I try to volunteer. Really, I do. I just rarely follow through.

I’m not the most sociable of people. No, it’s true. I’ve gotten better, but it’s still hard for me to enter into situations where I’m supposed to converse and carry on with people I’ve never met. It’s not a rare condition. In fact, I’d be willing to guess that nearly half of the people currently breathing on this Earth are not ready to jump into a group of strangers and start helping out.

On the other hand, I have a small bit of celebrity in one small section of our town – local librarians and book lovers. I write an overlong book column in a magazine for men. But the only people I know who read it are women. Librarians, for the most part. And for this reason, I find myself feeling drawn to every book related happening in our town. Of course, I do it because I want to. But there’s a small part of me that does it because I should.

So this is how I’m attempting to break out of the “volunteer-shy” shell. I’m signing up to help out with this summer’s South Dakota Festival of the Book – a weekend long book festival that celebrates authors and readers from around the state. It’s an annual event, with both Sioux Falls and Deadwood sharing the festival every other year.

I’m pretty excited, to tell you the truth. I’ll get to introduce authors, help people find books, and participate in a Books and Brews night – two of my favorite things. But I’m still apprehensive.

There’s something in human nature that makes us unwilling to step outside of the comfort zone we’ve built up around ourselves, something that collects all of our random thoughts and pushes them back down in an effort not to make a fool of ones self. I know a lot of people who have never been shackled to that zone, who have stepped outside of it and all over it and can walk forward into anything, regardless of what other people are saying. I also know a lot of people who are completely unwilling to leave whatever comfort they’re used to and instead hide from new experiences. I’m one of them. And I’m trying to change that.

For those of you who are living in Sioux Falls, or in the general area, give me your address, or your e-mail address. I would be happy to give you as much information on the Festival of Books as possible. Personally, I was a little embarrassed for the group that put it together two years ago – no one showed up, and attendance overall was much less than we had thought. But this isn’t something that should be missed.

There are six different tracks of authors lined up, from fiction to poetry to mini-writers’ workshops. There will be two Pulitzer Prize authors, including one I’ve read and reviewed for Prime Magazine. There will be hundreds – hopefully thousands – of like minded book lovers and authors, rubbing elbows and celebrating the history and future of books, reading, and writing.

Hundreds of authors, hundreds of people who have stepped outside of that comfort zone, written from their heart, who have weathered various degrees of success or failure, will be converging in one place to discuss each others craft. And thousands more will be there to witness it, wishing they too could break down whatever fear is keeping them from being successful themselves. And for a few, a deluge of self-confidence – a writing pandemonium – will be unleashed, tearing through the literary world and wreaking havoc on all that it touches.

Hopefully, I’ll catch a little of that spirit. But it all starts with volunteering my time.

This was lovingly handwritten on August 14th, 2006