BY: DAVID COLBURN
I have the unfair privilege of working with superheroes—yes, the tight-wearing variety. They rock at their jobs, kick the road’s ass for miles, and fuel an uprising of powerful women runners who challenge their sport and their worlds. Aside from that, they sponsor other heroes. I suppose we could call them super-mega-heroes, who do this on the national and global levels. One of them is Lauren Fleshman. She has a magnetic presence that probably concerns NASA.
I should have told Lauren before I wrote this, but I have a huge girl crush on her. I say “girl crush” because I test a six on the Kinsey scale, which is a clinical way of saying I’m super gay. I have no real desire to see her naked, but I love seeing how naked she is in the world. She’s this raw energy force made of supernatural compounds like courage, bravery, physical prowess, and efficiently-utilized über intellect. So when someone like Lauren raved about the MUSE 2015 conference and how much it inspired her, I had to go collect pieces of my head after it exploded trying to comprehend a higher level of super-mega-ultra-hero that lifted her up. A Oiselle crew was going to MUSE in 2016, and I’d just delete the emails about it because it was a women’s conference and I didn’t think anyone would want a quirky homo to tag along. Super sweet Lesko and Fleshman reached out and invited me, and I quickly replied “hell yeah,” admitting how much I’d wished I could borrow a vagina for a weekend just to join in. Thankfully I didn’t have to play building blocks with body parts.
On the way down to the conference in Bend, I looked forward to fresh inspiration. My writing the past few years has been more valleys than peaks, and I’ve just started learning to use the valleys in my life to add voice to story. I knew this group of kickass women would have something I could learn from.
MUSE was a reminder of why I love being surrounded by strong women. I’ve never been afraid of female energy. I looked up to so many women growing up and built my identity by emulating their fierceness and rejecting the hyper-masculine bullshit society pushed on me. Some of the MUSE speakers, like Lauren Fleshman or Joanne Lohman (who I also had a strange girl crush on), embodied physical strength, but they and none of the super humans who took the stage could be summarized by just one trait. In the Saturday Game changers session, Halla Khouri, Nikki Myers, and Dr. Melody Moore revealed how our wounds are the gift, and the sum of all our flawed parts make us better. I’ve studied this in character development for writing, but it became real in their interviews. MUSE was about stories. It wasn’t a bunch of slide presentations with bullet points on how to be awesome. It was conversations with women who experienced the profound awfulness that comes with life, and being awesome despite it. This was a room of 300 women who are probably perfection seekers like me, and when Deschutes brewmaster Veronica Vega talked about brewing to fail, to find joy and insight in the process of our passions, I know I wasn't the only one who shrugged off a bit of creative burden.
Then, speaking directly to me, who regularly battles imposter syndrome, 15-year-old Ily Longeais presented and talked about her video that demonstrated Ira Glass’s theory on the gap between the artist you are and the artist you want to be. I know that gap. I’d always pictured it as a too-big toilet my scrawny butt falls in so I’m trapped and can only bear witness as my creative limbs atrophy. Ily showed me how it’s instead a state of mind, where you let go of your own ridiculous expectations and let magic happen.
The last day of MUSE began with a 5K run/walk. It was my first time wearing the Oiselle Volée singlet, and it really made me feel powerful. I knew I wouldn’t run as fast as the Little Wing crew at the front of the line, but I could run my current best, and that’s all anyone can do. I was right behind that crew (Heather, Mel, Collier, and Jess) as they took off. I trailed them for maybe a minute before I realized I was being an idiot and slowed down to a feasible speed. I found a good stride running alongside a woman pushing a stroller up hills like a freaking beast as she ran. I eventually pushed past her, but I felt my pace breaking. I tried to picture the Little Wing crew far out of sight. My mind does crazy things like that when I run. I wondered if there was some kind of endurance-filled energy those girls left in their wake, and if I pushed through it, I might catch it and not have to try so hard. But you always have to try. Funny thing: I've always been really good at not looking back when I run, but I did for some reason and saw Sally Bergesen coming up on me. I fell onto her left and let her be my point. She's got this solid, steady energy and I was close enough to suck some of it up. Finishing the race with her, strong arms in the air, was a great physical embodiment of what I and so many others went through that weekend.