Tag Archives: writing retreat

retreating anyway

Good morning this morning. It’s still cool out there so far, still blessedly grey. I was just out for an early-morning walk with the puppy, and it was such a pleasure to be out in the neighborhood with the city birds: the night herons hustle overhead toward the lake, and crows gather in their cackling pods, up in the tops of the palm trees, rustling fronds and wings, then dispersing, one by one, to perch on the top of the apartment building nearest ours and watch us as we pass underneath. We walked past the man who I think of as the preacher. He is older, dark-skinned, looks strong, something about him is muscular despite the hunch in his back and the paunch under his t-shirt. He walks the neighborhoods all around the lake, preaching to a flock I can’t see. Morning, he said to me.  Good morning, Sir, I said.

We come back inside and Sophie gets a little breakfast, then perches herself at the window, to watch the morning neighborhood wake up, to watch the men unloading cargo from a trailer in the parking lot next door, to watch the commuters, the other dogs about whom she whines and carries on — Mom, it’s a dog, though! she seems to be telling me, making me think of Buster in Arrested Development. The birds are all gathered at the feeder this morning — they have forgiven me for leaving the feeder  empty for so long, and returned in force. Last night there was a hummingbird at the flower garden I’m slowly building in the window box just outside the kitchen. Maybe she was drawn by  the gladiolus, which are now in their full summer glory, tall, strong stalks of pale yellow throats open to the morning. But she wasn’t in the glads, she was in the nasturtium, pushing her beak into their orange mouths, and then into the alyssum, both of which I brough over from the much bigger garden I tend at my sweetheart’s place, my other home.  I couldn’t move while the hummingbird was hovering there. She glinted bright green iridescent in the waning sunlight, and she took off when she became aware of movement on the other side of the glass — he glass means nothing to her. She came back, though, tasting the nasturtium, tasting the alyssum with flowers so tiny I was amazed she could needle her beak into them. And then she was gone.

I’ve had a couple of days’ repeat in my little apartment, this space which has been so dedicated to writing ourselves whole workshops for the last three years, ever since I moved in. I came over on Tuesday, and have spent three nights in a row, two days. My plan was to have days wide open in which I could just dive into my nonfiction book project (this is how I described it in an email yesterday: a collection of essays about and dedicated to the desiring, creative survivor body — drawn out of these ten-plus years leading writing groups about sex and with survivors and more). I have several hundred pages of text, the barest of a first draft, and I’ve needed space in which to immerse myself in the whole damn thing — not just fifteen minutes here and there to enter edits, but time to spread out the pages, look at them all at once, what I’ve got and what needs filling in, what’s redundant, and how these chapters should start to flow into each other.

When was the last time you gave yourself a retreat for your creative work? It’s not necessary to book a hotel half-way across the country, or apply to and get accepted to a month-long residency somewhere remote and isolated. Those sorts of retreats are good, too, of course, but at least for me, they don’t happen very often at all. Much easier for me to put together a retreat at home, like a staycation for my writing. I set aside a couple of days, blocking them off in the calendar so I don’t schedule meetings or coffee dates). I let my beloveds know what I’m doing, don’t answer the phone, try to stay off of email. And then all that’s left is for me not to derail myself, not to let the inner censors and other creative hobgoblins convince me that really I should be doing something for someone else.

So I spent some hours, here on my retreat, reading, again, about codependence. I’ve been noticing lately how consistently I tell myself I have to take care of everyone else first, all other needs and demands, before I can really do my work. It’s an ongoing battle, uprooting those old learnings, instilled by our particular misogynist culture and reinforced by a stepfather who demanded that all attention be devoted to serving his needs at every minute. Even after all this time as a writer, as someone who can easily passionately encourage the folks in my writing groups to put themselves and their creative work first, I still struggle to do just that.

I spent hours of this mini-treatreat dealing with non-book-related tasks for other people — the newsletter has to get out, I have to respond to them, oh god, I have to mail that thing, this form really needs my attention immediately, if I don’t print out all fifty of these calls for submissions, I’m going to forget them. Whew. The stuff that can — legitimately, honestly — get inbetween us and our creative work is never-ending. At some point, I have to just turn off the computer, take a deep breath, swallow the guilt, and dive in.

It was hard to take these two days and three nights of retreat — I’d originally planned for it to be a week of stay-cation retreat, and then felt bad/guilty/selfish, and so shrunk it down to these couple of days. And even then I was ready to give over one of the days. Fortunately, my sweetheart said to me, I know how important this time is to you. You should really take it. I miss you, but I want you to have this. That’s pretty extraordinary, in my experience.  We all need someone in our corner when we can’t be strong enough to advocate for ourselves — and none of us are strong enough to advocate for ourselves and our desires every minute.

