Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Long Weekend in the Mountains

 Last Wednesday, a friend and I headed up to the NC mountains to do some writing.  On the first day, I used my Gaia IPhone app to choose a card to set the tone for the next few days. Here is the one I drew:

As soon as I saw the symbols, I knew it was the right card.  I would be attending a workshop put on by The Sun Magazine.  The ankh between the trees represents eternal life and plays a role in the fairy tale I would be working on the first part of the week.  And then there was the eye.  Eyes have been showing up for me.  This one signifies healing and protection.  The text on the card identified the background as an "enchanted forest."

We started out on Wednesday and Thursday at the Celo Inn, a B&B halfway between Spruce Pine and Burnsville. 

My room was a north facing room without much light, but it had a desk and a window chair. We had no cell phone or internet service.  It took me a while to get used to not checking my phone. It was nice though, because it allowed me to have uninterrupted writing time in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

Right across the street was a dirt road that went beside a beautiful clear stream.  Each morning, after breakfast at the inn, my friend and I took a walk. Here are some of the things we saw on those walks.

On Friday, the weather continued to be sunny and warm and we started driving toward Wildacres Retreat Center where we were to participate in The Sun Magazine's "Into the Fire" writing weekend. Wildacres sits on the edge of the Pisgah National Forest and is so peaceful and serene.

Saturday morning, the fog rolled in. 

The retreat center's buildings are all made to blend in with the natural surroundings.  This is one of the dorm buildings that also houses the offices.  The rooms were similar to hotel rooms except without television or phones.

The food was served family style and every meal was creative and delicious.  Fish, chicken, interesting salads plus the regular salad bar - everything was fresh and obviously prepared with thought.


There were three sessions of classes on Saturday.  I was fortunate to work with our Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti.  He told us to identify our threshold in telling stories that involve friends and family, deciding what would be too hurtful or harmful to others and what is the writer's story that has to be told.  I also took classes with Krista Bremer, a Sun Magazine writer who has a book coming out in a few months, and the very crazy Doug Crandell.  Doug, in contrast to Joseph, told us to tell our stories no matter what, but to try to involve hostile family members through an interview process too complicated to go into here. (I'm linking to their Sun page so you can read some of their essays if you want.)

There were many impromptu moments of grace, including this one when a woman from the workshop went up to the piano and began playing.  That is Sy Safransky, the editor and publisher of The Sun Magazine listening to her.  I enjoyed learning more about him through his interactions with the participants and from his reading from his "Notebook," a regular part of each issue.

The last thing, at the end of the closing session, Angela Winter sang a travel blessing a capella in her haunting voice, then we all got up to drive down the mountain in the fog and rain, to resume our normal lives.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Detour During the Writing-est Weekend

I wasn't going to write about my mother.  My father either.  I'd written about him continuously since his death almost three years ago.

Eight women met with writer Carol Henderson this weekend for a workshop entitled, "Those Who Shape Us."  For a while after we firmed up the date, I gave some thought to the people who had had influence - both good and bad - on my life.  I wanted it to be a teacher, for instance Mrs. Touchstone who let us have Toastmaster's Club every Friday in high school.  Or Mrs. Daniels, the choir teacher who chose me to be Becky Thatcher even though Susan Morrison should have gotten the part with her far superior voice.  I wanted it to be someone else's parent, like Mrs. Jeffress, who though gruff and no-nonsense, treated me like an adult.  An adult with some sense when I was neither adult nor sensible.  Or one of the parents who led my Girl Scout troop or MYF or a minister in one of the churches I went to.  Maybe it could be an aunt or an uncle or my grandparents.  Even my great-grandparents who adored me.

But not my mother and father.

Finally, as the date approached, I got a kidney stone which took almost three weeks to deal with.  Then I had to get ready for the workshop, and in all the activity I stopped worrying about the person who shaped me.  The day before we were to meet I made a conscious decision just to let go and see who came up.

It was my mother.

It seems that it has taken the death of my father to bring the fullness of the death of my mother to me. We did exercise after exercise (the writing-est workshop I've ever participated in) and every time, she was the central figure.

I was most moved by the next to the last exercise, where we were asked to revise history, to write to an "I wish I had..." prompt.  And I was able to re-vision the last night I saw my mother in a way that broke my heart but also was incredibly healing.

It was an amazing seven hours - eight if you include the delicious meal by my friend, Mark.  I've got a lot to work with and work on, but the hard work was done in a safe place, with other talented writers and one facilitator skilled in helping people deal with their grief.  I didn't know that's where she was going to take me.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Empathy is Hard to Come By

My father dealt with bladder cancer a couple of times in his eighties.  I spent quite a bit of time with him during his stays in the hospital and subsequent recoveries. 

One of the things I remember most about these episodes is an expression he would make when I asked him how his doctor's appointments were.  He would pucker his mouth and scrunch up his eyes and go "Shew!"

In that amazing way that the universe has of helping us develop empathy, I've been dealing with a kidney stone for the past couple of weeks.  The stone was a little over a quarter inch and was lodged in my right ureter.  Yesterday, after drinking gallons of water with lemons, eating watermelon and ibuprofen, I finally had it surgically removed.  Now I know what my dad meant by that expression!

There's a very wide gap between sympathy and empathy.  You can only express empathy when you know personally what the other person is going through. Empathy is like the photograph above where it's hard to distinguish between the real rope and the reflection of it in the water. 

When another person is feeling physical or emotional pain, the closest we can come to empathy without actually having the same experience is to put our full attention on their troubles.  Even meditating on it for a short time or inviting them to talk about it and then really listening helps us get closer to knowing their truth.

I'm on the mend now that the stone is gone, but in a way I'm better for having it.  I'll know what someone with similar problems is feeling and will be sensitive to their needs. And if they scrunch up their face when I ask?  Let's just say, I get it!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

I did it!

A few days ago I was going through some "stuff" on my desk.  I found a sheet of paper entitled, "Master List."  It is a list of things, written in 2010, that I hoped to accomplish.  Here they are:


Card Sets

Learn some Photoshop

Submit things

Jan's interview

List collectible books

Take negatives to J&W

The list contains something that I checked off quickly - Take negatives to J&W - and things that at the time seemed impossible to undertake - Website, Card Sets, Jan's Interview.

I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when I realized that as of the day I found it, I had done everything on the list but the interview.

How did I get it all done?  In the beginning, I told myself that I could do all those things.  And I also told myself that one day I would be looking back with a feeling of accomplishment at the list.  So I began to tackle it one thing at a time.

The list of collectible books wasn't all that hard although my daughter's boyfriend, who is a rare book dealer, tells me there aren't many "collectibles" on the shelf!!

The website and card sets required expertise I didn't have.  So I enlisted the help of a friend.  Little by little, we got the site up.

Beginning in January 2011, I started submitting stories.

And over the course of the past three years I've taught myself quite a bit about Photoshop by using it as a photo editor and design tool.

The interview with my friend Jan Phillips, as I said, hasn't been done. She was looking for someone to do an interview to submit to a literary magazine and said that she was going to use someone she saw more often to facilitate the process. I have never done an interview before and this one felt particularly challenging. I was a little relieved when she went elsewhere!

I think it's time to write another master list.  I'm going to do as before and include some things that feel easy and some things that feel impossible.  I hope in 2016, I will find the list and feel good about all that I accomplished!