I started writing a post about the importance of virtual community for creatives that work alone. But I trashed it at the last minute. I was using that theme as an excuse to write about what I really wanted to write about: my agency and my agency’s retreat. So I am not going to ruminate, agonize or celebrate the phenomena of social media as community. It has been done 29,000 times. Instead, I am going to share my experience of this year’s retreat. It may seem nothing more than a slideshow of my vacation with faces and events that mean little or nothing to you, but to me it is the quintessence of community in my writer’s world.
For the past nine years my agency has held retreats for it’s clients. In the west, the middle of the country or the east. I’ve gone to the past three. This year’s retreat was earlier this month in Wisconsin. Around 65 people attended, plus some additional guests and family members. It was at a lovely spa resort in Lake Geneva during some of the hottest and most humid days of the year.
I initially flew into Chicago a day early, rented a car and then drove to Naperville, IL where I met 8 other authors from our agency and we did a book event. It was an engaging panel, pretty well attended and a lot of fun.
A couple friends of mine drove over from Indiana for the event. And afterwards I drove to Indiana to spend the evening and night with them. I’ve known Patrick, an illustrator of more than 100 children’s books, as part of online communities for 15+(?) years, but this was the first time we had met in person.
He was, as I expected, the same engaging soul in person as I’ve known on line for so many years. It was a very special evening. Plus, fireflies.
The next day, I left Indiana and headed back to O’Hare where I picked up a couple more retreat attendees and we lit out for Wisconsin full of energy and anticipation. Our arrival was greeted with high-fives and fist bumps and hugs and they continued till the final farewells 4 days later.
We had breakfasts and dinners together and only a handful of scheduled events.
Most of the time was free to create, socialize, party, etc. I don’t know many who took time to create. I sure didn’t. I can create at home but here were my agency siblings and I wanted to spend time with them. We had impromptu gatherings of those who wanted to talk about any number of subjects.
One evening there was a themed costume party with the winners (Yay, Carrie and Eunice!!) getting a pile of books by some of the attendees. They were signed by the authors and are committed to be given away to at-risk-youth through Never Counted Out.
We played games in the evenings;
to the always irreverent and hilarious, Cards Against Humanity which had me laughing harder than I had in many years.
We gathered as a complete group several times to let anyone who wanted to read up to 500 words from a work in progress. People volunteered, often nervously. What I heard was stellar. Funny, engaging, touching, frightening, and in one particular case, kleenex-worthy.
Our last evening of the retreat we were treated to a performance by Erin Murphy’s Dog, an agency band that formed 4 years ago and has been performing at the retreats since then. They were, as usual, terrific. Afterwards, a handful of other attendees joined in and spontaneously belted out any number of sing-along tunes into the evening. It was a true delight.
Being able to spend time without daily obligations and worries in a community of my peeps—writers and illustrators—taught me much about the industry and myself.. I’ll probably never reach that level of semi-hedonistic, carefree spirit at home, but I know where I can reach for it. I left the retreat, inspired, motivated and loved and with an inherent sense of belonging.
So I guess this is all about community in our careers, and how if you are given an opportunity to be part of one, to really engage with one, no matter how awkward it might seem after working by yourself for so long, I suggest you do so without hesitation. You’ll know immediately whether you’ve made the right decision.
I love my agent, my agency, and all my agency siblings.
(I asked if I could use people’s photos for this piece and said I would give them credit. But I grabbed so many of them off facebook, in such a hurry, and because I’m a dolt, I forgot whose is whose. If you want me to credit your photos, send me a message and I will update the post!)
Wow! I don’t know what else to say. I didn’t know this kind of pampering went on these days!
And I didn’t even mention the 80 minute massage….
What a wonderful event! Thank you for posting!
What a great experience for you! It makes me want to be in an agency like yours (hell, I’d love to be a client of THIS agency!) I do know the feeling of meeting people from your online life in real life, and I agree, it is magical. Having my own little following of panda satire fans, I have had the pleasure of meeting many of them, in search and celebration of actual pandas. I would have never believed this was a possibility in this online world but it is.
What a pleasure it must be to connect with your colleagues in the writing and illustration world in person.
A total pleasure and I try to meet as many of my online pals in person whenever the opportunity avails itself.
Looks FABULOUS. I LOVE my online peeps, but there is definitely something about meeting in person that is extra special – even after you go back to cyber. Great stuff!
Exactly! Even when geography forces you to return to cyberosity.
Kevan, EMLA sounds like a fantastic place for writers and illustrators to land! Are agency retreats for clients the industry norm or is EMLA just extra special? 🙂
I’ve heard of other agencies having functions similar, but I don’t know any details.
I loved reading this, Kevan, reliving our fabulous retreat. It was wonderful finally meeting you and feeling the warm camaraderie of the agency.
It ws great meeting you there, too Terry! I get nostalgic for the fun times the minute I get home. Everyone is so special.
One of these days I’ll make it to the retreat! In the meantime, consider yourself cyber-hugged from afar!!! 🙂 e
Thans, E. I expect to see you there one day… maybe next year???
Kevan, you’ve got a great thing going on here. It’s wonderful knowing that writing and children’s books brought all of you together. Thanks for sharing.
