There were fewer of us at this year’s Voices of August meetup but that hardly took away from the good energy in the room.
A week ago today, 13 of us came together at a Northeast Portland brewpub to celebrate another year of great writing and great camaraderie centered around my annual guest blog project: 31 writers on 31 topics presented in 31 days.
In its seventh year, VOA has eclipsed anything I might have imagined when I first extended invitations to friends, family and work colleagues to choose a subject and write an original essay. Each piece reflects something of the writer’s interests and values. Each piece has something to inform, entertain, inspire or remind us of people, pets, ideas and events that are important.
Sometimes those essays are about taking new adventures or dealing with personal loss. Sometimes they are about facing our fears or celebrating an accomplishment. Sometimes they are about where we are in the stages of life and dealing with those challenges.
No matter what, they resonate widely. (More on that below.)
As good as those essays are, it’s the conversation sparked by these blog posts that is truly remarkable. Unlike the shouting and name-calling we see in too many reader comment sections, what you see within the VOA community is mutual respect and cause for reflection. From those online connections has emerged an annual opportunity to meet face-to-face with each other, renewing old friendships or making new ones.
Those good vibes were on full display last Saturday, with participants coming from as far as Northern and Southern California (thank you, Lakshmi Jagannathan, Raghu Raghavan and Al Rodriguez). Closer to home, we welcomed a VOA rookie to the party: Cynthia Gomez, a Portland State colleague of mine who’s just begun a masters program in Creative Writing.
I would have loved a larger turnout, of course. But several factors — out-of-town travel, family birthdays, health issues and more — conspired to chip away at attendance. Still, I marvel that we had contributions this year from a record nine states: Oregon, Washington, California, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas and New York. What’s more, those writers ranged in age from 60-plus to 18 to 13. Amazing variety.
Each year, I invite followers of VOA — regular readers plus writers, past and present — to vote for their three favorite pieces. It’s torture, I know, to select just three from the wonderful array of submissions. But here’s the deal: There are no criteria other than to choose what resonated with you, whether it was the quality of the writing or the subject of the piece. Either way, it’s good.
The top vote-getters win a gift card to a bookstore. This year, weirdly enough, not a single one of this year’s favorites was at the meetup. So, here’s a hearty online round of applause for those whose essays struck us as extra special:
John Knapp: “The Odometer” — On the eve of turning 63, John reflects on the matter-of-fact approach he’s taking toward life after learning his heart disease has advanced despite his best efforts:
“I was never going to get out of here alive, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life pining for that hot dog I wanted, but never ate because I was afraid it might raise my cholesterol. Life is short.”
Midori Mori: “What it means to have Pride” — A precocious 13-year-old living in Portland’s liberal bubble sets out on a path of self-acceptance as transgender but finds it doesn’t come easily.
“It seems mostly everyone around me can accept who I am and the only person who can’t is me. I don’t care if I have to shout out to the world that I am transgender, but for now saying that about myself still makes me uncomfortable. Some part of me is more in shock of my own label than denial.”
Aki Mori: “My beautiful child, Midori” — A father writes candidly about his struggle to embrace his daughter’s new gender identity.
“I am coming along, and Midori gives me plenty of space with her happy-go-lucky personality. With the passing of time I am beginning to treat Midori more and more like my son, even subconsciously in many cases.”
Mary Pimentel: “Monster”— What’s it like to grow up without a mom who fell into drug abuse as a teenager? An 18-year-old college freshman draws us into her world, revealing the pain and emptiness she felt as a child but also her own capacity to understand and forgive.
“I live my life with pride and appreciation knowing I share so many qualities with such a beautiful human being yet with sorrow knowing that something evil took away the chance of having a mom to braid my hair and wipe the tears from my first heartbreak. I love her immensely still, and no matter the negative, I am living.”
And, as an exclamation point on VOA 7.0, I’m giving an Editor’s Award to Nike Bentley, who’s been part of this project since Year One. She’s a former student of mine, now married and mother of two feisty girls, and she sets a high bar when it comes to reader engagement. Every comment she leaves at the end of a post is thoughtful and often just as eloquent as the essay itself.
Catch up with anything you missed: VOA 7.0 index page