Kindness to Strangers at “a Convention for Introverts”: Wordstock 2012

Wordstock and I go way back. Portland’s annual literary festival introduced me to the MPub program, and it was at Wordstock I met Peter Sagal, for starters. I’ve been going pretty consistently since 2006, except the last two years when I was away from Portland. Naturally then, I was quite excited to get back to Wordstock this weekend!

The day was very nearly derailed before it even really began. In the morning I was feeling crummy, but that mostly dissipated while biking to the Oregon Convention Center. Once on site, I found the nearest ticket booth and started rifling around in my bag for my wallet.

It was soon my turn at the window, but I was still looking for my wallet. Where was my wallet? Teetering on the edge of a very bad day, I excused myself from the ticket area and walked toward a quiet area where I could keep looking, and start strategizing. Biking the hour back home and another hour back was not how I had planned to spend the day.

Behind me, a voice called out “excuse me…!”

Before I knew it, a random woman was offering me a ticket. She spoke of wishing more people would do nice things for strangers. Incredulous, I told her nobody had ever done any such thing for me and gave her a hug. She handed me the ticket and started walking back toward the crowd. When I finally did find my wallet (it had shifted to the back of my bag), I walked toward the crowd to see if I could catch her. I did! And I offered all the cash I had in my wallet—a paltry $3. I think sometime I shall try this “being nice to a random stranger” business—even though my wallet wasn’t actually back at home, her kindness completely floored me and turned my day around.

Inside, Wordstock was its lovely, literary self. Their theme this year seemed to be vice—describing the festival a “book-fueled bender.” The exhibit hall even sported a “red chair district” that was an 18-and-over area with romance writers, a hotel, and SheBop, the local sex toy/erotica store.

At the Friends of Multnomah County Library booth, I bought a copy of The Help for $1.50—paid by check because of course, I had given away all of my cash. At William Sullivan’s booth, I purchased the most revised edition of his 100 Hikes in Northwestern Oregon. I’ve been thinking about working through all the hikes in order to resurrect Adventure Saturday (shout out if you’d like to join me on any!). I also picked up a free arts preview magazine called Artslandia, which aims to provide a unified season guide for all the major performing arts organizations in Portland.

Then, there was the CNN truck, where I got angry at Anderson Cooper and threatened to deck him!

Okay, not really. But I did get a photo print and an electronic version of this photo to download. Visitors brave enough to step into an enormous truck at the back of the hall were offered to have a photo of them debating either presidential nominee. As Elly was later musing, people don’t generally want a photo of the nominee they don’t like, and indeed—I wanted Obama in my photo instead of Mittens.

Then I happened upon a vaguely familiar face in a Boston Red Sox cap, running a homey booth with a dining table, cookies, and shelves full of handmade books. As it turns out, it was my long-lost MHS classmate Jake Wasson! I think the best way to describe his project, The Storybank Exchange,  is literary conceptual art—he envisions a world where your work is your currency, tangible and made by each individual. He has made many books out of various found objects, and even constructed a homemade e-reader this way (in jest, of course)!

At the end of the day I snuggled into the Stealing Time Magazine booth to participate in their flash memoir contest. Headed by the lovely Sarah Gilbert and aimed at literary-minded parents, Stealing Time is just getting off the ground and features some notable parents in its first issue, including Steve Almond. As a non-parent, I chose to write my flash memoir about Atticus—I’m sure it won’t win, but in my world, Atticus is the closest thing to a child I’m ever going to get.

It turns out that wasn’t the only time I’d write about Atticus. The Attic Institute had a booth with another writing contest—a prompt was randomly selected, and the participant had nine minutes to create and submit a story on one of two of their provided laptops. Unfortunately the prompt I drew was ominous, so poor Atticus didn’t fare well in my story.

Year after year, I’ve come out of Wordstock energized and happy, even when I’ve gone in feeling low. Perhaps it’s the low-key energy combined with plenty of opportunity to show my nerdy side that keeps me coming back. As one of the Stealing Time staffers said, “it’s like a convention for introverts.”

See more photos from Wordstock 2012.

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