Tomales, report one

Van Gogh's starry night as graffiti

Oakland, I’m holding you in my heart and bones this morning.

Good mornin’ good mornin’ — the foghorns are going where I am; the streetcleaners, no, the garbagefolks are just coming around to collect the recycling. Those are the noises outside my window just now, that metallic sound of mash into maw, that long and hollow bassoony note. What’s it sound like where you are?

It’s hard to get back into my writing schedule, after a week away. Most nights at Tomales I stayed up until 10 or later, and woke up about 6. I’d get up and shower, then get to the breakfast (dining) hall between 6:30 and 7, and there I’d write and do my homework for that morning’s workshop. It got in my body, that schedule, that kind of writing time, that sort of focus: days spent reading and talking about writing. We did only a bit of writing in workshop; Dorothy Allison gave us prompts on the morning of the third and fourth days, and that was fantastic — we wrote together and then read around our writing, not giving one another feedback, just receiving one another’s words.

I blogged for you on the second morning, but then the WordPress iphone app ate my blog, and then I was too frustrated to rewrite it, so I left the blogging for home.

There’s a bubbly noise coming from outside; I think it’s a couple of women walking by, headed to the club/gym down the road. At first it sounds hyena-like, then almost electronic. I’m not quite back in this world, I don’t think.

I want to tell you everything. I want you to be able to go to this workshop, to be there, to have this writing space for yourself. Here’s what I can give you — these were some highlights:

  • Five days listening to Dorothy Allison talk about writing practice and about the necessity to honor and accept our true nature as writers (fierce, hungry, generous, selfish, competitive, gorgeous) — that first meeting, on Wednesday afternoon, when we all gathered around a circle of tables and met each other, I was so desperate and scared and hungry, I thought I might crack open like a brittle husk right there at the desk and fall into pieces that could be blown away, but after a good cry that night deep in the shadows of the woods around campus, I was a bit more solid the next morning, Thursday, when my piece was going to be one of the ones we workshopped.
  • Workshopping with eleven powerful women writers and learning craft and possibility by diving deep into each of our writing samples.
  • Kwame DawespoetryJon Davis‘ poetry — Dorothy Allison‘s prose — Fenton Johnson‘s essay/prose about faith and truth and possibility — Danzy Senna‘s short stories — Ben Percy‘s suspense and characters (and yes, I’ll say it, his voice) — Melinda Moustakis‘ short stories; we got to hear each of the faculty read from their work and talk about their craft, their thoughts about voice in particular; what a gift that was, to get to soak in all this possibility. (Go check out all of their work — powerful, powerful writers.)
  • Talking with both Danzy Senna and Dorothy Allison at the table the first night at dinner; you can’t imagine how nervous I was — I’m amazed I was able to open my mouth to speak at all. (These two wrote books that sing to and inspire me as a writer and as a reader; Senna wrote Caucasia, which is the book of hers I return to most often, and you know what Dorothy Allison wrote.)
  • Two craft talks (three, if you count, too, Kwame Dawes’ q&a) — the craft talk is a chance to hear what established and skilled writers have to say about some particular aspect of the writing process or writing life, and can be technical or philosophical, and often ends up being both and more.
  • Stargazing one night with two of the women in my workshop — when we were too-full-to-overflowing, we took one night for ourselves, away from more readings, more words, more input; we had one small flashlight and walked up into the bayside darkness, up a small hill (watching out for deer) and lay ourselves out on a small concrete slab (remnants of maybe an old building, or some underground workings that we could only see the tops of), turned off the flashlight, turned on a bit of music, and just stared up at the enormous, aching sky; we let ourselves throb with all we were trying to take into our bodies over the course of the workshop. At one point, we could hear the coyotes having a party in the distance, and at least one owl came to join us overhead.
  • Quail running around in burbly clumps, all over campus.
  • The towering, top-heavy Monterey pine.
  • Feeling so jealous of some of the writers in my workshop group when I read their writing (“damnit, why can’t/didn’t I write like that?”), and then allowing myself to open up, learn from them, connect with them.
  • The gorgeous open mic, with the voices of so many of the women in my own workshop group, and many others, and how we all got to cheer for and celebrate one another.
  • The cracking open that happens in me, every time I put myself in a space similar to this, where I know I need to learn something important, know I need to let other people in — how, every time, I resist it, I assure myself I’m going to stay closed and tight and quiet, and then I can’t, and I cry for awhile, and then I let the new good stuff in. (That’s not very specific, I know, and someday I’ll figure out how to write about the embodied sense of that experience.)

There’s more, but it’s getting late, and the puppy’s going to need to go out. She’s learned to paw and scratch at us when she wants something — where does she learn these things? I’ll share at least one of the prompts we got from Dorothy (Dorothy, I said, just using her first name, like we’re all familiar and stuff), probably both — but for now, the prompt is this:

What’s your ideal writing space and/or practice look like? Give yourself 10 minutes, or even 7, set a timer, and write — dream big. Let yourself live into that space and that practice; tell me what it smells like there in your space, what it feels like.

Thank you for your persistence, your love of words, your love of other people who love words. Thank you for your wild abandon, how you live so close, still, to that little kid who just wanted to put word against word. Thank you, now, for those words.

4 responses to “Tomales, report one

  1. So good to read about your experience. Thank you for sharing it. Inspired I’m going to dive in to writing this month. <3

  2. Pingback: Tomales, Report Two « writing ourselves whole

  3. absolutely, alexn — I think that’s part of why it’s been so hard to write about. I’m not done digesting the experience yet.

    so glad to have gotten to meet you and your work at Tomales!

  4. Learning about writing seems to be just a small part of the experience of attending a workshop like this. It seems so much more about learning about myself as a writer. It’s the sort of thing the will be settling in me for weeks, months maybe.