Today was the start of an amazing three days.
It was my first day volunteering at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. A conference that I get to hang around at for the whole weekend, volunteering my time, soaking in the creative energy and pocketing a hodgepodge of writing tips that I pick up along the way.
And today, as I was helping to coordinate appointments between writers and agents and/or editors, I was asked a question that I’ve never faced in all my years of volunteer work: what made you decide to volunteer?
Now, there are some pretty selfish reasons why I choose to volunteer at SIWC. The atmosphere at this conference is so positive; it makes me feel like I can really do this – like I can write. And, yes, in exchange for my time, organizational or public speaking skills, and some manual labour, I get to see a seminar or two without having to pay the registration fee. It’s a pretty good deal, I won’t mince words there.
But these aren’t the reasons that came to mind when an attendee asked why I was giving my hours and days for this conference. “Because this is my community,” I told him. “And I’m proud that my city hosts something of this caliber; I want to be a part of its success.”
And I left it at that.
I didn’t tell him how deeply I’m rooted to the community in which he was spending his day or weekend. I didn’t mention that I had literally walked by my childhood home on the way to the hotel – that I’d watched the hotel be built, and gone sledding in its construction site. I didn’t tell him that you can practically see my current home from the top floor of the hotel, or that I’d provided the volunteers with a list of little known streets to search for parking – streets I know from a lifetime of traipsing around the neighbourhood.
I didn’t tell him that I’d grown up with this city. That it forms a part of who I am.
Because who I am doesn’t matter this weekend. What matters is that people come to Surrey. Year after year, they come to this suburb of Vancouver, just for this conference.
Surrey isn’t normally a tourist destination. We have a few interesting things to visit, but we’re mostly known for our bad reputation. A reputation that I’ve never felt we deserved. I’ve always said that we’re no different than many other big cities. And we’re not.
With one big exception.
Every October for the last twenty-two years, Surrey has hosted a writers’ conference. And people come from all over to attend. Agents and editors fly in from New York and Toronto. Attendees come in from the prairies. Volunteers drive up from Washington.
It’s a pretty big deal.
And not only is it across the street where I grew up, it’s within creepy stalker binocular distance of where I currently live.
So, what made me decide to volunteer? It’s simple: all the people in that hotel. All the attendees who make the trek to Surrey. All the agents, editors, and authors who have decided that a suburb is the place to go. All the people who think that Surrey is the place to be, if only for one weekend a year.
Because, for me, Surrey has always been the place to be.