This is the letter I’ve sent out to let people know about these two upcoming writing opportunities I’ll be leading. I thought I would post it here for all of you, too, just in case one of you might be interested (my dear readers!). ;-)
1) Online creative writing class
This is a 3-unit full-semester online class offered at Mendocino College. We’ll cover key aspects of creative writing—including image detail, slow motion, point of view, dialogue, plot, narrative presence and character—and you’ll have lots of chances to try your hand with each element. Each two weeks will include a spontaneous writing exercise, workshopping a more “polished” piece, and a discussion about process or craft. This is a great way for new writers to get their feet wet and experienced writers to stretch or refresh their skills, as well as a lovely opportunity to interact with other writers and get some good feedback on your work.
2) Spontaneous creative nonfiction writing retreat
November 22nd through 24th
Joshua Tree Retreat Center
This will be three days spent writing spontaneous creative nonfiction, telling our own stories. Because the writing is impromptu, the feedback will focus on specific positive aspects of the work. Great food and glorious desert setting included. Participation is limited, so please reserve your spot early. ($100 discount when you register by August 31st.) https://499words.org/retreat/
Please email or call if you have any questions. I hope to have the chance to work together soon!
I’m lucky. I get the Los Angeles Times. I remember how I felt when I first subscribed, the relief and pleasure to be reading beautiful writing and “real” journalism. Years later, I still feel the same way. And in our political climate, I’m so glad I get the latest from the White House by reading it. I have the luxury of monitoring myself, stopping at my tipping point, first glimmers of nausea or fury. But my luck in this, my gratitude, blooms beyond this gift. When I allow myself to meander, I am fed the antidotes. I get to read about the good things like the two men, a gay couple in Berkeley, who’ve begun Café Ohlone. They are “reviving both food and language” and “preserving the deepest parts of Ohlone culture.” Or the two young women in high school, both immigrants (one from El Salvador, one from Egypt) who’ve been best friends since eighth grade. I get to read about the biologist Peter Sharpe who has dedicated his career “to reviving the once-endangered bald eagle,” one of the “great American wildlife comeback stories,” who climbs up into their nests to examine and tag the eaglets. And I get to read about the “New Arrivals Supper Club” where “recently settled refugees bond over the food and memories of the lives they left behind.” Wages are provided for the immigrant chef and the proceeds go to the family and to Miry’s List. Each time I let myself sink into one of these stories, I feel my heart soften. Hope strikes, warms. Gratitude spills over for all these human beings doing good, important work, for being the light against the dark, and for the paper who honors them. Thank you all.
I keep thinking I need to go to a big demonstration—for immigrants, for human rights—but when I hear recordings on NPR a part of me recoils. The chants feel too intense, too assaultive, beating against “them.” It isn’t what I want to be. It doesn’t feel nonviolent. People say Mother Teresa refused to go to anti-war demonstrations, but if we ever held a rally for peace, she said, she’d be there. I want that, a sea of humankind, all swaying and singing “Give Peace a Chance” (hippie osmosis from my childhood). What happened to Gandhi, to King? What happened to peaceful resistance? Can’t we make up songs to sing instead of screaming angry chants? Songs that connect us, singing together in the streets, on freeways or tarmacs, our voices carrying across cities, drifting across the sea. I read that in the wake of the havoc and vitriol President Trump scattered across Europe earlier this month there was a music festival in London. Paul Simon and James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt were all there. Each one of them spoke up. None of them named the president, but every one of them voiced messages of encouragement, messages of love. I’m comforted to know these musicians who I’ve loved all my life were over there, counterpoint to our president’s chaos and hatred, letting people know there are other voices in the United States. Voices that want the world to know we aren’t all ugly and mean. We aren’t all afraid of women, of Muslims, of all the dark-skinned peoples of the world, or foreign tongues, or English spoken with a Mexican accent. We aren’t all afraid of gay marriage or body ink or people in wheelchairs. We aren’t afraid of learning to include all genders, all sexual preferences, to stand up for the rights of children and for a woman’s right to choose. What we are afraid of is losing our humanity inch by inch, of letting what binds us all together be whittled away little by little until it’s too late. What we are afraid of is allowing another holocaust. I wish I’d been in those quiet crowds at that music festival, singing along, soothed. I wonder if James Taylor sang “Shed a Little Light“?
