It began five years ago. I was listening to a podcast called Books on the Nightstand when its hosts, Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, proposed that perhaps some listeners might want to get together in Vermont for a weekend to discuss books.
I immediately wanted to go. I told Ann and Michael to count me in.
But I had also recently published my first book and had another on the way, so before I knew it, I was attending that first event - later named Booktopia - as an author rather than a reader.
Other authors joined me. We spoke to small groups of readers and at a larger, more public event on Saturday evening called "A Celebration of Authors."
My wife and I have been coming ever since.
Two years ago, as Booktopia expanded to three cities each year. I traveled to Booktopia Santa Cruz to serve as an author once again to speak about Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.
It was nearly as good as Vermont.
Over the past five years, our April pilgrimage to the Green Mountain state has become one of our favorite weekends of the year. Elysha and I have made many friends over the course of these many years who mean a great deal to us. We have discovered and become a part of a community of book lovers who we cherish. These people have supported me as an author and embraced us as fellow lovers of books. I have grown to respect and love these people, many of whom travel from all over the globe to attend this event. So many have become integral parts of my life.
There are few things I do that are as rewarding as attending Booktopia each year.
Sadly, this will be the last Booktopia for me. Ann and Michael are closing up shop. This past weekend in Vermont marks the fifth and final year that Northshire Books and The Inn at Manchester will host this event. There will be one last Booktopia in Michigan later this year, and then Booktopia will live only in our memories.
I don't handle changes like this well. I typically embrace change and thrive on the newness that it often brings to my life, but when the change results in the end to something important in my life, I am a wreck.
I have adored this final Booktopia weekend, but in my heart and mind, I have also been a mess. I've been sad and angry and disappointed and confused and annoyed.
This thing should not be ending, damn it. This has been the mantra that I have carried with me throughout the weekend.
Perhaps this has something to do with news - received on the way to Vermont - that a close friend will be leaving my school at the end of the year. She is like a sister to me, but she will be leaving for bigger and better things. She joins a long train of my closest friends who once walked the halls of my school with me and then, one day, walked out the front door, never to return. Elysha is included in this long train of absent friends, and she was the hardest to see go. I feel like I'm playing an insidious game of last man standing, and I'm winning, and I hate it.
So I came to Vermont a little broken, but I suspect that I would still be feeling broken regardless of this news. I write these words on a small table that I have been writing on for years. It's a table where I've written words that have appeared in books and blog posts and more. I come to this table in the predawn hours while my wife sleeps and am often more enthusiastic about writing than any other time of the year.
Being in the presence of fellow authors will do this to a person.
When I rise from this table in a little while and return to my room and my wife, I know that I may never sit here again. My early morning writing sessions beside the fireplace in The Reluctant Panther will be a thing of the past for me.
Perhaps some of my sadness and anger and disappointment also comes from my ongoing, ever-present existential crisis. The constant, compulsive contemplation of my mortality and impermanence and decay. This insufferable cross that I bear makes all endings hard for me. Harder than I could ever describe.
But I think that most of what I am feeling comes from the idea that something great and valuable and perfect is coming to an end. Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness literally created something from nothing. They built an institution that people love and cherish. They created an event that brings people from the corners of the globe to this tiny Vermont town for a weekend that none of us will ever forget.
Now they return that something to nothing. It is a death in every sense of the word. The community will remain and the friendships will endure, but this weekend of fellowship and books and joyous celebration will be no more. And while I respect these two people and their decision to move onto bigger and better and brighter things, I can't help but feel like I am being left behind once again, trapped in a past that I love and cherish and want to hold onto with all of my might.
Everyone who has been a part of Booktopia will undoubtedly miss this beautiful thing, but like Dorothy to the Scarecrow, I think that I may miss it most of all.