So I stayed and made small meals at my little table and worked into the evening, managing to get into that book work I wanted to do, finally.

The second night here, I ran into a neighbor man while Sophie and I were out for our evening constitutional. This neighbor man is dark-skinned with long dreaded hair and an infectious grin. He likes to talk to me and Sophie. The night we talked, he was kind. He spoke about my energy and power, wanting to touch palms. You’re special, he said. You’re one of the few girls who smiles and says hi. I didn’t get into why most female/feminine folks tend not to make eye contact while they’re just trying to walk home. Sophie sat with us, watching the night street, unbothered and unhurried. Me, I wanted to get back inside and go to bed. The man kept smiling, talking about how people with power, when they share that power with each other, keep it going around the world, influencing more and more positive change. I have talked with this man a few times around the neighborhood. He said, You’re the one I tell I like your haircut, because it reminds me of Mary Martin. I said I don’t know who that is, and he said, The original Peter Pan! Then he told me about how he was famous, but he didn’t get into it directly like that. He said, you know Dire Straits? I said yes. He said, You know that song, “Walk of Life?” and I do, but he sang some of it and none of what he sang sounded familiar. He said, Mark Knopfler, you know Mark Knopfler? I said yes. He said, In the video for “Walk of Life,” when Mark Knopfler comes out and he’s barefoot, comes out into Boston Gardens — and then my neighbor asks me if I’ve heard of Larry Bird, Michael Jordan — he said, Right there, I’m in that video, you go watch, you’ll see me spinning two basketballs and dancing and you’ll say, Hey! That’s Wayne from the neighborhood! You didn’t even know how close you were to greatness!  He was smiling, serous and enjoying this. I said I’d watch it — he said, You google it or so something. I crossed the street then, shook his hand before I left, wanting to believe what he was telling me. I like him and still am a but nervous around him, the way I am be with any man I don’t know well who wants to stop and talk at 11 at night. He said, You go watch it! and I said I’d tell him about it the next time I saw him. We waved good night and smiled at each other. Sophie went to sleep as soon as we got back inside and while I got ready for bed, I looked up the video for “Walk of Life,” which I surely haven’t seen since the 80s on MTV, and sure enough, right near the beginning, before all the sports guys start fumbling and crashing into each other, there’s my neighbor, a younger man, his hair short and cropped tight his head, grinning big, standing in the aisle near the court, spinning two basketballs and dancing. There he is, I said to Sophie, waking her up. That’s Wayne from the neighborhood. Sophie groaned at me and I smiled, too, grateful for this place that and this time, grateful for the space and energy to connect.

Here’s hoping you have some time to retreat into your creative self, for an hour this weekend, or an afternoon, or even, god forbid, a whole weekend sometime soon.

trusting our creative rhythms

Good morning, good morning. It’s early still on a Monday (late for me, as the sun is well up already!) — how are the words finding you these days? Are you letting them in?

I’ve been writing a lot since the beginning of the year, but I’ve been doing most of it in my notebook, offline. I went on a writing retreat a week or so ago, a much-needed break from the hustle of workshops and the new year’s Let’s Get It Done! energy. Do you get that kind of buzzy exuberance at the beginning of the year? Suddenly, everything I’ve forgone for months or maybe years (maybe even decades) is gonna get done now. It’s a new year! Everything is possible! Let’s make a plan, and then another plan, and then create a new writing schedule, then make a vision board, then another vision board for the other projects, then make a giant to do list of every thing that needs doing for my 9 or 10 Very Important creative projects that all need attention now.

So the beginning of the year is charged and exciting – like a Monday morning on steroids, if you’re like me — another chance to get it right. And then I overdo it with the attempt to schedule my creativity into a rigorous, regimented set of boxes, and the parts of me that need to sing, need to wander, need to breathe without being scheduled to do so, the parts of my creative life that need open space around them in order to blossom begin to leak out the sides of me. I start to cheat on my own systems: the employee undermining the boss. I start to come in “late” to work. I oversleep.These are my forms of creative resistance. Gonna try and put me into a box? Ok, then, I’ll go limp. I get out of sync, creatively-speaking, and begin to get tight and frustrated. What happened to my flow?

