A Brightness in Surrey

Well, another SiWC has come to a close and I desperately need a nap. Maybe some tea, too. With honey.

But definitely a nap.

I’m exhausted, achy, and about to surrender to whatever cold virus I’ve been fighting, but none of that matters, because I’m happy. And, from the sounds of it, this year’s attendees of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference are, too.

The conference attendees were so kind and gracious this year. Not that they aren’t usually kind and gracious, of course, but this year was unsurpassed. I couldn’t keep track of how many times I was stopped by people to either thank me for volunteering, or to comment on how well run and organized the conference was. But even as my very adult-self thanked each attendee for their nice words, it was my child-self who jumped in excitement and my teen-self who happy danced to the sound of their praise.

Because although I started volunteering at SiWC as a low-cost way to experience the conference, and I still sit in on seminars, giving my time to this conference is about so much more than honing my craft and sharing space with like-minded people.

Let’s be honest: I’m responsible for the pitch and blue pencil room. I see far fewer workshops than I could. I spend a good portion of my weekend on my feet, managing volunteers and coordinating presenters and bending in whatever ways I can to accommodate attendees while running the room like a smoothly functioning machine. And I love every second of it, because I love writing, sure, but really? I do it because I love Surrey.

Surrey is where I took my first steps, learned how to ride a bike, and got my driver’s license. It’s where I had my first job. Surrey is where I bought my first (and second) property. It’s where I got engaged, and it’s my first and only choice for where I want to teach.

But for a lot of people in the Vancouver area, Surrey isn’t a first choice. Heck, it wasn’t even my parents’ first choice, but housing prices have been pushing people out of Vancouver and over the Port Mann since the 80s. For a lot of locals, Surrey is an afterthought – somewhere they never go. It’s just a name heard on the news, and a place to make fun of. I mean, the logo used to be a beaver. Jokes happened.

But for one magical weekend in October, Surrey isn’t an afterthought. It’s not a second, or third, or forced choice. For one weekend, it’s the only place people want to be. People from eight provinces and/or territories. At least ten states. Switzerland. The Netherlands. Luxembourg. Australia. Dubai. For one weekend a year, the hometown I grew up with is a destination.

Surrey and I grew up together. Sometime between my trading walking, for cycling, for driving, the city doubled in population. The fields where horses and goats once lived became houses and strip malls. The treed areas around my childhood townhouse complex came down and buildings rose in their place. They were townhouses, mostly, but there was one exception. An exception that had an unguarded construction site that I played in one winter, sliding down the mound of excavated dirt, holding my breath as my crazy carpet sped down the hill, my body bracing for the drop at the end.

Not like I could really brace my tailbone. Bumps and bruises definitely occurred, but the exhilaration and adrenaline kept me going back for more. Only that pile of dirt was gone after one winter, and a new building stood in its place. A hotel.

Twenty-six years ago I played in the snow on the lot where the Sheraton Guildford now stands. I watched that land get cleared. I saw the hotel go up. I snuck into the hotel to take in Christmas lights from the 21st floor, looking for my house and marvelling at how bright the city was, knowing that my home was a part of it even if I couldn’t find it in the patchwork of light.

So that’s why I volunteer. SiWC brings a brightness to the city I love. Because people choose to come to the place that I grew up with. Because I can be one small part of a bigger community. Because I want others to see the city as brightly lit as I have, living and thriving and welcoming people home like SiWC does every single year.

It doesn’t hurt that I kind of like words, too.