[Editor’s note: Looking at my title now in the light of day—”We Aren’t All Afraid”—I think I might need to change it. Because maybe we ARE all afraid. We’re just afraid of very different things. And some of the same ordinary things, too.]
I breathe in what I need. I breathe out compassion. I am sitting on the floor. My eyes are closed, but I can feel the other women in the room with me. We breathe in and out together. They are buoys in my ocean. We ride the swells of our breath. The teacher’s voice guides us, goes quiet, guides us again. I concentrate. I drift. I feel overwhelmed. I remember the teacher telling us we can close when we need to. I lay my folded arms across my raised knees, touch my forehead to my forearm. My neck is stiff, tight. I curve but do not let go. Then I do, letting my arms cradle the weight of my head. I feel the release all along the length of my spine. I open my eyes. My face is in a cavern. I see the cluster of crystals against my chest, the white linen of my shirt. Light seeps in from the bright desert afternoon outside the windows, and the blue of my cotton pants tints the air. Now that I am here inside this soft-light cave, I no longer need to close. The teacher’s voice soothes me. I make no effort to understand the words, but I sense them sinking in. I rest in a way I may have never rested before in a group like this. I am inside my cavern, but I am part of all the women in the room. I am a buoy now, too. We ride the quiet sea together. I think, maybe I can take the memory of this place with me. Maybe I can resurrect it when I’m in the midst of disturbance, let it give me access to compassion for myself. Later, I remember the comfort of my cavern, the hushed softness, the quiet light like stained glass windows, like a cathedral.
No unsolicited feedback. No cross talk. Patience. Listening. “Respect,” I say. Then I realize it is inherent in most of the items already on our list. What kind of culture do we want to create for our class? By the time everything is written on the white board my spirits have sunk. I think I am just tired. The first night of this self-compassion class there is a lot of material to cover. When we take a short break, I go outside into the warm wind. I lean over from my hips, stretch my spine. I stand and swing my arms, turn from side to side, loosen my neck, my shoulders. I understand I am not just tired. I am discouraged by the list of guidelines for our behavior because I am afraid I won’t be able to honor them. I am afraid I will blurt things out, hurt people’s feelings, break the rules. I am afraid my bad behavior will make the space unsafe. I am ashamed in advance. The teacher said we’ll make mistakes, I tell myself. But her voice was casual, and I know for me it is not casual. It is a big deal. I move near the edge of the balcony and face northwest. I stand still and take in the long stretch of desert before me, the mountains in the distance, the smog. I feel the warm wind on my face, my arms. I let the fear and the shame seep out of me, be swept away in a warm gust of air. Later, I walk home in the dark. I stop on the sidewalk beside a small square block of undeveloped desert. I look up at the moon and Venus in the sky. I hear traffic in the distance. The half moon shows the contrast between the sand and dark lumps of brush. I scan for coyotes. I stand for a long time looking out at the quiet, moonlit field. I feel safe, satiated, washed clean.
He couldn’t believe the school was making him have a different kind of class card than everyone else just because he was a foreign student. Foreigner, they should have said. Dark-skinned Middle Easterner. Alien. Maybe he should just wear a sign around his neck: fucking scary. His grandfather would just shrug it off with that peculiar arrogance. But he didn’t feel like that. He wanted to be liked, to feel welcomed in this high school. In his biology class, they each had to take a blood sample from themselves, quick pinprick, smear across the slide. His lab partner Callie gaped when she looked through the microscope at his blood. He swore her jaw dropped. She looked up at him then, confused. He saw it on her face. She’d expected his blood to look different under the glass.
I know I told you all about this retreat earlier. I just wanted to post about it once more and include a little flyer. If you know anyone who might be interested, I’d very much appreciate you passing this along.