Less than a week has passed since I returned from the Sonoma County Writers Camp, organized by two amazing writing teachers—Ellen Sussman and Elizabeth Stark—with an appearance by Angie Powers and panels of writers and agents. It was held at an equally mind-blowing location: The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental, California.
While there, in the company of 23 other mostly fiction writers, I got down to business. Lots of writing, workshops, exercises, lively discussions, and information. I’ll save those for another post. Here I want to share a bit of the magic, in the form of daily writing, and my plans for bringing the magic home.
August 4, 2016, 7 a.m. – Writers Camp, Day 1
These first words seem so portentous. Don’t make them so. All stories begin in the middle. But what if my wrist hurts the whole time I am here? And what if I never sleep? Already I find myself deprived of that gentle escape, that falling into that replenishes us each night. Yet I have written more in these past three minutes than in the past three days.
I continue to write as I wait for the water to boil for tea.
There are many writers in this room, all up early. How can there be so many people compelled to engage in this ridiculous activity? Some tap on computer keyboards. Some scratch instruments across paper. Some sit, composing in their minds.
Now I have tea.
Tap tap. Scritch, scratch.
The story can begin.
August 5, 2016, 7:30 a.m . – Writers Camp, Day 2
Tea, apricots fresh from a tree mounded in a glass bowl, the tapping of computer keys, a dripping sound from the kitchen. Sitting each morning in a magical room, writing with other writers, silently, I feel my soul expand like the Grinch’s heart.
Praise be to language. Praise! Yesterday I received praise from “real” writers and now I’m all aglow. But how are they any more “real” than I am? They are not, except in their wearing of the writerly robes.
How can I carry what is happening here back into my life? Maybe I’ll try Elizabeth’s practice of writing first thing each morning, from a dream state, not speaking and not engaging with any text except maybe a poem before writing? I did it once before, years ago, right after my father died. I got up at six before the house awoke and sat in the kitchen with my tea, writing poetry. I did it for a year and came out with a book’s worth of poetry and partially healed.
What I need to heal now is different, but I’m ready for a cure.
August 6, 2016, 7 a.m. – Writers Camp, Day 3
This daily morning writing practice, when done in community, feels oddly intimate. As if we had stripped down to our underpants and were engaging in some daft physical ritual while all pretending not to look at each other. And yet how we want to! How we want to compare the thickness of our thighs, the degree of mottle to our respective skins, to see if anyone else’s ritual might be prettier or more fruitful than our own.
Today, the bowl of apricots has dwindled to just a handful.
August 7, 2016 7:15 a.m. – Writers Camp, Day 4
Today, something that is half poem and half dreamy wordplay arises from a place deep inside.
The end is nigh; begin again.
Cliffs of Dover
Delight: a flash of nothingness pressing against the huge, dark weight of the world.
Juxtapositions untranslatable to any other tongue
We all have tongues
Langue is tongue in French
With everything we’ve got going on, here we are.
Birthday wish list
- Many more. How many? Don’t tell me
- Meditation cushion. Why? It’s aspirational
- Conscious incompetence, so I may return to beginner’s mind
- Words with kids
- Words with husband
- More pauses, more hugs
- Hiss less, cuddle more (these sound like commands. Perhaps they need to be.)
- Time to write every day, which of course comes not as a gift but as a hard-won trophy
- The ability to bear suffering
- New running shoes, in which I likely will only ever walk
August 8, 2016, 7 a.m. – Back Home, Day 1
The first morning of a new routine at home. So difficult. Already I feel the tug of the everyday. Dirty dishes—not mine—in the kitchen where I wish to write. A sudden, visceral understanding of the meaning of Virginia Woolf’s a room of one’s own. For me it’s not a literal room and the space it’s meant to protect is not literally writing or even art but that most tender of commodities, the inner life.
I begin this morning, as suggested by Elizabeth, reading poetry. Mary Oliver, of course. The first poem in New and Selected Poems Volume I. “Rain.”
As soon as the tea is done brewing I will move on to a writing prompt.
August 12, 2016 – Reflection
I know my position is is enviable: to be able to afford to break away from daily life for five days; to travel to a place of peace and natural beauty when so many others are chained to desks, jobs, lives, living on streets where bombs might fall at any moment.
Yet I went with the purest of intentions: to reconnect to that faint interior voice, the one in danger of being smothered or, worse, never noticed. The voice I can fan to a roar and use to bring gifts to the world. Maybe even to heal suffering.
Don’t artists owe it to the rest of us to go deep inside so they may bring up from the depths something of value to the world?
I find early morning is best to create anything – while the day is quiet and slowly stretching out before the rush and noise.
(That chair picture is lyrical. Beautiful catch)
Yes… there is SO much rush and noise, it’s hard not to internalize it. Today marks two straight weeks of my morning writing practice. Just two more and it will become a habit! But already making such a difference.
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Many, many more of us need to go deep inside, to heal and listen. What a lovely week!
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Healing and listening–they often go hand in hand, don’t they?
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This, Audrey: “For me it’s not a literal room and the space it’s meant to protect is not literally writing or even art but that most tender of commodities, the inner life.” That is “a room of one’s own.” Thank you for that.
You’re welcome. It is tender, and precious, and so often overlooked.
Thank you for sharing some of your wonderful thoughts on this experience. I love the idea of writing as soon as you wake up. Your poem, written in your half dream state, is so enchanting. And the idea that it can heal, and has healed you in the past. I am going to try this, hoping it gets “me” out of my way if that makes any sense.
I’m so glad these words inspired you! It felt a bit self-indulgent to share the experience but if less so if the sharing evokes a response in others. I hope you can find a ritual that gets “you” out of your way (and yes, I know exactly what that means :-)).
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Yes we do owe it to ourselves to take the time to write our way back to intimacy with our own inner voices and guides. So glad you gave yourself this precious gift! My suggestion for keeping the magic going? Give up on writing in the kitchen, if that’s communal space…create a space that you maintain in a sacred way as a space for writing. I have a desk in my bedroom which I ONLY use when I’m going to do some serious writing. Now when I sit there, it’s like a Pavlovian response…I know I must leave behind all the to-do lists and clutter, the pulling clutch of everyone else’s needs, and go deep into becoming the channel for what wants to come through me on to the page. It works! Happy Birthday and here’s to a strong writing year ahead!
I thought of you while away and while writing! I love the idea of creating a place that evokes a Pavlovian response. I will think about how that can work without shooing the oldest child out of the house…
Excellent post. All so true, because I was there with you and I know. So many weekends away are separate from the rest of my life. Integrate, integrate.
We can remind each other, because we were both there. It won’t be easy, but we’ll try!