The Writer Unboxed UnConference: The Journey to My Own Moveable Feast

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” — Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast Close Up

Picture yourself in Paris at midnight, stumbling on the cobblestones of the Rue McClanahan or Champs-Eloise, sniffing fleur-de-lis by the clair de la silvery lune (for the record, all French sounds like that to me).

A Peugeot Type 176 pulls over and invites you in. Being a bit on the tipsy side, you accept, only to be whisked away to the mid-1920’s, ending your road trip at a party for Jean Cocteau. Cole Porter plays “Let’s Do It” on the 88’s, while Hemingway and Stein chat feverishly in the corner. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald stagger over and spill a drink on you.

“Sorry, Sport…didn’t mean to get you all wet, but in my defense, you wear that martini quite well.”

Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Or at the very least, a scene from a Woody Allen movie.

Midnight in Paris PosterWell, that’s exactly what it is: both a dream and a scene. It’s from Midnight in Paris, and is one of the few Woody Allen films I can stomach. As a matter of fact, I actually love it, and have seen it at least a dozen times. Its premise is intriguing: a time-traveling writer careening to his ideal Golden Age — Paris in the 1920’s.

I can relate to that, because those years comprise my ideal Golden Age, as well. To pick the minds of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, then turn around and banter with Gertrude Stein in real life would indeed be a dream come true. Even to have Scott spill a martini on me would be a treat. We’d laugh like good sports, and then I’d make him buy me a double, three olives. I’ve always yearned for the same sense of camaraderie these contemporaries shared, and have secretly wished for a moveable feast of my own.

During the first week of November, that wish was granted.

But before I continue, being the writer and Hemingway aficionado that I am (and with a little memory boost from Wikipedia), let me brief you on  A Moveable Feast, in case you’re unfamiliar.

A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast CoverThe Boring (yet critical to the backstory) Info Dump:  In the spring of 1928, Hemingway stashed away two small trunks in the basement of the Paris Ritz Hotel, which contained journals from his early days as a writer. A remarkable twenty-eight years later, he recovered the trunks and transcribed the notebooks into a memoir. Although he completed a final draft, he died before seeing it to publication. However, three years after his death, the book was edited and released by his fourth wife under the title, A Moveable Feast.

A Moveable Feast is an account of Hemingway’s expatriate years in Paris consorting with not only Fitzgerald and Stein mentioned in the dream sequence above, but also such literary notables as James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Thornton Wilder, and a host of others.

At times, the portraits he painted were quite expository and unflattering, but the friendships formed were unflappable. Truth is, the group of authors were brutally honest to the point of irreverence with each other, which, in some creative circles, can be rather beneficial. As a result, Hemingway’s talent was sharpened to a razor edge, and he is regarded as one of the most influential writers of his — or any — time.

Life is a Banquet

During the past couple of years, finding a writing clique with which I clicked has had its share of hurdles, mainly because of the time constraints. As Mom’s illness progressed and her caregiving needs increased, I simply didn’t have the time or energy to feast at the tables I wished. Lord knows I tried, but by the end of the day, I was always too damned exhausted.

NaNoDinnerCoolTable
The cool table of young, hip writers at the 2012 NaNoWriMo Kickoff Dinner. Needless to say, I wasn’t one of them.

I remember my first NaNoWriMo — which, by the way, I give my consent to strap me in a straight jacket and commit me if ever I start babbling that crazy talk about participating again — but as I was saying, through their organization I connected with a local group of writers insane enough to sign up, too. As a matter of fact, I wrote a blog about the 2012 Tallahassee NaNoWriMo Kickoff Dinner right here.

The evening was…eh. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but I knew this wasn’t my tribe; they could never be the Stein to my Hemingway. On the upside, the food was excellent.

Around that same time, a friend directed me to an online fellowship, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, or IWSG. You may have heard of them; they’re a wonderful support system filled with some of the most talented and helpful people in the industry. I spent an enjoyable year-and-a-half with them and made many friends, but after my mom passed, I cut my online presence back considerably. I simply didn’t have the gumption to visit anyone, either on the ether or in real life, and eventually, left the group — and life as I knew it — altogether.

