Despite being surrounded by the buzz of the Volunteer Green Room on this final day of the 2017 Sydney Writers Festival, I am a little contemplative. Saying goodbye to people I have only known for a week is harder than I expected. Realistically, the more I consider it, nothing about volunteering for the SWF has been as I expected.
When I was working in the crowded Club Stage yesterday I was struck by a comment from Steve Amsterdam about a reader’s response to some of the events of his novel THE EASY WAY OUT. “You are on a ride and you want to see a lot of things on a ride.” And a ride of discovery it has been for my first experience as a vollie for the Festival. The volunteer experience is so well organized for this event. 250 people seamlessly fit together and there is time for contemplation and discovery. I have learned so much about myself.
Like … I’m crap at surveying people. When I downloaded my Apple Watch data after my first survey shift, I could plot my day through my heart rate. Just in the going up to people, my heartbeat maxed out. Once settled and doing the survey, I loved talking to the visitors, hearing why they were here and what their experiences were. Chatting was fine for my non-gregarious nature and led me to the biggest revelation of all.
I knew I would be inspired by the authors that I would have the opportunity to be near. Similarly, the fun and nurturing pre-festival interactions I had with other volunteers and Misty, Sydney Writer’s Festival Volunteer Manager and Ashleigh, the Volunteer Co-coordinator, both of whom are who are sounding distinctly croaky as they say farewell, I could tell the communal nature of experience would make it special.
But it is the audience, random strangers who I might never meet in the normal course of events who have touched my life in the most profound way.
People of difference who have to make much more effort than the rest of us to get to the Festival. Wheelchair users who are happy to queue in the sun in quest of ideas and conversations and who have such amazing stories themselves. A young person with Tourette’s who will never know the difference she made in my life in the 5 minutes I spent with her.
Passionate people who I would love to chat with over a beer. Old time feminists, women who might be stereotyped as north shore matrons who put Darung country on their postal address to support Indigenous Rights. Young men who might play into some adverse media narrative but who are fascinating people, hell bent on confronting the dominant paradigm.
I am a better person for every one of these interactions and despite my awkwardness in some of the roles I found myself, volunteering for the Sydney Writers’ Festival is a week to be treasured. From first, meeting Sandra Leigh Price and hearing how THE RIVER SINGS came to be at Hawkesbury library to final as I stand at the sign out table for the last time. I’m about to sign out and I have Noel Coward in my head. He telegrammed to Gertrude Lawrence when she first appeared on Broadway “Now you’re legitimate. Won’t Mother be pleased?”
I don’t quite feel that yet but as Misty, wisely told me “First year you learn it, second year you own it.” I’m looking forward to next year’s trip. Want to join me?
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