I think that any community that is centered around kidlit people is going to be something special!
Kevan! Love and hugs and lots of laughs (Cards Against Humanity!).
Penny! Ha! Thanks. It was so fun to see you at the retreat again. And yes, CAH was a riot. It was laughter like I haven’t experienced in years and boy did I need that.
I so wish I could have been there too, Kevan, to meet you and Penny and many others. Some day soon, I hope. In the meantime, thank you for sharing & so glad it was such a fund and joyful experience!!
Next year, Maria!! You’ve gotta come next year! You’ve gotta!
Thank you for the vicarious joy Kevan. Clearly that weekend was made just for you (and all of your agency mates)! So glad!
Thank you, Jen!! It was a perfect break for me. One I desperately needed!
Kevan, reading this post put a big old lump in my throat. Hugs.
Jill! It was so nice to meet you in person! What a great time, eh? You and Pat and I posed for a picture, but I can’t remember whose camera was used….
I’ll add that pic to my post tomorrow. 🙂
Ahhhhhhhh. We are lucky. You are loved. There’s nothing like these retreats. It’s the very best of a family reunion plus the giddiness you get when talking kid lit or reading a seriously great book plus always a lovely setting plus the joy from treasure-hunt-preparer Dennis plus the chance to get any question you’ve ever had about art or writing answered by experts — it’s all of that. Plus vegan dessert if that’s how you lean. Really great to see you again, Kevan. See you in 2016!!
Ahhhh thank you, Ruth!
And thank you for reminding me about Dennis who I completely forgot to mention! Dennis works behind the scenes all year long, day and night, even during the retreats to make sure everyone has the most memorable and snag-free retreat ever!!
See you in Washington next year!
Signing up for next year’s retreat now…
Is it too early to set up your sick leave???
“Only a handful of scheduled events.” This is the “secret” of the retreats’ success, in case anybody asks. That, and EMLA represents darned nice people like you, Kev!
Thank you, Erin, you darned nice person yourself!!!
thanks for sharing, Kevan!
natch! Fun is for sharing!
The EMLA retreat is always one of the most moving and meaningful events of the year for me, mostly because it’s packed with big-hearted, super-expressive, life-affirming people like you, Kevan.
And you, sir. Amazing, kind humans like you. And I agree….this is probably the most meansingful and moving event of the year. Even more than Burning Man. 😉 I can’t imagine not making it to one of these.
See you next year if not sooner.
Wow, Kevan! As usual, your signature funny, wise, touching and reflective observations. Thank you so much for sharing your time with your good picturebook pals. You are one lucky dude — not ONLY because you met the awesome Patrick Girouard, played Cards Against Humanity, and heard what clearly is an amazingly literate band — but because you can immerse yourself in the experience and reflect it to the rest of us. Which makes US even luckier. Thanks from ever and always your fan.
Rebecca!! Thank you! For everything you said!! I can only imagine that an event like this with you and Patrick and some others would be another incredible, moving, wonderful time. Maybe we can do that someday! xoxo
FABULOUS recap – and makes me miss you and everyone else soooo much! It was my first time at the retreat, and it won’t be my last! Thanks for sharing!
Debbi! It was so fun to meet you (and share scotch.) I miss everyone, too!!
One of my favorite parts of the retreats is getting a famous Kevan Hug. 🙂
The EMLA Retreat is my Super Bowl of hugs. I practice all year long waiting for this.
And you’re a damn fine hugger yourself, Kari!
“…if you are given an opportunity to be part of one, to really engage with one, no matter how awkward it might seem after working by yourself for so long, I suggest you do so without hesitation.” <–Excellent advice, Kevan, and I wholeheartedly agree! It's so hard sometimes to make that leap–financially, time-wise, introversion levels, etc.–but, oh, so worth it. Thanks for the wonderful recap!
Thank YOU, Laurie! It was so fun to spend time with you at the retreat! I am glad I get to see you more often than once a year!
And a good strong community will make a soft and safe landing for that leap.
Kevan, What wonderful people Erin Murphy and her crew must be to plan this and share these fun times with you. Incidentally, I’ve told several people about Bunnies & know they like it too.
thanks, Jeannie! And you are right—everybody at EMLA is wonderful!!!
Love events like this and love huggers too! Looks like it was a fun and affirming series of collective connections (aka, hugs.
Would that be a series of “tactile” collective connections?
What an incredible experience!
Incredible is a good word for it!
Kevan, I cried real tears reading this and looking through the photos. I agree with Mike – the retreat is special because it is, in fact, incredibly moving and meaningful. You are SO loved in this community. Yeah, I’d say the retreat is pretty much a 65-way love-fest.
And I SO love this community. Thank you for being a special part of it, Carrie! xoxo
We are so tender as creators. Vulnerable. That these gatherings work is kind of a paradox given how introverted many of us are and yet, I think that shared tenderness is what makes them so sweet and deep…Big Hug, Kevan.
Thanks, LIndsey. Shared tenderness and shared vulnerabilities, that’s it. That is how we can open up despite our tendencies to stay shuttered. xoxo