So, the weekend retreat was well-timed. An xmas gift from my sweetheart, she knew that this introvert needs time away from everything and everyone every now and again just to immerse in solitude and let the writing bubble up again. I gathered together the projects I wanted to work on — brought my journal (almost full), a novel I was in the middle of, the manuscript for my collection of essays about writing practice for/& trauma survival, and my laptop. I figured I’d finish reading through and marking up the manuscript, and then I’d get started on the edits/rewrites. I was meant to be gone for two and a half-days. I had big plans. The beautiful part about visiting this house — aside from the fact that the house itself is beautiful and rests right across the street from a cow pasture so that I can listen to cows talking to each other all day and feel rather like I’ve gone back home — is that AT&T has no coverage in the area. I allow this to work in my favor; no email, no texts, no checking the web for anything, not even cell service. If I wanted to connect with beloveds, I had to go to the little cafe down in “town” with wifi access, which I did the first night, sitting out front on one of the old ice cream parlor style wire-frame chairs, hunkered over against the wind, texting love notes back home to my sweetheart.

When I got to the our friends’ beautiful little house in West Marin, I unpacked the dog and all of my clothes and the food I’d brought. I changed into comfortable clothes, settled in, pulled out my laptop and discovered that I had forgotten the charger for the computer. Talk about creative resistance. I had about 80% power still on the laptop, which meant I could do a few hours’ work. Maybe.

I had about a minute’s worth of distress about this. Then I pulled out my notebook. Nearly full. This was a much bigger problem, but one more easily remediable without even the need for a car. I threw on my jacket and headed to the little market, fingers crossed that they’d have what I needed. And indeed, there amid the dusty packages of prepared food and expensive wine (this place is like a camp store for the well-heeled West Marin visitor) was a small stationary section, with a couple of blank notebooks– one 70pp single subject, one a 108pp 3 subject 3/4-sized notebook. Both were wildly expensive, but that was the price I paid for forgetting to pack one of the hundred or so single-subject notebooks I gathered up at Target last fall during school supply season (or as I call it, notebook season). Once I had the notebook in hand, I was all set. I headed back to the house, wanting to get all settled in before the rains came, and opened my novel. Before long, I had found my way into a very deep and solid quiet.

I read for most of the first day, writing a little after the novel was finished. I ate small, went for walks with the dog, watched the storm gather through the big front windows. I journaled, wrote fiction, found a rhythm that wasn’t electronically mediated, wasn’t driven by any sense of outside influences or cravings for attention or publishing or anyone else’s accolades. I got back into a much older relationship with writing — the one that was just for me, just for my own healing and discovery, play and practice. Once upon a time I used to spend hours holed up at cafes pouring words into these 3/4-sized notebooks, unfurling myself, figuring out who I was and who I’d been, what I’d been through and who I wanted to be. During my writing retreat, unable to do the work I felt I was “supposed” to do, something in me got shaken loose. I got to revisit that oldest and most sustaining writing practice: words in the notebook, play and discovery, no other aim but writing itself. Just write, just write, just write.

I did use up that computer charge, typing up an essay I’d written in the notebook a couple of weeks before. But then I turned it back off, walked outside with the dog, talked with the cows, and headed out to the beach to commune with the sea.

Thank you for all the ways you allow yourself to connect with  your deepest creative rhythms. Thank you for giving your creative self what it needs, even if what you need to create is different from what others appear to need. Thank you for trusting your creative self — and thank you, always, for your words.

your own private retreat

Good morning to you, and happy June! It’s grey and coolish out my window this morning; a little respite from the heat we’ve been enjoying here in Oakland. How is this Monday morning meeting you?

Happy LGBT Pride Month, my friends. No matter your sexual orientation, you can participate in honoring those queer folks who have struggled and fought back against the forces of fear, oppression and normalization, helping to create a world in which we have far greater freedom around eros, desire, gender expression and family structure. Of course we still have a long way to go — just because we celebrate Pride doesn’t mean that the struggle is over. But I’m still going to invite you to bring a little (more) queer into your life this month. What would that look like?

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This weekend I made myself a writing retreat. For the better part of Saturday and Sunday both, I turned off the phone, kept away from email, grabbed a stack of books and dove into my current writing project (how trauma survivors can use writing practice for individual– and then communal–transformation). At the end of the weekend, I’d generated 150+ pages of new (hand)written work.

What do I want to say about this? This weekend I was quiet. I said no to a lot of other things I could have been doing — I didn’t join friends at birthday gatherings or at the pool. I sat in my dark apartment with the shades pulled to keep the cool inside, and I wrote.

I dove into the sort of silence that I need to let complicated writing emerge. I’d write for an hour or so at a time, then took breaks — made small meals, read, ran around Lake Merritt. There was time enough to listen to the rhythms my writing wanted me to follow — time to keep going after the timer went off — time to walk around the neighborhood when I had some difficult theme to try and untangle. I wrote early morning and I wrote nighttime. I pretended like I was away on an official writing retreat, out in the woods, say, with no internet connection.

