September 21, 2009

Past due: Reflections on book reading at FGC Gathering

Thanks to Robin, who wanted to know how the reading went when I introduced the book Writing Cheerfully on the Web during this past summer's FGC Gathering.
I was on the phone with QuakerBooks' co-manager Lucy Duncan in the early fall of 2008:

"That sounds like a worthwhile project, Liz," she may have said to me back then. "If you can finish the book in time for the summer Gathering, we can give you a reading slot to help promote it during the week."

When I first realized that the seed of an idea had taken root in me at the 2008 Gathering in Johnstown, Pennsylvania--to self-publish a collection of Quaker blogposts--I hadn't given it any thought as to how to get the word out. The steps that were directly in front of me included flying the idea of such a book by a few other blogging friends, and figuring out a way to identify potential blog posts to be included.

But Lucy's offer gave me incentive to stick with the project, and in February of 2009, I got an unexpected call from her:

"I'm calling to find out if you want a slot during the Gathering to promote your book. How's it coming? We're finalizing the schedule now for book readings because we have to get information about our events to the university..."

I was relieved that I could tell her, in fact, that the book project was moving right along and I thought I could have it complete by mid-June. I offered to read during the Monday slot that was available. The only other time slot I was offered, best as I can recall, was a Friday afternoon one--but I worried that Gathering attenders would fizzle out after the long week.

When I arrived at the Gathering in Blacksburg this year, I took time to find the handout that listed all the pre-scheduled events for Monday. The book reading was there--and so was another event, a panel of well-respected Friends, speaking on the topic "Living into Prophetic Witness."

Now, it's true that at every afternoon and evening time slot available at Gathering, there usually are two or three great-sounding events going on at the same time and people just have to pick one, based on intuition, discernment, or the Fear of Missing Something.

In this case, ooooooh, I seriously thought about canceling my book reading so I could attend the panel. I remember that Amanda Kemp was one of the panelists, along with Noah Baker Merrill and a few others.

But no, I had a commitment and I kept it. Plus, I had known that a few bloggers who are represented in the book would also attend, and I was curious who would show up and what I would say.

As I usually do, I looked at the room where the reading was going to be the day before. It wasn't a room at all: it was a loft area over the main part of the Gathering store, and wow, did the conversations in the bookstore below carry! I went into problem-solving mode: when I have too much noise in the background, I have a hard time focusing.

After I got the green light to move the chairs, I took time to rearrange the room about half an hour before the reading was to begin, facing the chairs toward a corner that I hoped would help absorb the voices and noise of the activity below. It did.

The next thing I had to face, like the upward carriage of the noise from below, was the rising of my own ego. I wasn't feeling grounded at all, and I could tell my hubris wanted to insist that I was better than this room arrangement and deserved more attention than what I was getting.

Bleah, how I dislike myself when I feel that sort of entitlement rising within me. I think that's when I made the decision that I'd start the reading with worship and ask for prayer support during my remarks.

Kody and Peterson came in as Jeanne and I were finishing organizing chairs. I was glad to see both of them and felt that familiar unspoken motion of Love pass between us, deeply appreciating their presence as well as the support I had from Jeanne.

A few others came in--maybe a dozen or so Friends--and a few minutes later, FGC's Publications Manager Barbara Mays introduced me, and we were off. I decided not to read anything from the book directly, though I spoke about topics that were in the introduction and where the idea for the Quaker blog reader came from.

Then I opened it up for questions, and at times I turned to my fellow bloggers to respond. That was a relief, to not feel like I had to have The Perfect Answer to a question and instead to allow others to contribute. In some ways, it felt like an online conversation, with Friends chipping in to speak to pieces I had overlooked, or to expand on something that had caught the attention of someone else. Unfortunately, I don't recall the questions that were asked. I think I was working so hard to stay present and to keep low...

By the end of the discussion, the room was filled, if not with people, then with intense curiosity and energized attentiveness from those who had come and who had truly wanted to learn more about the Quaker blogosphere and its part on the sense of renewal that has been rippling throughout our meetings and worship groups.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It's been more than two-and-a-half months since the book made its debut, and a few people have been asking me how sales have been going. In a recent call to QuakerBooks, a staff person there told me that he thought sales were going very well: in addition to the books they had sold to Gathering attenders, they had sold others to people who called in orders or placed orders online, with other copies being sold through booktables at various yearly meeting sessions.

I'll toss out a reminder here that there is a 20% discount available for books that are ordered for use by book study groups, as described on QuakerBook's page on Customer Service.

A few people have written up their own thoughts about the book, including Tania of the Friendly Funnel and Robin from What Canst Thou Say. If others of you have written about Writing Cheerfully on the Web, I hope you'll speak up and point us to your post!

Thanks again to so many of you for your support, encouragement, and involvement in this project, whether it was suggesting a blog post to be included, completing the survey that helped shape the final product, attending one of the interest groups about Convergent Friends that were held at the Gathering, or actually buying a copy of the book for yourself, a friend, or your meeting's library.

It's been absolutely humbling to be able to serve the wider Quaker community in this way.



Anonymous said...

It sounds like a great reading - lots of buzz and excitment!!! I love the sense of energy in this post - and how much life and interest blogging and Quakerism has in the wider Quaker community. WONDERFUL! I read with interest a post you did a few years ago on paradox - I am fascinated with polarity work myself and how Quakers 'hold the tension' between poles which enables us to take on a wholeness perspective.

Hystery said...

Was it classist of you to expect that you would get your own room where speakers in your group could be heard and listeners could concentrate on their words?


Were you a victim of the sexist notion that women should not make a fuss when they are given sub-standard situations and that what is assertiveness and leadership in a man is bitchiness and aggression in a woman?

I'm a fan of righteous indignation when it helps us become problem-solvers. It seems to me that you moved through your emotions and their relationship to the context in which they emerged with gentleness, pragmatism, and general good sense. I probably would have kicked something. ;-)

Liz Opp said...

Beth of Practical Mystic Musings -

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I would say the buzz and excitement comes and goes. It comes when an individual or group "discover" the book and start sharing it with others.

I also understand that a few other Quaker bloggers are considering publishing their own blogs as books, though it's no small task to do so!

And yes, the whole thing about paradox and living into the creative tension between opposing concerns still guides me as I interact among Friends, especially during Meetings for Worship for Business.

Thanks for writing.

Hystery -

I've got some thoughts brewing in me about how my internalized and unearned privilege has distorted the lens through which I view the world. I'm not sure yet if my thoughts will craft themselves into a post, though.

I seem to recognize my ego before I recognize my own classism. ...More likely, though, my reaction was probably due initially to recalling that other Gatherings had a separate room--with a door, even--that was near to but apart from the Gathering Store. Even though I had been to this campus before, I had forgotten about the set up in Blacksburg.

Sexism doesn't fit for me, since both women and men who were doing readings did so in the same space. Plus, my first reaction is seldom anger or righteous indignation... and perhaps THAT is also internalized classism, to strive to not make waves...

Thanks for your questions.