I’m Leading a Writing Retreat in July!

shelves of used notebooks tied in bundles

Hi everyone.

I’ve decided to offer a writing retreat this summer.

Thursday July 6th (late afternoon) through midday Sunday, July 9th

at Joshua Tree Retreat Center
Joshua Tree, California
(about 45 minutes from the Palm Springs airport)

What we’ll do
Our focus will be on spontaneous writing a la Natalie Goldberg (or Peter Elbow) with several different writing prompts for short timed writings. We’ll write together and read our work out loud, letting the alchemy happen. We’ll do some sitting practice, too. Afternoons will be in silence. And I’ll bring in a few tidbits about the craft of writing, as well. People will be encouraged to take care of themselves and bow out of any activity they may not feel comfortable with. But we’ll create a supportive and expansive space for each of us to try our wings as desired.

Costs for early registration
I will post registration details ASAP, but I’m eager and excited (and a little afraid!) and wanted to tell you all right away. Tentative cost for early registration is $400 for the retreat program, three nights shared lodging and three vegan meals per day (possibly with some eggs and dairy available on the side—not sure yet).

More details and to register
I’ll post a copy of the flyer as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, if you’d like more details or would like to register at this early registration price, please call me at home weekdays (Pacific Daylight Time): 760-327-9759.

Thank you for reading this! And if you know anyone else who may be interested I would so love for you to pass this on (and perhaps the flyer when it’s ready, too). Oh, and if you happen to know of any writing sites or retreat sites or someplace you think I might advertise this (for free or at low cost), that would be really helpful, too. Thanks again.

Holding the dream of magic here!

Riba

Bird by Bird (38)

I like to play with my titles here. Song titles, famous expressions. In blogging it feels like we have more license to amuse ourselves. Here I am stealing the title of Anne Lamott’s book about writing. I saw it on my shelf just the other day. It seems to fit what I want to try to write about tonight, the bit by bit approach. One day when I was in my third year of teaching English I knew I needed to begin writing for myself again. I was building an online class on the fly, in addition to my other classes, and every Sunday I stayed up all night to get the next week’s materials in place for my students by Monday morning. I had no time. But I knew I didn’t want to get to the end of my life saying I’d always wanted to be a writer. So I decided to write eleven minutes a day. I sat on my stone porch in Hopland every morning and filled a page in my composition book. I don’t remember how it happened, but characters emerged. I began writing a novel. I don’t know if it was beginner’s luck or some quirk of timing or state of mind, or maybe because the characters were so crisp and so alive for me then, but I would just sit down and “enter in” to the story every day for those eleven minutes. I thought that’s how it worked, thought I would always be able to immerse myself in that way. But today I feel light years away from that, my imagination rusty, my hand creaky, my mind less agile, less willing or able to stretch, take leaps. So, yesterday I began a commitment to address a new writing prompt from Two Sylvias Press every day in December. I’ve done two now, and like my assignments for my recent MOOC, they are nothing to write home about. But I’m hoping I can quiet my critic, just keep practicing this act of letting go that used to come to me unbidden. It’s a tightrope act, finding my balance between reaching for this hope, writing with this goal in mind, and not going rigid with it. I think to soften I may return to reading Natalie Goldberg. Or maybe I’ll read Anne Lamott’s book again. In her story, when she has a big report to write for school, her father tells her to just take it “bird by bird.” So, I’m going to take this prompt by prompt, and wish for but not insist on limbering up in the process, pray for magic but not try to hold it in my fist. And in the meantime, the birds keep showing up, too, signposts still along my way. But that is a story for another day.

The Church of Writing (30)

It isn’t fair. I try reading other books about writing from my odd “moving to Mexico” collection. But how can any book follow Natalie Goldberg’s? I give it almost two weeks, plodding through the pages, duty and stubbornness combined, hope dwindling. I give up, return to the Ray Bradbury. I’d only read it once years ago, but already, in the first chapter, it makes me cry. It seems unbelievable how lucky I am, to have these two writers who talk about the writing process, who both move me to tears. But it’s a mystery. The other three books don’t touch me, not even Annie Dillard’s whose prose is so lush. So I wonder what it is. Is it like acting? Does the actor need to feel the emotion he’s portraying in order to affect the audience? Is the emotion of the writer able to move into us when we read their work? Is there some mix of mind, heart, body, spirit, the writer’s integrated presence, that hugs their words? Are our words infused, like magic, with how or who we were when we wrote them? Are we transported by a writer who takes us to a world of their own making because the writer was wholly planted there when the words flowed through them, feet buried in the earth? I think so. And I love the idea that our own energy might travel unseen with our writing, ghosts on a night train, lighting people up all over the planet. No wonder libraries are sacred. Holy houses, resonant with this collected energy, like centuries-old cathedrals, dust swirling in the air, caught by the late afternoon sunlight, the smell of old paper, the feel of warm wood beneath your palm, like a prayer.

