For as long as I can remember, I’ve NOT dreamed of hosting a writing retreat.
When I completed my MFA, I remember being vocal about how un-confident I was about teaching. I was only 24 years old. While most of my grad school colleagues prepared to enter academia or return to their established careers (as lawyers, massage therapists, marketing professionals, and so on), I got a job at a university press. Then at an academic library. Then at a newspaper. Then back to higher ed. I wrote and edited and blogged and archived and social media-ed, but I didn’t teach.
Concurrent to all these “day jobs” that I felt better suited for, I guest-lectured in classrooms, a thrilled poser who was about to be outed as someone who had no business talking to young(er) people about writing, or really anything. I worked paid and free gigs with various literary orgs and presses, and I published poems in small mags, then bigger ones. Then I published a chapbook, and a full-length, then another chapbook, then another full-length. I co-founded and ran an online mag for a decade.
Then…bad life stuff.
Then…I found the Center for Creative Writing. I applied for an online teaching job, because what the hell. I got it. When I interviewed for it, the Center’s founder asked me if I was interested in hosting writing retreats. A bit of the old me balked, stumbled around with the idea for a minute, but then this newer, post-bad-life-stuff me kind of sat up straight and thought, hmmmmaybeeeee.
Writing about the bad life stuff has connected me with people who also write and have been through some bad life stuff, people I’m so grateful to know. Communing with them and reading their work is healing. Helping them write more and better through the Center is a gift. I mean that.
I also mean it when I say that writing can save you. It saved me. I came up with the name Write for Your Life before I had any concrete notion of how I might structure a retreat. I remember when I had the idea, I texted it to a friend and said: “When I say ‘write for your life,’ I’m not being glib or gimmicky. Writing has saved my life a half dozen times because in times of turmoil, it has grounded me in my own agency and passion.”
I used this exact quote on the web page I created for the Write for Your Life retreat, which I’m hosting Oct. 3-6, adding, “Join me in my favorite hometown place as we explore how to remove obstacles between ourselves and the blank pages waiting to receive our most urgent stories..and then actually write them.”
My concept is this: In each of us, there might be many stories, but there is one, The One Story, the one we must tell before we leave this realm, the one that pushes against our insides, trying to be told. But just because a story wants to be told, doesn’t mean the telling is easy. Fear of who might be reading, or of simply saying something out loud, keeps us from writing it down. Or maybe we’ve written it, but it doesn’t feel right, or finished. Maybe we’ve started and stopped, started and stopped. Or maybe we’ve had the idea for years and have no clue how to begin.
Been there! I wouldn’t host a retreat on this topic if I hadn’t lived it myself. My own One Story is still in-progress. But standing with writers as they try to retrieve their One Story is what I love best, and, surprise surprise, I’m really good at it.
The more time I spend at the front of a classroom, or with my own students in the safe spaces of our email threads and Track Changes, the more at-ease I’ve become in a teaching role. I’m a long ways from that 24-year-old who didn’t feel qualified to speak, didn’t believe she had anything to offer emerging writers. Now, I carry my experiences–good life, bad life, writing, publishing, and beyond–in my hands when I stand before students who want to write. And when they hand me their stories in return, I know they are trusting me, trustworthy me, with their experiences and feelings and words.
What gifts we give each other.
So there will be writing, and hurdling our obstacles, and writing some more. There will be group talks and one-on-one-talks. There will be feedback and revision. And there will be food, yoga, fall leaves, my lake, walks outside, and even a ride on a boat.
If you know someone who might be interested in joining me this October in central PA to write for their life, please share this post with them.
For more about the ethos of the Center for Creative Writing, read this.