In my grief, I isolated.

The Ice Cream Cometh

Yet, ever since the beginning of this whole literary pipe dream, Writer Unboxed has been there. If you’ve followed me for more than five minutes, then you know how I feel about this group; I’ve found my Stein. Bartender, pour me a Guinness.

My good friend, Julie Luek, told me about Writer Unboxed early in the game, a few weeks into our “prompt group” days. I went, read, lurked, and finally commented. It was through those conversations — some of them silly, some serious, but all of them synergistic — that I got to know people, share insights, and eventually, make more good friends. Then, as is always the case with the internet, something odd happened.

The mysterious Powers That Be — the ones who navigate the wormholes from here to yon, sending emails and gmails and PM’s and IM’s and Comments and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen (oops!…got away from me…reining it in…) to their proper destinations — yes, those powers — they interceded and started tossing my comments to SPAM. I simply couldn’t have that. After toiling for hours creating the perfect witticism (okay, really just a few minutes and maybe it wasn’t perfect, but that’s not the point), I’d hit Submit Comment and POOF! It was gone. Seeing as though I’d already added my two-cents’ worth on more than one occasion, I didn’t know what the front door had happened — there was no comment, no waiting on administrative approval, no nuttin’.

ThereseWalsh
Therese Walsh, author of “The Moon Sisters” (photo by Rachel Rene).

And that’s how I met Therese Walsh, author of The Moon Sisters and co-founder of Writer Unboxed (Kathleen Bolton being the other co-founder). I jotted a quick note to them through their Contact Us form…Hellerrrr…anybody there?…and explained the horrific injustice that had been done to me and my VIC (very ingenius comment). She looked, and sure enough, there it lay — an innocent little lamb in a spam field of Chinese Handbags and Gripped Rubber Walker Stoppers.

Akismet, we have a problem.

Therese immediately responded to my query in the most apologetic way and queued it to the comments. Disaster averted. Only thing was, every single comment after that went to spam. I’d tweet her, she’d fix it, I’d apologize for bothering her, she’d apologize for the site’s issue. It was like a Chip and Dale shtick: “After you…” “No, I insist, after you…” “No really, after YOU.” She eventually took it to their IT Support, who came up with the following technical diagnosis: A Computer GLITCH.

Well I’ll be a son of a glitch.

Dumbfounded, we examined new advancements on the cutting edge of the Cyber World and tried one more thing: a different email address. Voilà! Problem solved. Simple, yes? So why did it take two intelligent minds (not counting tech support) several weeks to figure it out? Out of embarrassment, we decided never to speak of it again, that is, until I spilled the beans today. Sorry, T.

I bring up this interaction because it was unlike any of my previous experiences with large websites. Sure, I’d had questions before, contacted the heads of other organizations, and only received automated responses, if that. There was no personalized care, concern, or even a “thank you for not smoking.” Needless to say, I didn’t stick around those sites long. At the conference, Therese proved to be sweeter than she was online, if that was possible.

Enter the Fortune Cookie

Friends, I won’t beat this into the ground any more than I already have, but when my mom died, I was a mess. I can’t express that enough, but I won’t fully elaborate, either. I was consumed with sadness, and the only articles I posted were pre-fabbed book launches or cover reveals. Supporting my fellow wordsmiths was the best I could do, even if it meant they had to do it for me.

I tried to keep up; tried to participate, but essentially stayed to myself. I had subscribed to WU from the start, and therefore received daily updates in my email, but I rarely strayed over to comment anymore.

About the only thing I did on a regular basis was make snarky comments and post one-liners on Facebook. There, I could mask my pain. People couldn’t see me (or my guitar) gently weep behind the smiling, moustached profile picture. Those one-liners were the tears of a clown, my friends. People handle death funny; I handle it even funnier.

Another thing I did, other than dish up snark, was looked for signs everywhere, something that told me Mom was still keeping watch over me — that she didn’t really leave me. And certain things, most of which I’ll keep to myself, did show themselves, with one such happenstance being the fortune cookie.

