August 8, 2012

LLF DAY 4: Twenty Lousy Bucks!

Pointing the way to the future
photo courtesy of  Alysia Angel

By day four, everyone settled into the routine of intense class work, homework, and rewrites. It seemed to me that we were being polite, professional and, well, a bit stiff. The evening program included a publisher’s panel that sorta sucked the energy from the group, energy that had been building over shared meals and classroom discussions.

After the panel, I returned to my residence hall. Deciding to step away from my uncomfortable dorm desk with its rickety chair, I walked down the hall to the dorm lounge. I spread out my work on a table. A few moments later, my roommate, Jef, joined me. We’d developed a friendship and rhythm that doesn’t come easily for me when I meet someone new. It comforted me to know I could still connect that way with another person especially since I’ve spent the last few years making sure no one got particularly close. Jef and I worked quietly in the lounge interrupting the silence with an occasional observation or question then returning our attention to our laptops.

The atmosphere suddenly changed when Christina Clover, the loveliest of Brits and one of the YA participants, stepped into the lounge. She was waiting for another LLF fellow to return to campus with her wine. Christina plopped down on the sofa and asked, “Present company accepted, who would you shag? Who do you fancy?”

Ohhh, she was naughty and inappropriate and we loved it! Since our pinky swear is still in effect, I won’t go into the details of who we dubbed shaggable and/or snoggable. I’ll just say we had terrific fun. Tequila made an appearance, as did Nina’s beer and Christina’s wine. Other members of the YA cohort joinedour inappropriate fun. It’s as if we’d been waiting for this breakthrough, a chance to let our hair down and to finally stop sucking in our guts. We laughed from that authentic place where we were free to be who we were and we were doing it around people who made us feel safe. I’m sure this happened to other LLF fellows across campus. LGBT writers were bonding.

Of course, we also talked about our manuscripts, about writing, about our writing communities. As Nina, Christina’s roommate, was talking about her graphic novel, I realized how easily I could’ve missed all this because of a lousy twenty bucks.

Back in the spring when I looked over the application for the retreat, I frowned at the twenty dollar fee. I mean, clearly, twenty dollars isn't much money but it adds up if you apply for several contests or fellowships. I was still trying to clear my credit card bill from the expense of the AWP conference in Chicago a few months earlier. I knew I wanted to apply to LLF but, twenty dollars, that's my gas utility bill. Twenty dollars is enough to get me to work for month. Twenty dollars is half of my cellphone bill. I mean, I kept thinking of the things I needed to do with twenty bucks. Finally, I had to say to myself, "Dude, it's only twenty dollars. Are you really gonna let twenty bucks keep you from what could be an incredible opportunity?"

That week, I easily cut back on a frivolous expense to cover the application fee. Actually, it was such a frivolous expense that I don’t even remember what it was. Clearly, my apprehension wasn’t because I couldn't spare twenty bucks. It was something else. It was the inner-voice in me that said, “They’re not gonna pick you. You’re just wasting twenty dollars. Sure, you’re talented enough for Kansas City but you can’t compete with people from all over the country. These are educated people, people with published books, people who won’t understand you – they never do.”

But another voice in me said, “You can do this. They will pick you. You know they’re going to pick you. Twenty dollars is nothing! You give twenty dollars to just about anyone who needs it. And let me tell you this, buddy, you need it. This is an investment in yourself. You have to decide if you’re worth twenty dollars. And if you’re not, well, then you’ve got a lot bigger problems than trying to scrape together twenty bucks.”

After our evening of inappropriate fun and bonding, I laid on my noisy concave mattress knowing I’d made the right decision. The twenty dollar application fee and the rest of the money spent on the trip was worth it – and it was only Tuesday.