It was deeply productive, and I’m wondering if I can’t schedule this sort of retreat now once a month (I’ll certainly need at least a weekend for the transcription of all these notebooks’-worth of writing). It did require scheduling (over a month in advance), and some fierce self-care/willpower/determination to protect that time for writing. And then, once I had created the space for myself, it was up to me to use it well: I could easily have justified going to a movie or an hours-long bike ride or a wade into the public library looking for just the right book. And any one of those might have been fine during another retreat weekend. But this weekend what I had intended was to fill at least one notebook with new material for my book, which meant I needed to sit down and engage in the physical labor of writing. By Saturday afternoon I was fatigued, and realized I was in the middle of a kind of writing marathon. I generally write for, at most, thirty minutes at a stretch, and here I was keeping the hand moving for an hour or more. Let’s be real: this was a working retreat. My right wrist is tender today!

I was afraid I wouldn’t want to come back into the world when the weekend was over: there’s a pile of email to respond to now, there’s a workshop to prepare for, there’s this immediate, workaday world that would like some attention. I was afraid I’d get lost in the gorgeous, wandery, generative place, and that I’d be frustrated at having to return to the life that requires focus and schedule. Does this make sense? There have been years when I didn’t want to go on vacation, because I knew I’d just barely get relaxed and then I’d have to come back to my regular (stress-filled and overwhelming) life — I’d get depressed, miserable that this sort of relaxed life existed and I didn’t get to spend any time there. Nevermind that my life was overloaded because of my own choices; I didn’t want to have to engage with my choices, or have to say no to anyone. It was easier for me to be miserable than to think about changes that might make others uncomfortable.

But I woke up this morning early, worked on the book for about a half hour, and then went out with the puppy for her morning playtime. I still feel the urgency of the book project, but don’t feel resentful that I can’t spend all day there. I’m grateful to be back in a boundaried/scheduled place with the project, actually. It’s fantastic to create the space to unfold the whole thing around me and see what I’ve got so far and generate as much as possible in a short timespan — and today, after a productive and nourishing retreat, I’m ready to be back in my usual, work-week routine.

Do you find yourself longing for a serious block of writing time? What would it take for you to create your own writing retreat? Could you sign up for a workshop with someone else? Could the kids go to a friend’s or relative’s place for the day/weekend? Do you have friends who have a cabin/vacation home that you could borrow for a day or two? A writing retreat doesn’t have to be an expensive or onerous undertaking — we can create this space for ourselves, and those who love us want to help our writing emerge into the world. The first thing we have to (get to) do is say yes to this desire, the next thing we have to (get to) do is ask, and then we get to show up into what we’ve asked for, and do the work.

Thanks for the ways you hold and honor others’ creative genius. Thanks for the space you make to honor your own. Thanks for your presence today, and thank you for your words.

Winter 2012 Workshops — Here’s what’s coming up!

The new year is the time for a new dedication to your writing practice — and we’ve got a whole host of offerings, beginning in January and February, one of which might be just right for you or someone you love!

Please pass the word, and let me know if you’d like to join us! I’m looking forward to writing with you —

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Write Whole: Survivors Write

SF-based 8-week workshop for women who are survivors of sexual trauma or sexual violence

Winter ’12 Workshop begins Monday, January 16

Meets 8 Monday evenings, 6:00-8:30pm.

This workshop is open to all women survivors of sexual trauma.

Gather with other women survivors of sexual trauma in this workshop, and write in response to exercises chosen to elicit deep-heart writing, and deal with such subjects as: body image, family/community, sexuality, dreams, love, faith, and more. You’ll be encouraged to trust the flow of your own writing, and receive immediate feedback about the power of your words!

8-week workshop fees: The fee for an 8-week session is $350. (I can generally work out payment plans; please contact me if you have question or concerns about payment.) There is a reduced-rate early bird fee of $315 if you register by  December 20. The regular registration fee will be in effect through January 1, 2012. The late registration fee is $385; last day to register is January 9. Please register early!

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Bayview Writers

A new and supportive writing workshop for Marin.

Tuesday mornings in Tiburon beginning 1/31: 10am-1pm (women’s group);

Wednesday evenings in San Rafael beginning 2/1: 6-9pm  (open to all writers)

Make a commitment to your writing in 2012!

New writing group forming: Bayview Writers is open to all writers seeking a fun, generous and supportive atmosphere in which to create powerful new writing. Using the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop method, we write together in response to exercises designed to spark your creative imagination. Whether you’re in the middle of a larger project, beginning something new, or going through a time of ‘writer’s block,’ this workshop is for anyone looking to connect with their writing, regardless of experience level. Connect with other local writers and release the words that you’ve been longing to write.