Now, I don’t put much stock in fortune cookies printed up by Employee #5, 978, 436 at the Peking Noodle Factory in China and served cafeteria-style at the Panda Express off Capital Circle near the Lowes in Tallahassee as a rule, but on May 2, after a delicious Orange Chicken Bowl, I cracked open one that read: Take a vacation, you will have unexpected gains. Other than noticing they should have used a semi-colon to separate the two independent, yet related clauses, three words jumped out at me:

Take a vacation.

It had been years. Sure, Mom and I went to North Carolina every summer for a couple of weeks to visit her sister, but when you’re a caregiver, it’s never really a vacation. It may be to the person receiving care, but not for the person giving it. At least, it wasn’t for me. I was always on duty, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I slept with both eyes open. A vacation was just what I needed. I even posted a picture of the fortune on Facebook with the caption: This came with last night’s dinner — would love to find a week-long writer’s retreat.

THE Fortune Cookie.
THE Fortune Cookie.

Ten days later, Writer Unboxed announced their first-ever conference, or Un-Conference, as it was called. And the kicker? It was a week-long event in Salem, Massachusetts, close to my brother. I planned to visit the weekend before, which happened to be…drum roll, please…Mom’s birthday. Plus — and this was a biggie — I had the money! I can’t help but believe Mom had her hand in all this. Goosebumps…in May…in Florida.

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.

Check, Please!

This conference was called an Un-Conference for a reason: there was no agent-seeking, no swapping of business cards, no elevator pitches or any of the usual fare found at writer’s conferences. Instead, it focused solely on the art of the craft. Wonderful wrap-ups by some of the attendees are already blogged and flitting around the web, if you do a simple search. In addition, during the month of December, Writer Unboxed will publish synopses and commentaries on each of the twenty-one sessions offered.

What I took away was so much more than that, and I’ve heard this same epiphany from almost everyone who attended: It was magical.

WUUnConferenceLogoPerhaps conferences that focus on craft alone are more prevalent than I realize and the WU Un-Con was just one of hundreds, but I don’t believe any previous conference has captured the essence that was this experience. This was, if anything, an uncommon Un-Conference.

For one thing, the registration period spanned a good six months, and a Facebook page was started for the members. If your group is planning a retreat or workshop, I highly recommend creating a page yourself. I registered the day after it was announced and met the others, one-by-one, as they joined the gang. Let me tell you, we had a blast getting to know each other. It was a safe environment run under the watchful eye of caring moderators. And nobody was busy promoting. That made all the difference.

By the time November rolled around, we all had a pretty good feel for each other. Of course we were a little apprehensive meeting face-to-face for the first time, but any anxiety quickly lifted after the first five minutes. Everybody let their hair down, which was quite an accomplishment for a group of mostly introverts, especially the bald guys. As Jo Eberhardt said, “Everybody here is exactly like they are on Facebook.” Except she said it in Australian.

The moments stood still, yet the week flew by. It was finally time for our tearful farewells, and they were plentiful. We hugged and hugged again, and wondered if this was the end, but in our hearts, we knew it wasn’t over.

John Kelley is The Most Interesting Writer in the World. (with Risa Pedzewick and Dede Obasun Nesbitt)
John Kelley is The Most Interesting Writer in the World (with Risa Pedzewick and Dede Obasun Nesbitt).

Ever since the close of the conference that Friday night, the UnCon page has been more alive than ever. I call it “The Conference After the Un-Conference.” We’ve become more than Facebook friends or members of any online group or website. We now know each other. We are a True Tribe. A kindred clan that will forever be bonded. We are the Steins, the Hemingways, the Fitzgeralds and the Wilders. We share pictures and stories and make playful barbs at each other. And we laugh. A lot.

Look for great things from these people. It truly was the kind of gathering from which legends are born.

If, during the course of this article, you clicked over to my recap of the NaNoWriMo dinner I attended, you probably deduced I wasn’t too keen on writers’ groups. Local friends call me an introverted extrovert; I call myself a gregarious loner. Groups have never been my thing. I can only deal with people when I can deal with them, and I’ve always been more or less a wanderer.

So it makes perfect sense that in this moveable feast, I found a home.

