I’ll admit it. As I packed up and headed out to NOLOSE this year, I thoroughly anticipated severe social anxiety and feelings of isolation throughout the weekend. This has been my overall experience of the last few months and I saw no reason it should be different there (and in fact, I feared it may be worse.)
Imagine my surprise when, no sooner had I parked the car and dumped my suitcase, my heart just broke open. Deep in the muck and mire of me, my joy got all scrappy about it, grabbed fistfuls of hair, dug her muddy toes into the backs and shoulders of my fears, clambered up to the surface and took roost just behind my eyes, waiting for all the goodness that was coming. There was nothing for it but to be excited.
As I walked through what would soon become Fatlandia that first night, I saw in the faces of those who had arrived carrying those same fears. I saw the clumps of comfortable familiars and the shy ones skirting the edges. I saw the boundaries as false – the ones inside me, those perceived around others. We made room. We forced scootings. We added chairs. We sat. We ate. We shared bites. We talked. We invited. We laughed. I felt fearless and connected.
The feeling at NOLOSE this year, for me, was Abundance. So many people, some familiar, some not. Even those I already know and love I had precious few moments with. There were so many possible trajectories and at the end of each lay some manner of joy. It was hard to stay focused.
The workshops were each powerful in their own right. The pool was a shimmering pile of silly and sweet. Everywhere I looked, people were connecting, though I did see some who weren’t, or couldn’t. I know what that’s like, too. Abundance can be overwhelming and it can be easy to stick to what you know. Even in my joy this year, I only ventured slightly outside the familiar. For those who are brave enough to come alone or with fewer built-in connections, especially those who may be shy or in a rough emotional space, the instinct to be passive about interaction can be hard to break through. I was glad to hear that there was a NOLOSE “buddy” program this year that hooked up first-timers with old-hatters but perhaps there should be a broader buddy program for those who generally find it harder to meet folks/make connections. A Shy Caucus?
My favorite moments of the conference were…well, it would actually be easier to list the moments I didn’t like since there were so few of them but I’m feeling too happy to bother with it. The keynote was challenging in a very good way, the salon performances were heartbreaking and hilarious, the workshops were insightful and inspirational, the flirting was fun and funny, the open-hearted abundance of hugs and affection were much-needed and healing, the fashion was breathtaking, the conversation was political and mindful and also dorky and delightful. Most importantly — the conference felt different than I’d ever felt before. The board was a new kind of presence. Their connection with one another was obvious and affirming. Their unity and commitment to the direction of NOLOSE was apparent. The conference felt IMPORTANT again. It was equal parts rest and reminder of the path that still lies ahead. I felt nurtured and challenged and like I’d been given the tools I’d need to see the work through. I’ve never felt that before at NOLOSE, even though my experiences have been powerful. There was something different about this year. Something stronger, deeper, more passionate, more loving and more profound.
I’m tired and haven’t been in the world much in the 24 hours I’ve been home but the little I have has felt different. I am moving through it with less fear and a more critical and more open mind. I am feeling stronger at my core. I have been reminded of my power and I have been reminded how to use it. I couldn’t ask for anything better, especially as this may be my last NOLOSE for a while.
Thank you, Fatlandians. And to those I met this year for the first time, I am so glad to have the chance to know you.