The Girl Next Door (28)

Last week I began to read Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing for the second time. I tried to resist, read pieces of the Bonnie Friedman, the Annie Dillard. But they didn’t move me. The first day I read the Bradbury it made me cry. Goldberg’s work makes me cry, too. Today I read Bradbury in the courtyard in the late afternoon with the sun in my eyes. He says in order to feed your muse, “you should always have been hungry about life since you were a child.” I wonder if this is true for me. I kind of think not. But maybe so—just a quieter version than I feel from him. And I have imagined for a good while I’d like to be more avid, more eager, more vibrantly alive. Might I be on the road to that even now as I move my pen across the page? I think, too, he grew up in a different world, one I was lucky enough to touch when I was a little girl, like the last sip on the tip of my tongue. The carnival came to his town, real people who talked to him. The magician sent him home with the rabbit from his show. The world was smaller then. It makes me wish I’d been the girl next door—oh, that’s Ray’s friend Riba. I wish I’d felt the silky fur of that magician’s rabbit underneath my hand, that I was sprawled on the ground with the other neighborhood kids listening to his father’s voice in the dark, telling stories of his own childhood when there were no roads heading west, only dirt tracks and the new railroad, or lying on our backs looking up at the sky filled with stars and tasting awe for the first time in our young lives.

My “Real” Writing (26)

There is a sweetness in touching my “real” writing. I wonder if it is that that truly draws me to it—that deep, quiet sweetness rather than the eager, scary thrill of reading it out loud or sending it out into the world. Maybe it is different for all writers, but there is a place we all go to, at least now and then, where we do our best work. Natalie Goldberg calls it “dropping down to first thoughts,” Clive Matson, “letting the crazy child write.” I’ve always thought of it as “entering in.” When writers describe it, there is an element of the physical, of being present, anchored in our bodies, grounded. It depends, too, on what I am writing. I may be deep in it, but if it’s something hard, the sweetness isn’t apparent. Still, I think the coming out of it may be the same, even when the writing is difficult, like pushing through anger, through pain, through loss, when it feels like pulling teeth, or breaking them with my bare hands. Even then, in the surfacing there is a sweetness, a tender regard for myself, and a sense of having done good work. Even with tears still wet on my face, when I emerge from my true writing I am never mean to myself. I am only kind.

Breathing Me (25)

My body is tired but tense—poised to spring into action, tight from endless, focused work, staying tuned at pitch even though I have walked away now for an hour. I made watermelon juice, ate walnuts, read one of the last chapters of Thunder and Lightning. Earlier today I stopped long enough to peek at the newspaper, do my qi gong. After my next stretch of work I’ll do my yoga, roast eggplant and fennel for dinner. I am in the middle of the busiest week of my year. Monday I did 180 login help requests. My life outside, away from this frenzied beast, is broken into small chunks. What should I do with my hour? I make good effort to stay present, but the work itself blurs the brain, makes me fuzzy. Still, the miracle is I remember to breathe. I always knew it would make a difference, though I never pulled it off before. But this week I sit up straight in my bar stool in the courtyard. My feet are propped on a footstool, my laptop across my thighs. And while I enter data, do searches, reset passwords, troubleshoot, I keep taking these long, slow, deep, full breaths, as if I was always someone who did that, without even trying, as though my breath is breathing me.

Book Company (24)

I must have been in a weird place when I read Natalie Goldberg’s Thunder and Lightning the first time. Because I remember being disappointed, and I’m loving it this second time through. I am using it the way I’ve been rereading her other books, a chapter or sometimes two before I do my daily writing. I’ve described this before, I think. Letting myself read about writing carves out time and space for me to be a writer. It makes me feel like I am part of the conversation, one writer among many. Now that I feel good about Thunder and Lightening, too, it means I have four books of hers to reread. But I will need to take a break from them when I’m done with this one. I need to read the other books I have on writing, the small collection I bought before I moved to Mexico. I don’t know what possessed me. At that time before I left the country I must have still been reading a chapter every morning, Natalie Goldberg or Ray Bradbury or even Dorothea Brande or Brenda Ueland, four of my favorites. So I combed bibliographies and bought more books about writing, consumed with preserving this ritual in foreign lands. In Hopland, where it began for me, I would sit outside on my stone porch that looked across a big field, a craggy rock embedded in the hillside. I would read first, and then I’d write a page of my novel, my answer to unearthing time for my writing even though I was still in my first years of teaching when there was no time. I promised myself I would write for eleven minutes each day. And the time before the writing, immersing myself in the world of the writer, was sheer joy.

When I’m finished reading Thunder and Lightning, I tell myself now, I will tackle one of the new books. I tried reading a few of them before, but I never made it very far. Now I am determined to read them all. Maybe there will be another gem or two I can add to my “real” collection. If I can grow it a bit larger, if I find enough of them that feed me the way my favorites do, then by the time I finish the last one in my set I can just begin again with the first, Writing Down the Bones. The thought delights me, even if it makes me sound insane. Because no matter how many times I reread them, I’m always reminded of something I’ve forgotten, something timely to my life right now. I see things I missed before, too, or I understand them in a new way. And always in returning to one of these books there is that joining in, that sharing of the writer’s life, the comfort of the writer’s voice like reuniting with an old friend, like sliding into my old, worn sweater, the color of wine, the one with the holes in it I love to dig out at the first hint of chill in the fall air. So, I’m going to read the books I haven’t read but carried with me for eight years, go looking for new old friends. But maybe, before I begin, I’ll first let myself return to Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. Because it’s been a long, long time, and the thought of his sweet, kind, vibrant being draws me back again.