than you’d think!). Remember all the interesting and wonderful people I’ve met despite being scared and nervous.

11. Pretend that the social event is just like a first date, but with dozens of people all at once.

12. Forget #11. That’s not helping. Just breathe.

13. Let my shoulders drop from around my ears.

14. Walk. Keep walking until you are there. Maybe there will be cake.

This week, I went on a perfect little trip to Seattle to start training in a new massage/mindfulness technique. I knew I had this trip to fall back on as a subject for this post, but I also knew that this week was The Portland Writer’s Picnic. Last year, I saw pictures of it and remember thinking it was just the kind of thing that made me love the writing community in this town. It was big and broad and anyone who was a writer of any sort was invited. I didn’t go last year. But this year I could.

Worry. Breathe. Go.

The fact that it was in Laurelhurst Park not far from my house made the whole thing a bit easier to approach. As I neared the shady picnic area, I saw a huge spread of food and a healthy gathering of mostly unfamiliar faces. I added my small offering of blackberries to the table and found comfort, not in cake, but in a piece of berry pie. At the end of the table I found more comfort in the shape of someone I knew.

Breathe. Eat. Sigh.

I planted myself at the end of a picnic table and sat there for a solid hour and a half as different people came and went. I met a few people I’ve only known on Facebook. I met a few people I didn’t know at all. I even waved at and hugged a few friends. We talked vaguely about our writing. But also about vegan cake, teaching eighth graders, the Benedictine monastery of St. Angel and claiming the title of Portland’s Oprah.

I applaud the organizers of the shindig for their efforts in putting the picnic together, but also for making it a welcoming space. I thank the individuals who sat with me for a bit and opened themselves up in the friendliest of manners.

I didn’t get to introduce myself to everyone I wanted to. I didn’t get to say hello to a few familiars. That would have required me standing up and mingling. Mingling doesn’t happen until step 20 or so in the above process. Or maybe by the time I’m ready for mingling this damn list will only be 3 steps long: Learn about event. Go to it. Enjoy.

Tracy Burkholder is a writer living in Portland, OR. Her debut book, I Want More is a lyric hybrid of memoir, poetry and image published by Summerbear Press. Available here.

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