I’ll close with a video I made from photos and film clips taken at the conference. It may seem like a boring vacation slideshow of yore, but even if you don’t know a soul, surely you’ll feel the sense of camaraderie I’ve tried to convey. Watch and enjoy, if not simply for the beautiful lyrics of Michael W. Smith’s “Friends.” It’s dedicated to two companions we lost along the way, Lisa Threadgill and Bob Stewart, who will always be with us in spirit. Vaya con Dios, mis amigos.

[youtube.com/watch?v=yUc5Tbir-6Q]

May you someday be blessed with your own Moveable Feast.

Peace,

MLSwiftSignature

MikeBeach

ML Swift is a writer of Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult fiction, although he dabbles in many genres.
An Alzheimer’s caregiver for the past ten years, he has published several articles on The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, the largest online website catering to that community, and plans to write a novel about his experience in caregiving.
He resides in Florida with his dogs, Rameses and Buster, attempting to reclaim his side of the bed.

Featured header image (with pastel filter): Pleasing Papa: Stein, Hemingway, & Toklas by Hilary Harkness

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49 thoughts on “The Writer Unboxed UnConference: The Journey to My Own Moveable Feast

  1. I’m so, so glad this was such an uplifting conference and you found your people! You have been on such a long, difficult journey, but you kept moving forward. That’s what’s so impressive–your faith in yourself in the midst of it all (or despite it all). My heart is happy for you. Can’t wait till I can say, “I knew him when…”

    1. And let me tell you, Julie, you’re a valuable member of the tribe, whether you’re currently writing or not. It’s been a journey, that’s for sure, for the both of us. But Mom has her eye on things. 🙂

      Big hugs…and thank you for your friendship. That’s what it’s all about…finding our true friends.

  2. I think Julie summed up the feeling quite well: This post makes my heart happy. For you, and for all of us. My only complaint was it seemed to fly by so fast. I’m so glad we’ve got the page for the Conference after the Un-Conference.

    And yet… And yet, I cannot wait for the next one. T’s now sounding a LOT more solid when she speaks of ’16. I’m ready for *drumroll please* UnConAgain! (Or The 2nd bi-annual Writer Unboxed Un-Conference.) Someone wondered in the comments of my UnCon post what changes would occur for us in that time. What an exciting thought. It’s bound to be remarkable.

    So glad to hear how healing this has all been for you, Mike. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You know, as we were leaving and people brought up another UnCon, I was almost too exhausted to even consider it, but now that I’ve got my second wind, I’m already making plans and saving money. This experience was too epic not to try and recapture. And yes, I wonder where we’ll be in two years and what will have changed. If the UnCon was any indicator, it should all be positive and upward movement! Vaughn, thanks again for your support and friendship. It means the world. 😀

  3. I’m so happy you, too, felt hat sense of legend in the making. There were moments, there in the Tavern, and during workshops, that I wanted to remember as these stills in my mind because I felt that loom of greatness in the works. Hearing you read was one of them. I took great pleasure in thinking, “I can say I knew him when. That we shared drinks and laughter and hugs.”

    I still get goose bumps when I think about the energy that connected us and wrapped itself around us like silver ribbons. I swore I could hear our muses winking at each other and conspiring. Magic? Oh, yes. I wore it home in the graveyard dirt on my shoes, I can smell it my notebooks, and taste it when I’m writing.

    B-e-a-utiful.

    1. Tonia,

      You proved to be as sweet in person as online, and I too, remember thinking how nice it was to hear you read and envision the wonders that shall come to you. Until the 2016 UnConAgain, I’ll see you in the funny pages. Thanks for coming by.

  4. You were the first person I met, Mike. You and your crazy socks. From that moment on I knew the week would be special. You are like a brother I never knew I had and poof! There you were. Seems like we all found each other in the nick of time! From the Algonquin Poker table to the night caps at the bar we had and were all the best of companions. I hope some element of that always continues. I intend to do what I can to ensure this.

