June Theme: Summer Camp for Grown-Ups (Sarah Dooley)
The second weekend of June is something special in West Virginia. First of all, the weather is completely unpredictable -- you can stroll through a drizzle, duck out of the downpour, bask in the sun, and unpack your sweater all in the space of a couple of hours. At Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley, West Virginia, the second weekend of June means West Virginia Writers Conference. I haven't attended many writing conferences. I tend to be a little shy, and the thought of trying to share a crowded classroom or assembly hall with a bunch of strangers, all of them certain to be better writers than me, has always made me too nervous to ever actually send in a registration form. But West Virginia Writers Conference -- known by most of us, a bit reverently, as, simply, "Conference," -- is a different experience altogether. It helps that I started attending as a teenager, so being at the conference center reminds me fondly of sharing a bunk with my sisters, staying up late around the bonfire, and gathering up enough nerve to enter a writing contest for the very first time. What helps more, though, when it comes to attending Conference, is that we West Virginia Writers take care of each other. We stay in touch year round, and when we gather in the Assembly Hall, or on the patio behind the Lodge, on the second Friday in June, we don't feel as though we're among strangers. Even Conference first-timers tend to pick up on the feeling that we're among friends. It's a safe place to share stories, sing songs, recite poetry, and be together. We spend the weekend comparing notes: "What class are you going to next?" and "So how's your novel coming? Last I heard, you were three quarters in ..." We spend the weekend learning from writers who have been where we are now, who are coming from paths we haven't walked, or who are going directions we've never considered. We spend the weekend inspiring one other, challenging and supporting one another, and at the end of the weekend, I am recharged, refreshed, ready to write, revise, submit ... and maybe even give other writing conferences a try. The second weekend in June brings to West Virginia the oddest, most invigorating mix of education and family reunion, with maybe just a touch of church. Oh, and also? There are s'mores.