The EMLA Retreat

I’ve been very public with my enthusiasm for social media, including both Twitter and Facebook – many, many good things have happened for me through those channels – but I’ve always been aware of their limitations, even if I don’t often bother to enumerate them. There are ways in which I’m good at using social media – here on Facebook, for example, I’m capable of expressing thoughts and emotions with candor, clarity, and vulnerability, although like most people I do try to practice caution and curate what I say (with admittedly debatable success, at times). And of course, online communication is inherently and unavoidably incomplete; our physical presence is part of the fullness of our humanity.

I suspect I’m not the only one who struggles with the complexities of transitioning from online friendship to in-person friendship. I do believe online friendships can be meaningful and real, even if they are incomplete by nature, but face-to-face contact rightfully carries the potential for massive changes in perception. And my insecurities about those potential changes in perception are legion, because my ability to openly and emotionally communicate is far more hampered when I’m actually in the room where it happens (Hamilton FTW).

Five years ago I met a very large group of authors, illustrators, and agents with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, simultaneously, most of them for the first time, and in a setting that was anything but low intensity. It was my first EMLA client retreat, and I was very, very anxious. I had friends there, people I’d grown to cherish without having met in person, and I felt confident that those friendships would persist no matter what happened at the retreat, but the prospect of meeting EVERYONE at once had my inner engine of insecurity revving high. I was feeling so hopeful and so uncertain at the same time; I wanted to feel like I belonged in that community. I wanted that so, so badly.

This year’s retreat is now over. It wasn’t an entirely seamless experience, because my personal and professional lives have been very eventful this year, and our industry is once again staggering through a barrage of controversy. I had to work hard to find my psychic footing, and the effort I had to make in order to engage was not inconsequential, but in the end the work paid off. I remembered how much has changed for me since my first desperately hopeful arrival five years ago. I realized, with relief, that my feelings of safety among this group of people have continued to grow. I realized that the structures and contexts that help me express my feelings of gratitude, affection, and connection to the people I see at this event each year are still there, and still function.

I remembered how lucky I am to have found my place at EMLA. I remembered I’m not alone in that feeling, and that I’ve played my own role in generating that feeling in my friends and colleagues. I remembered that my hopes about joining this community, which were so high and so fragile, have been realized more fully and powerfully than I imagined they could be. I’m so sad to be leaving, and I’m so grateful for that sadness, because it’s a responsive, reactive sadness. The sadness is only here now because it was preceded by so much meaning, so much love, and so much joy.

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