    1. Gretch!

      What a pleasure to see you all the way from Alaska again. 🙂

      Yes, memories keep replaying in my head about the whole week, especially our Algonquin Clan. Rest assured, we will meet again. Until then…

  5. Mike,
    It was such a pleasure to finally meet you in person. You are a warm, compassionate and VERY funny person. I never would have guessed you are an introvert. You captured the spirit and essence of the WU Unconference so well. When I returned from it, I told my friends who asked about it that I had finally found my tribe. What a warm and welcoming family the WU community is. Thank you for sharing these thoughts on the Uncon.
    Chris

    1. Chris,

      The pleasure was all mine. Talking with you and Bob on Wednesday morning in the lobby was one of my highlights. You (and everybody — which is unusual for any other gathering, but why does it not surprise me that it was typical for this group?) were more than kind, intelligent, and witty. I sincerely hope we’ll all meet again.

  6. What a great vacation! And all because of a comma spice. 😛

    Seriously, Mike, awesome post. It warms my heart to see you having such a wonderful time and to know that you’re feeling better. You deserve it. Hugs and best wishes. 🙂

    1. Minus two points.

      Melissa,

      Thanks for all these years of your friendship, too. We’ve got to get you to the next one; you’ll fit right in (and I WANT to meet you!). Thanks, as always, for visiting. 🙂

  7. I feel so honored to know you, and I’m delighted that you are in one of the photos taken of the Mod Squad, because you positively glowed that whole week. You are a light, my friend, and were an integral part of what made the UnCon the magic that it was. Your joy and enthusiasm was contagious.

    I’ve had lots of happy moments in my life, but I can honestly say I’ve never had a WEEK where I’ve felt so continuously giddy to be alive, and in that place at that time. I’ve never laughed and cried and hugged so much, or had such a profound sense of belonging.

    That video just slays me each time I watch it. And I’ve watched it a lot. 🙂

    1. Kim,

      You and the Mod Squad bring out the light in everyone…you’re such a welcoming group, it was easy to fit in those open arms.

      Honestly, it’s felt like the UnCon has lasted 21 days (and counting). I still carry all the energy of the experience right…HERE. Um…I’m pointing to my heart.

      (And I, too, have repeatedly watched the video. Gets me every time.)

  8. I’m so happy you found a tribe! I’m glad they’ve been able to help heal your aching heart.

    Where NaNoWriMo showed you how much you disliked groups, it did the opposite with me. Not that I like groups. No… I tend to tense up and get frazzled quickly when I’m around other people. But from NaNo, I started a critique group. These 11 other people are my tribe. It’s amazing how friendships form.

    I wish your group the best of luck!

    1. Loni!

      Thanks for stopping. You know, I carry you along with me in my journeys. The people I’ve met along the way (you included) have been so integral to my growth, and I value your friendships as well. As loners, we may resist the urge to link up, but it’s a necessity, and in this tribe, there’s always an open seat; an invitation to join.

  9. Mike, what a lovely post. I’m glad you took the time to set it all up. I, too, really love Midnight in Paris (do NOT watch Magic in the Moonlight!) and take almost no issue with finding my way through fortunes.

    Wonderful that home was on the horizon for you; <<—(semicolon, ahem) I'm so happy you decided/were led to go to the conference. 🙂

    1. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and one that made me dig much deeper and wider as a writer.

      It’s always great to see you Suze, and glad things are going so well for you. 😀

  10. I’m so glad you shared the story behind the story, as it were, Mike. I knew most of it but not about the fortune-cookie inspiration. How neat.

    We never got to have a teary goodbye which felt “wrong” at the time, but the Facebook group has rendered that gesture unnecessary, much to my delight. 🙂

    1. I’m bad at goodbyes anyway. Real bad. Hate them. That’s why I’m so glad for the page, too. It’s like you’re next door, instead of the Great White North.

      And yeah…the fortune cookie came at a time I needed it most. Thanks, Mom.

  11. One of the many heartfelt posts about the UnCon. So beautiful and so very much YOU. I wish we had spent more time together, but sharing mussels and calamari at the Lobstah Shanty was an unforgettable night.

    If you loved the Paris writers of the 1920s, check out some of their compères who stayed home like Mike Gold, Albert Maltz, Alvah Bessie, Josephine Herbst, Edwin Rolfe, Langston Hughes.

