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?