I recently took a trip of firsts. I had the opportunity to attend a writer’s retreat (my first) just outside the city of Omaha. Since I had never before been to Omaha, nor even Nebraska, I chose to extend my visit by a few days and explore some of what Omaha has to offer. Since this was a work trip, I was traveling solo, which meant pushing outside my comfort zone in multiple ways.
While I have flown, dined and even stayed at a hotel alone before, this was my first completely solo trip. In the past, when I have flown or dined alone, it has been part of a trip where I have met others; most of my time on those trips was spent in the company of friends and family who knew the area I was in. This time, I was on my own to decide where to go, what to do, where to stay and eat. I planned some in advance (choosing an Airbnb and setting up a rental car to be picked up on my second day) and had a rough plan of what I wanted to see and do while I was there, but no real schedule; I wanted to be open to possibilities.
Without going into too much detail, the trip was a success and I found that solo travel is not too unlike traveling with others, except that conversation is limited to talking to strangers. Though it was something I gave no thought to going into the experience, I occasionally observed a curious fact: I did not stand out; no one was staring, wondering why that woman was eating or walking around all by herself. In fact, the most common reaction I got from others was surprise that I was from out of town (closely followed by asking what else could possibly be going on in the area that weekend besides the College World Series). I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to blend in.
After three days of exploring Omaha, it was time for the big event: Her View From Homestock, a gathering of approximately 50 writers for Her View From Home. Despite the fact I had not met anyone in person before, I eagerly headed down Route 80, the anticipation building as I left the pavement for the dirt road. The weekend was everything I expected and then some. Women whom I felt I already knew from their writings gathered to share stories, tips, fears, hugs and tears. We talked about where we came from and where we wanted to go. We discussed best practices and what worked for us, despite what the “experts” say.
We came not only from all over the U.S, but also from different faiths, backgrounds, age brackets and ambitions. Some of us were full time freelancers, others also worked another job, some consider their writing more of a hobby. Most (if not all) of us were moms, with our children’s ages ranging from newborn to 30. We came with different life experiences, talents and points of view, but with common goals: to celebrate our individual and group successes, to learn more about each other and ourselves and to encourage each other to be the best we can be. Having made it this far in life without a group of women to regularly interact with, for me, this was also a first. (Before you feel sorry for me, I do have friends, but our gatherings tend to be rather small, generally only three or four max.)
Sharing was a big part of the weekend. We shared information about our professional selves as well as our personal lives. We talked about why we write: how we started and what keeps us going. We talked about our hopes and dreams for our writing and what passion inspires us. We talked about finding ourselves in our writing and about being true to ourselves, despite the shiny temptations dangled before us.
One conversation touched on finding ourselves as writers and discovering our niche. We talked about how to find our space in the world, how to narrow our focus and establish our “brand.” During one of these conversations, it occurred to me that this blog, in effect, has been my attempt to do that. I started When I Grow Up to explore who I am and who I want to be. In a way, it marked a new beginning for me. Over the past few years, I have shared some of my thoughts and concerns and wondered “aloud” where I will go next. (For some of us, the process apparently takes some time.)
We had been given a “homework assignment” for the weekend: to write about why we write, when we began and why it matters. While pending deadlines (and life as a mom) kept me from writing down my thoughts beforehand, I did think a great deal about this. Writing is something I have always done. I wrote “books” as a small child (index cards stapled together) and as I got older, briefly stepped away from the thought of creating books while I consumed as many as I could get my hands on. In school, writing was of course part of the curriculum, so I had less time for personal writing (though I did keep a diary sporadically). In college I joined the newspaper and my first “real” job was for a magazine publisher. I stepped away for a while (in hindsight, it was for way too long), then with this blog, came back, only to discover that publishing had changed a bit and there was much to learn. For a long while I said I wrote because it was like breathing, it was impossible to not write. For years, I learned this was not true: for a time, mothering took its place; now I find there is room for both.
Firsts are scary, yet exhilarating. They force us to step away from what is comfortable, to take a chance that what’s ahead has value, to grow as individuals. Firsts are memorable, they become stories we share (and sometimes embellish). They give us confidence; we learn from both our successes and failures how to approach a similar situation later. Most of all, they give us the courage to try again, to pursue and embrace new firsts, to make our lives even more fulfilling. In the not-too-distant past, I made “Out of the Comfort Zone” a battle call of sorts. I couldn’t be happier I did. Firsts are much more enjoyable to celebrate than lasts.