    1. You know, I enjoyed that calamari with you so much, I got a big ol’ plateful at our Friday dinner at Finz. Dee-lish. But of course, not nearly as good as the ones shared with you. 🙂

      I’ll definitely check out those authors. Love that era. Thanks for coming over!

  12. Oh this was so wonderful—all of this! Swift, you are such a beautiful person inside and out. I absolutely LOVED the video… so special. That one guy’s (Sean?) dancing was hilarious! Ha!

    I’m so glad you were able to do this. I’m sure you wish it had lasted another week. There’s something so remarkable about getting together with like-minded people. It restores the soul and rejuvenates life. I can tell this was special… gosh, I wish I had been there!!! And SNOW!!!

    Thanks for sharing about your mom… and all of your other lovely words. All so beautiful. HUGE HUGS.

    1. Sean is Therese’s husband, so you can imagine how relaxed the group was. It was seriously like family. The dancing is from a band called Midnight Oil from Australia in the 80’s or 90’s who had a video that had that dance. Hilarious!

      My soul is indeed rejuvenated. And I was like a kid when it snowed, going around trying to find some that stuck.

      Huge hugs back to you. Dinnertime! Thanks for coming by.

  13. Sean is so introverted, isn’t he? Thank you for bringing out his inner extrovert. 😉 In all seriousness, he had a wonderful time in Salem and loved all of the Real people he met there — new old friends.

    Mike, I’ve told you before but it’s worth repeating: You are seriously talented. One of my favorite memories is of hearing you read during Bedtime Stories. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.

    I’m so glad you were able to be a part of the Un-Con. Because you needed it, yes. But also — selfishly — because we needed you. Thank you for being so open and present. Write on!

    1. Therese,

      I don’t normally gush over people, but you’re too gushable to have not gushed, at least a little. I wanted to tell the story of meeting you, which has always been a high point in this journey.

      You talk about being real. That’s what I’ve always loved about WU (and you). The velveteen nature of you, the site, and its members. Sean is a blast, and very real, too. You make a wonderful couple. I’d suggest a reality show, but they’re just too tacky. 😉

      And, as far as this and future UnCons are concerned, we’ll be “selfish” together. Many thanks for pulling all this together, and especially your kind words at the conference and now. Etched.

  14. I am tearful. You’re gifted in bringing out the full spectrum of emotions through your art (video, writing, all your creations) — your heart and soul pour out of it all. I’m so sorry you lost two along the way. This was such a beautiful tribute. “A lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.” Indeed. I’m glad you saw to it to follow your fortune. Who knew it’d lead to so much more fortune, right?

    Some wounds never heal, but we do manage to find beauty along their edges. Much love, dear friend.

    1. Robyn,

      Thanks, as always, for your kind words! There was indeed fortune at the end of those rainbow socks, and I returned with a potful of gold. At least idea-wise and tribe-wise. And the friendships I’ve forged along the way remain with me as part of my tribe as well.

      Hugs and much love back to you!

  15. Sounds like it was a brilliant conference and much came from it.
    I really need to watch Midnight in Paris. That’s right, it’s probably the only time-travel movie I haven’t yet seen! um-ah!!!!!!!!!

    1. It’s well worth the purchase price (I won’t even suggest renting, it will be one you’ll want to own). Good to see you, Lyn, and happy you got some of your own R&R during your cruise. 🙂

  16. Silly me, instead of reading Jean Cocteau, I read Jack Cousteau. Hahaha. I haven’t seen Midnight in Paris but I’ll make a mental note to give it a try. Sounds interesting. I know you did take your mother’s death badly. Ever since I often wonder how would I take Mother Dragon’s death. Probably just like you. I am very glad that you went on vacation and that you had such a good time with Writers Unboxed. You needed and deserved it. I often read you at Facebook and you always make me smile, sometimes laugh. I do understand far too well the laughing clown style of grieving. Each heart is different and must do what works to help us deal with life. Dragon Hugs!

    1. “I often read you at Facebook and you always make me smile, sometimes laugh.” Sometimes laugh? SOMETIMES? Dang, I’m getting lax. 😉

      Dragon hugs back to you, Al. I know you’ve faced a great many obstacles yourself, but the path will clear (and then another hurdle will come). With a support system of true friends, you’ll conquer them all.

