No red carpet. No paparazzi. Not even an after-party.
But who needs glitz and glamour when you’re part of something more substantive — the annual meetup of the men and women who contribute to my Voices of August guest blog project.
Each and every day in August, I publish an essay crafted by one of an assortment of friends, relatives and fellow journalists. As invigorating as the project is, with thought-provoking pieces framed by a variety of generational and geographical perspectives, the face-to-face gathering that comes afterwards is the real payoff.
About 20 of us, including spouses and significant others, came together last weekend at a Portland brewpub, the same one where we first met five years ago. The Lucky Lab on Southeast Hawthorne may not have much in the way of atmosphere, but it certainly has characters — as in the long-haired old-timer at the end of the bar and his drinking buddy, another grizzled guy wearing a wolf’s head (or something like that) on his noggin.
(Click on photos to view captions.)
Voices of August began as a simple idea, an experiment, really. Could I entice 30 people scattered across the country to carve out some time in their typically busy lives to write an original essay for public consumption? And having done that, could I encourage them to engage in some of the online conversation that ensued from VOA contributors and general readers?
Turns out the answers were “yes” and “yes.”
Some folks have been a part of VOA since the beginning. For their support in creating and sustaining critical mass, I thank them. Others have contributed a piece or two and then yielded their spots to others, so that I could bring in fresh faces. For their cooperation, I also thank them.
What we have after five years is not mine — not at all. I may be the online emcee, but the content is created by everyone and the community that has emerged from this effort is one that belongs to everyone. VOA feels like a living, breathing organism. It warms my heart to see it in action as people who once only knew of each other from their guest blogs now mingle as real-time friends, sipping drinks, chatting, laughing and sharing stories.
There are few blogs, I would venture to say, that bring together writers from places as varied as Oregon, Washington, California, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, D.C., let alone France and Slovenia. When you consider that one writer emailed her piece from the Czech Republic and four others touched on international experiences or issues in Kenya, Tanzania, Canada and Mexico, well, that’s pretty cool.
Talk about making the world a smaller place.
But VOA is more than that. During the course of a month, it’s like unwrapping a new gift every day.
One day you’re transported back to a time, long before the advent of social media, when families ate together at the dinner table and shared their days. Another day you’re educated to the dangers of a shaved head in the wrong bar (quick, think of bachelorette parties and the kissing or rubbing of said head.)
On yet another day you understand the gift one woman received when she rode the bus on a frigid winter morning with a trio of men, in stained clothing and of meager means, who offered suggestions of where to get a free cup of coffee and a sandwich.
No matter the topic, no matter the writer, VOA gives you the opportunity to see a slice of the world through the eyes of someone who may be quite unlike you but whose perspective enriches your own worldview. A special thanks to those who have shared what it is like to cope with the loss of a spouse or a parent, to raise children as a single mom or single dad, to endure life’s various traumas and indignities. And a nod of appreciation, as well, to those who invite us to laugh with you or at ourselves.
As always, the evening included the presentation of gift cards to bookstores and coffee shops to those whose essays were judged as favorites by the VOA community. The nice thing about the balloting is that the criteria are whatever each voter decides. He or she alone chooses how much weight to give to the choice of topic, the quality of writing, the resonance of the piece, etc.
In my humble opinion, this year’s guest blog posts were the strongest ever. So I was pleased to see so many writers recognized for their work. In alphabetical order, these were the Best of VOA 5.0.
Tim Akimoff: “To unfinished stories”
Parfait Bassale: “Sons of God”
Ray Caballero (a first-time contributor): “Be careful what you wish for”
Angie Chuang: “What a lonely mountain gorilla taught me”
Patricia Conover: “The pilgrim soul in you”
Elizabeth Hovde: “The need to belong”
John Knapp: “Cracking me open”
Lillian Mongeau: “Dear Boomers”
Lynn St. Georges: “Song in darkness”
Final note: It wouldn’t feel right to bring down the curtain on this year’s body of work without recognizing the contribution made on the final day by 9-year-old Gabrielle Raia-Elise Akimoff. What a charming piece she wrote about adapting to her family’s many moves across the United States — “Hiking across America.”
Happily, the Akimoffs have moved from Chicago back to Oregon, now that her dad, Tim, has landed a job with a state agency in Salem.
In case you missed (or want to reread) any posts, you can pay a visit to the VOA 5.0 index page. Never too late to leave a comment, either.
Until next year…