summer writing retreat

I cried as I drove out of Alpine, Texas, nestled in the high desert of the Glass and Davis Mountains. I knew I would. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I die before I wake, feed Jake…he’s a good old dog played on the radio as vast vistas, burned by wildfires, spread out on either side of me. I was driving back to real life….what’s happening with my book, will the rosebush live, what are they doing about the debt crisis….

I came into Alpine on my broom…..part Nanny Mcphee, part tattered good fairy whose tutu is too tight, part secret wild-eyed, owl-faced shaman woman with sharp talons. There were 17 small eggs in the nest that was my class this time. All had cracked open their shells. A few nestlings were out, peeping, ready for food, ready to fly. But as always, too many had crawled back in their broken shells in discouragement, and some were already trying to peck themselves to death. I say, in the come-on of the class, that it’s about novel basics, some craft and technique you need to know. But I throw in one line, about wounded or stalled writers…that it will good for them, too. I know about being a wounded and stalled writer and am on a rescue mission.

My real work is to make them feel safe. My real work is to get them to spread their wings. My real work is to get them to believe in themselves again. I start by sitting on the nest and just warming things up. They break into small groups and start to know one another in an easy way that grows really large as they share, only with each other, the fast bits of writing they’re doing. I assign the writing in fast bits because they don’t have time to argue themselves out of it, and they’re always too polite to refuse to write at all. I eye-dropper facts and technique into their mouths just so they won’t leave and the really tough ones will shut up for awhile.

By midweek, some are flying around the room. I send them on a walkabout, out of class, to stretch and dream and play with creativity and writing. They’re beginning to share with the whole class. There is a lot of laughter. There is awed respect. There is no denying their gifts. They are hearing them. By Thursday, some of them are willing to read at the student open mic. Those who aren’t reading are there to cheer classmates on. Pin feathers are on all of them. Some of them are chirping, preening, clearly too confined by the classroom. They’re ready to be out soaring wind currents in their own skies.

Friday, it’s over. I stand before them, tugging my tutu, some of my owl feathers molting, and we do our last bit of business, which is to say goodbye to one another and to be reminded that we are writers whether we get published or not and to honor that need to write in each of us. One by one, I watch them fly away. My heart always hurts. While they’ve been doing character sketches from all that is around them, I’ve been doing character sketches on them, and I love them, each and every one of them, their protests and fussiness and impertinent questions….but mostly their trust. I love what they created during the week.

So I pack away my broom and medicine balls and moth-eaten tutu to drive home, listening to laying me down to sleep and feeding Jake. They must remember to feed themselves, I think.  But they’ve learned that. Time to move on. I’ve got a rosebush to water.

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5 responses to “summer writing retreat

  1. Arrived home yesterday evening, slept all day today, and tomorrow will transition back to the real world. Since I can’t do much about the debt crisis, I’ll open the bag of techniques I’ve brought home and do some processing. Maybe I’ll read The Thread That Runs So True again, to extend the message about play. And I’ll get back to the novel that’s been so long on the back burner. Alpine was wonderful. Thanks for a great week.

  2. as always – wonderful.
    i saw them, heard them – and you there guiding them.
    you are a treasure.
    j

  3. I’m determined to make it to the next summer writing retreat – love your description of your class and its transformation!

  4. What wonderful imagery! I felt I was there, like a fly on the wall.
    Hope you had a good trip home.
    Love, Alice

  5. Wonderful! Mother owl, aka Good Witch of the South. Wishing you many fledglings.

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