Writers, like everyone else in this world, need refreshing--renewal--a shake up from the ordinary. We are like exercisers constantly moving along the same route: up that hill, round that corner, past that mailbox, home. After a while, our bodies, like our minds, dig in their heels... and there's no pushing past plateau unless we change the routine.
For me, the routine itself has always been a struggle, especially when I became pregnant with my daughter, and even moreso after she was born. I feel like a rock star when on the occasional day I'm able to dress her properly, play with her, feed her, grade a few English papers, check email, pet my dog, maybe get in a walk, wash a load of clothes, and hug my husband. Lately (okay, shamefully, lately has been over a year), writing creatively--my passion, my reason--has slipped from the to-do list. I'd been feeling like the out-of-shape former athlete (which, sadly, I guess I sort of am) who's terrified to tackle the hill. What if I can't get it back, that spark? What if someone sees me, fat and failing and out of breath?
Enter: the good folks at The Sun magazine. Several months ago, I'd seen an advertisement for a writing retreat/workshops weekend the magazine was holding in Little Switzerland, North Carolina--only an hour and a half from where I live. Called "Into the Fire: The Sun Celebrates Personal Writing," its schedule was packed with authors and teachers, writers' panels and workshops with intriguing titles. Since I'd been a long-time fan of the publication and the unique place it's carved for itself in the magazine world, I knew it'd be great. But the cost: ouch. There was no way we (my husband and I) could afford for me to go.
But, there was a scholarship opportunity. So, I applied, thinking that surely there was no way I'd win one, but knowing--from previous experience garnering fellowships and grants--that it's always worth a try. Thankfully, I received an email from The Sun's Krista Bremer, notifiying me that they'd like to offer me a scholarship.
So, while my husband took solo care of the daughter and the dog with no complaints (amazing partner that he is), I headed off to Wildacres Retreat, a mountaintop "resort" in McDowell County, less than a couple hundred yards from the Blue Ridge Parkway. I went blind--knowing no other participants, not even my roommate.
The weekend was lovely, my roommate was lovely, the authors/workshop leaders were free with their time and talent, and other participants free with their friendship and stories. I attended workshops led by Krista Bremer, among others, whose generous teaching combo of helpful writing strategies, examples and insights into her own brilliant work, and inspiration for our own will I'm certain aid me as both writer and teacher in the future. I listened to Sy Syfransky, editor of The Sun, read quietly from his personal notebooks, and remembered that there are everyday philosophers, of this time, whose capacity for insight and beauty can still astound and salve. I chatted with tablemates over marshmellow-topped sweet potato pie and coffee, reminding myself of the sheer pleasure in introductions, in the sweet manners of my youth.
I watched as grey-white fog settled into the coves of the mountains below us, socking in the valleys and not moving until mid-day. I rocked in rockingchairs, pressed my back against the stone of a small amphitheatre and my backside into the wet ground, and watched heavy, round-bottomed rain clouds move in purple from the west over Mt. Mitchell, over ancient, softly rounded peaks. I got to think. I got to let go. I was able to breathe.
This morning, I subscribed to The Sun, despite the fact that my walking shoes have holes in the soles, I get a haircut once a year, and we rarely buy groceries without coupons. Any magazine who can offer me such awakening deserves my readership.
* On a side note, I have "almost" chosen my MFA in Writing Program. No, I'm not willing to talk about it yet. Soon.