VOA 8.0

The motley crew at McMenamin’s on Sept. 21, 2019. From left and across the front row: Al Rodriguez, Elizabeth Hovde, John Killen, Eric Scharf. Andrea Cano, Kate Carroll de Gutes, Lakshmi Jagannathan, George Rede, Raghu Raghavan, Jason Cox, Alana Cox (seated with Cece). Back row dudes: Bob Ehlers, Eric Wilcox, Leroy Metcalf. Not pictured: Melissa Jones.

It’s coming up on four full days since a motley crew gathered at a local brewpub to celebrate another year of writing, reading and friendship — and the glow is still mighty warm.

I’m talking about the Voices of August meetup, the annual gathering of friends, neighbors and work colleagues that happens after each iteration of the guest blog project I started in 2010.

We skipped a year last year because of my work commitments, but VOA 2019 was pretty awesome, both online and in person. We had the usual wide variety of topics, a high degree of writing quality, four new writers among us, and stimulating conversations on the digital platform.

On Saturday we had the opportunity to engage face-to-face in a private room at McMenamin’s on Broadway, a place that I think may soon become our official “home.”

We had about two dozen people in attendance, nearly twice as many as in 2017. I think the extra numbers contributed to an exceptionally positive gathering.

A few highlights:

— Once again, we had people come from Oregon, Washington and California, with Al Rodriguez and Elizabeth Lee coming up from Santa Barbara and Lakshmi Jagannthan and Raghu Raghavan coming up from the San Jose suburbs. Those who couldn’t join us contributed their blogs from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey.

— We had four new writers this year: Eric Scharf, who described his passions for cycling and food; Melissa Jones, who reminisced about her stash of ticket stubs; Kate Carroll de Gutes, the author of two award-winning memoirs; and 12-year-old Ayumi Mori. the youngest VOA participant ever, who wrote movingly about her gay older sister.

— A trio of writers/cyclists — Al Rodriguez, Eric Scharf and John Killen — took it upon themselves to organize a Saturday morning bike ride. Nothing like a 50-mile-plus ride to wake up the senses, right?

— After 8 years of doing this, VOA writers account for about 250 of the more than 700 posts on my humble blog. The beauty of this endeavor is that it draws out thoughtful commentaries on so many different topics. This year alone, we had essays covering the spectrum from birth to death and everywhere in between — pregnancy, miscarriage, breastfeeding and parenting. Writers also touched on education, religion, travel, wildlife, politics, gender identity and recreation (thanks for that put-us-right-there piece on skydiving, Eric Wilcox).

***

Finally, thank you and congratulations to the four writers whose essays emerged as this year’s favorites. They are not “the best” per se. But they are the ones that resonated most broadly with the writers and regular readers of VOA who cast a ballot for their three favorites.

The top vote-getters win a gift card to a bookstore. Oddly, not a single one of these four writers was at the meetup. Nevertheless, here’s a hearty online round of applause for those whose essays struck us as extra special:

Jennifer Brennock: “The way men sit in chairs” — A powerful piece about “manspreading” that calls out the way some dudes intrude on others’ physical and psychological space.

At the poetry reading, someone sits down on my left. The man extends both legs fully, each jutting out directly from the corners of his seat. It makes the lower half of his body into a big v. A big valentine v. As if he can’t help from spilling over. You know, cuz he’s so big. He has a right to all this space because he was randomly born with some anatomy that is apparently a foot wide. Men sit like this.

Lillian Mongeau Hughes: “When you’re sitting on a plane: a reflection about a mother’s love” — What does it feel like to be jammed into in a middle seat on a plane from Portland to Boston to see your mom when you’ve just learned she’s been diagnosed with cancer? This is how.

“(You) cycle through all the things your mother has ever said to you about living so far from her. And you cycle through all the things she hasn’t said to you, but you know she thinks. And you settle on the one she’s repeated the most. She wants you to be happy. If you’re happy, she’s happy. And because you have a daughter now, you know that’s true, so you try to stop the cycling.” 

John Knapp: “To no one in particular” — Laura was the oldest of six kids and the anchor in John’s eastern Oregon family. When his sister died on Valentine’s Day, she broke everyone’s heart. I’ve never read a more touching tribute.

“Laura was not famous, held no public office and was not high profile in her local community. She led a straightforward life, with the usual markers and life events that others experience. She was a wife, mother, daughter, sister, artist, baker, and did an above average job in all those roles. But still, you might say she was no one in particular, except to those who knew and loved her.”

Jacob Quinn Sanders: “Up to my ass in alligators” — A former newspaper reporter recalls the time a certain police captain in small-town Arkansas was left in charge of the department while the chief and the public information officer were away on vacation. When the captain refused to comment on a minor shooting, insisting he was “up to my ass in alligators,” Sanders was left with little choice.

“I went to my editor. People should know that’s what he said, I told him. I’m going to quote him directly in this little brief. From there, you can do what you like. No hard feelings if you have to take it out — but I’m putting it in there. My editor thought that was a pretty good idea.”

Ha! Already looking forward to VOA 2020!

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