I set two small pots of water on the stove to boil for tea, so I can put them in the fridge tonight before I go to bed, tending to tomorrow. I crank closed the back louvered windows, turn the swamp cooler down to low for the night, ordinary tasks. I try the door, surprised to find it unlocked. I walk out into the warm dark, no moon, but there are stars and crickets. I stand in the small, open courtyard for a long time, then linger on my way back in, hand on the doorknob, not ready to relinquish being outside. There is a richness to it all, soft, silky layers, in part the almost-ending of our desert summer, I think. And I am still awash in my first foray into leading spontaneous writing online with Zoom, still bathed in the feeling of being with my three guinea pigs who came to help me do this test run, the feeling of the four of us together, our faces on my laptop screen, the unexpected warmth of it. I am certain they were sent by the gods. Our first writing prompt was about finding something extraordinary or nourishing in ordinary acts, and now my time with them imbues my everyday tasks tonight, awash in the extraordinariness of how we were together. Intimate, connected, easy, this collection of strangers, four women. We wrote together and then read our work, wonderful writing, thoughtful comments on each piece, laughing together, heartfelt, delighted. I can’t stop grinning. A remarkable evening, one of those unlooked for gifts, that easy balance between us, the give and take. Charmed, impromptu, dear.
I’m launching online spontaneous writing meetings beginning next week! (Our test session was wonderful.) We will write together, read our work and share positive feedback. These will be through Meetup and use the Zoom videoconferencing software. They are fee-based events. RSVP at Desert Writing Group (Meetup site).
I’ve scheduled some upcoming meetings on Wednesdays (7 to 9pm) and Thursdays (11am to 1pm). I’m not sure yet if these will become permanent meeting times or if we’ll meet on a more regular schedule in the future. (For now, I am just building them around my existing commitments.)
I plan to offer “Process and Craft” sessions online, too. I’ll be sending out a survey for feedback on desired topics and time slots (as well as feedback on alternate time slots and frequency for the spontaneous writing sessions).
Thanks for reading, as always! :)
P.S. Spots are still available for the November writing retreat in Joshua Tree:
When I lie down on my back for chavasana at the end of yoga, the crescent moon is above me in the sky, tender and dear in the blue of late morning. I swim the breast stroke in my mother’s pool and watch the ridge when I swim north. It is the same ridge I gazed at from the living room when she was sick. I count my row of yuccas while I swim, though they are no longer in bloom. When I get to the bird walk the leader is speaking in his warm, relaxed voice. It is a big group today. I look around for my two other favorite people, but they are not here. I struggle with my disappointment, reach for the treetops, the sound of the leader’s voice, splashing water in the distance. I can still be here, I tell myself, still tap the deep peace of this place. I can still have a sweet time. In moments, I steady. Then as if conjured the woman I like so much from before is beside me, and I hear the man I like up ahead of us making jokes in his resonant voice. Later, I think about how the leader draws us together, about what a gift he is offering, maybe without knowing. I think about his warmth, his charming lack of ego, his quiet, cheerful knowledge. I think about what a rare bird he is. (Pun intended.) We walk together, rearranging ourselves, clusters and strings of us along the trails, a small, fluid river, California towhees, an ash-throated flycather, a black-headed grossbeak in flight, a green heron across the lake, the old oaks speaking acorn woodpecker. After the bird walk I sit on a wooden bench, a black phoebe sitting nearby, and then I walk by myself through the rose garden. I take slow steps, reluctant to leave. I can feel how even in such a short time, the place has changed me, helped me ground, settle, rest inside. This extraordinary world has worked its magic.
In my arms
old square woven basket
full of dirty clothes
I walk up the small road
and feel a rush of tenderness
On my way back home
dried cactus fruit lie in the road
and I look up to see
a house finch devouring a fresh one
at the top of the tall cactus.
She is almost inside the fruit itself.
I watch her for a long time
and her big delight
washes through me.
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.
Steps for enrolling
(You will only need to apply, complete the placement questionnaire and enroll.)
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.)
Please email or call if you have any questions. I hope to have the chance to work together soon!
You buzz my face three times
while I lie in the courtyard
on my purple yoga mat
I wave you away
all soft furriness
I wish you well, I say
but I am allergic
so please don’t bee
I fall asleep when the afternoon is yellow with daylight and wake in the gray world of early dusk. I let the thin salmon blanket fall away to the couch, the one my yoga teacher brought back from Mexico more than 20 years ago for those of us who ordered one, real cotton, beloved, perfect for a nap in the early desert spring with the swamp cooler on low. I check the thermostat and my sleep-muted mind decides the 69 degrees means it is almost seven o’clock. It is the end of my first day home again after being gone. So the sound of the traffic is familiar but strange, the trailer more silent than I remember, the courtyard still quiet and magic in the almost-dark while I type, the solar lights coming on one at a time. Here with me, too, are the great horned owls from yesterday at the preserve, the three young ones beside the adult high in the fan palm, alert and still, almost ghost-like in their big tree cavern. I savor the memory of them, savor the ending of the day. I’ll eat Jerusalem artichokes tonight with flax seed oil and salt, finish the Annie Dillard book I’ve been reading, maybe go to sleep early. Tomorrow, Tuesday, is my Monday this week, and grading waits. I relish my solitude, and I miss the camaraderie. I can still hear Barney’s voice reading science questions from the little box of worn cards, still feel the easy warmth of the cabin, Corina beside me on the couch, Lila’s soft furry head against my leg, Angelika puttering in the kitchen. I can still feel my pleasure in being a part of the whole, in knowing I still remember how to join in, laughing.