The fee for an 9-week session is $425. There is a reduced-rate early bird fee of $380 if you register by  November 23. The regular registration fee will be in effect through January 1, 2012. The late registration fee is $465; last day to register is January 6. Please register early!

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Dive Deep
An advanced, project/manuscript-centered working group

Inaugural group meets January 5, 2o12!

This workgroup is designed for those who have delved into  (or are ready to commit to) the deep dive of a large* writing project:

  • a novel;
  • poetry, story or essay collection;
  • play or screenplay;
  • daily blogging;
  • preparing work for publication;
  • or any other long-term writing project.

Though writing is a solitary pursuit, no writer has ever completed a long work alone!

Divers will meet three times per month for writing exercises, project check-in and accountability, manuscript feedback, coaching and peer support. This group can help you meet your writing goal, and provide community and encouragement as you go deep into a writing project. This is necessary work you’re doing: give yourself all the tools and support you need.

Workshop fees: This is an ongoing group; the fee is $200/month, with a three-month initial commitment required; the group will remain closed for three-month cycles, then will open at the end of those cycles for the possible addition of new members. Dive Deep is limited to 6 members at a time. Please contact me to register!

* “large” is relative — whatever your writing project is, if you want support and accountability and regular connection around that work, we would love to have you!

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Declaring Our Erotic

A monthly erotic writing retreat open to all

I’ve reformatted this workshop from an 8-week series to 10 Saturday writing retreats! Each month, come together with a fun, powerful, and supportive group of writers to dive into some sexy and surprising new writing! We will work with a theme every month, and you will be invited to write into the ideas that theme inspires in you, or you are welcome to use the workshop retreat time to do whatever writing is most pressing for you.

In DOE writing groups, we write in response to exercises that bring up different aspects of our erotic, sexual and sensual selves, in a safe and confidential group of peers. This workshop is designed to leave you more confident with sexual language, erotic expression, and your own writing practice. You’ll receive immediate and concrete feedback about what’s already working (and hot!) in your writing, and will leave with several new pieces of work.

Previous participants have found the group to be transformative, feeling that the work they’ve done has opened up and changed not only their relationship with their erotic selves, but with many other aspects of their lives as well.

Unless otherwise noted, this workshop meets on the third Saturday of the month, 10am-5:00pm. Light lunch provided. Limited to 12. Fee for Declaring Our Erotic Saturday retreat is $100 (with a sliding scale). Please contact me to register!

Early 2012 retreat dates — mark your calendars!:

Saturday, February 5, 2012: New Beginnings
Saturday, March 3, 2012: Writing the Body (and Jen’s 40th birthday!)
Saturday, April 7, 2012:  Edging into Fantasy

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Writing the Flood

Every third Saturday, 1-4:30pm
(unless otherwise noted)

The first Writing the Flood of 2012 meets on 1/21

Writing The Flood is a writing group for anyone looking to prime the writing pump: using the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we will write together in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories, poems, essays, images and voices that have been stuck inside for too long.  This is a time to work on a larger project, get started on new work, play on the page, or write yourself through a block and back into your writing voice.
Unless otherwise noted, this workshop meets on the third Saturday of the month. $50 (with a sliding scale) Limited to 12. Please contact me to register.

Early 2012 Writing the Flood dates — mark your calendars now!

  • Saturday, January 21, 2012
  • Saturday, February 18, 2012
  • Saturday, March 17

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The Erotic Reading Circle

Every fourth Wednesday at the Center for Sex and Culture, 7:30-9:30pm

suggested donation: $5+

Since 2006, we’ve been meeting on the fourth Wednesday of the month to share and celebrate the breadth of erotic artistry in the Bay Area! The next Erotic Reading Circle meets on September 28, 7:30-9:30 at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco (cross streets 9th and 10th). $5+ donation requested (no one turned away); donations support the Center for Sex and Culture. This month’s circle will be a collaborative effort with the Sex Worker’s Arts Festival events at the CSC!

Bring whatever you’re working on, or whatever you’d like to be working on.

Come join readers and share your erotic writing! Bring something to read or just be part of the appreciative circle of listeners. This is a great place to try out new work (ask for comments if you like), or get more comfortable reading for other people. Longtime writers will bring their latest… newly inspired writers, bring that vignette you scrawled on BART while daydreaming on your way to work. Carol Queen and Jen Cross host/facilitate this space dedicated to erotic writers and readers. No registration necessary — just drop in!

Upcoming dates for the ERC:

  • Wednesday, December 28, 2011
  • Wednesday, January 25
  • Wednesday, February 22

See you at the Circle!

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