  17. I know I’m late to the commenting party, but I needed to write my own post before I commented on anyone else’s. (And, get this, I wrote mine IN AUSTRALIAN!)

    Loved meeting you, and all the adventures and conversations we had. You are a wonderful, charming, funny, shiny, happy people. Er… person.

    We’ll meet again. Don’t know where. Don’t know when. But I know we’ll meet again…

    Also: Pickleback.

    Thanks for the memories. ❤

    1. I’ll always remember three things about the conference: Poker, picklebacks, and the people. All led to the most memorable experience I’ve ever had.

      And, get this, I wrote my article in Southern.

  18. Wonderful to hear about your un-conference experience. And, of course, your mom orchestrated the whole thing. She knew what you needed and mother’s always know best. (I try to tell my kids that all the time, but they don’t seem to listen.) 🙂 Nice video at the end, too. I felt the camaraderie.

    1. Yes, Dee, Mom definitely knew what I needed in my life and made sure it was possible. At a time when I was in the shadows of sadness, with even more of the world’s problems crushing down on my shoulders, she cleared a path that led to the light. Thanks for coming by. 🙂

  19. Oh Mike, as I was reading this, I thought – “what a feast!!” A feast for us, your readers, of great writing and interesting tidbits and good stories. And a feast for YOU, my friend, and richly deserved. More than richly. I’m so glad you listened to that fortune cookie, and went out to Salem. And I’m so glad you found your tribe! I have yet to find mine, but I’m not giving up. I’ll find them someday.

    1. Liz,

      It is wonderful to see you. I think (if I remember) you were out of town recently, weren’t you? I stopped by your blog and something like that was going on. I’ll have to stop by again now that I know you’re back.

      This was the event I told you about…it was up in your neck of the woods. I wish you could’ve attended; you would’ve really liked the group. There’s one tentatively planned (becoming more of a reality each day) for 2016. I expect to see you there! 🙂

      Thanks for coming over. Take care, and I’ll be by in a bit.

  20. What a moving, inspirational post, Mike. Thank you. There’s no more difficult path to a new beginning than losing someone we cherish. So glad you found your way.

    Like you, I’d never experienced anything like UnCon before. It was about the writing and about the people, none of the dross of a typical conference—maybe distraction is a more diplomatic word? Fact: it’s difficult to focus on writing when you’re preparing to pitch to someone who holds your future in the palm of his/her hand.

    Clearly the employee of the Peking Noodle Factory was a follower of the Kurt Vonnegut school of thought. “Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.”

    (Yeah, I know it’s taken me forever to get over here. I may get caught up on my blog visits one day, but don’t count on it.)

    1. Viva,

      First, thanks for making it by, and no worries, I’m still catching up to blog visits from last year. 😉

      I think “dross” was the perfect word. And to be honest, I’m going to treat all conferences the same as I did this UnCon–no pressure, be myself, and let the chips fall where they may. Of course, I’ll be prepared for traditional conferences and take with me whatever I need (have those pitches ready), but I’ll always have the “no need to impress” attitude that, once off the table, allows for even better interactions.

      Thanks for coming by, whenever you can!

  21. I found the same fortune cookie and took its advice. Now I’m back and looking for more fortunes to guide me into 2015.

    Some trivia: It was Hemingway’s wife who named the book A Moveable Feast. I forget what he’d called it.

    1. I don’t know if Hemingway ever had a name for it, but yes, the fourth wife named it; I forget to whom he said that opening quote, but when considering titles, that was remembered and used.

      Follow your fortunes! Thanks, Lee, for coming over.

  22. Some of your post is so funny, some so sad, but all is personal and honest and that’s rare these days. It’s great you found a site with such wonderful people in it! That’s even rarer. Treasure them. 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading it all, Lexa…it did get rather lengthy, yes? But it’s been a long time since I wrote a “real” post, I wanted to catch people up on the past year or so.

      I’d love to see you at the next one (2016). You know, we did have a couple of Aussies and Spaniards along on this trip…it’s not out of the realm of possibilities!

      Thanks for your friendship, Lexa. I consider you a part of my tribe as well. Take care.

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