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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

retreat recap

I wrote about arriving at Faith’s Lodge on Friday, about the feeling of that place, the incredible energy there. This energy only intensified, crystallized, as the weekend progressed.

The weather was perfect—in the 40s, bright sun, blue sky. (Don’t be afraid of Wisconsin in February!) As we sat in the top floor meeting room, sun streamed in the windows, melting snow dripped from the roof.

Of course, it wasn’t just the weather that filled us up. I have never been in a room full of women with such powerful stories; women who were willing to share these stories, grapple with them, write to the heart of them.

We talked about craft, about writing and publishing. We wrote. We listened to each other read what we’d written. We cried—a lot. We laughed—a lot. We drank a lot of wine. And by Sunday afternoon, everyone had made major breakthroughs with their writing: rethinking structure, making discoveries, focusing in on scene, reframing.

It’s amazing to be part of a writing breakthrough. There is something incredibly powerful in asking the questions, making the suggestions that help someone crack open a piece of writing and take it to the next level.

I’ve been thinking a lot about something that Kate St. Vincent Vogl mentioned in her interview a couple of weeks ago. She alluded to something I’ve heard writers—and especially writers of creative nonfiction—say before: that writing isn’t therapeutic. So many writers balk at this idea.

I think the reason they balk is because they want their work viewed as art and they think if it’s tied in any way to “therapy,” this will somehow undercut the work they’ve put into crafting their story.

I’ve talked about this with both my classes in the last weeks and I talked about it on the retreat. And this is what I think: if you are really diving in and fearlessly searching for your story in the material of your life, it’s impossible for you not to make discoveries, to gain perspective on the life you’ve lived.

I love what Philip Gerard says: “[A memoir is] not simply a scrapbook of memories to brood over or cherish, but a reckoning. That’s the reason to write a memoir: to find out what really happened in your life; to drive toward the fact behind all the other facts, and come to some understanding, however limited, of what it means—and accept that truth.”

But if you are really doing this work of “reckoning,” you will change, you will be able to make sense of the life you’ve lived in a new way. What’s not therapeutic about that?

Now, that the thing that differentiates writing for yourself—journaling—and successful memoir and essay lies in craft. Is it crafted? Has the writer been able to craft the raw material of his/her life?

But you can experience a transformation in the writing process and still end up with art.

It’s my job to help my students craft their stories into art, to find the best way to tell the stories they need to tell. And I hope—I really do hope—that in this process they make discoveries, process the material of their lives, let go of what they need to let go of.

This is the kind of thing that was happening all weekend—this kind of tremendous and important work. Maybe it was therapeutic. It was definitely the work of artists.

Now I’m home, and I’m filled with gratitude for these fine women with whom I spent the weekend, filled with gratitude for D and my girls. (Stella made me eight presents while I was gone—paper flowers and bags decorated with glitter, drawings of our family. And when I pulled the car up in front of our house on Sunday, she and Zoë were waiting on the porch, waving, smiling.)

And now I’m ready to write. I’m ready to walk bravely into words, just as I witnessed these fine writers do all weekend long.

(I’ll post photos in the next few days.)


Anonymous said...

Sounds like an amazing experience, Kate! I am so curious about what it's like to talk (open up) and write in the presence of others; I'm more shy verbally and I find the on-line medium works well (though there are limitations in terms of actual conversations). I'm glad everything went so well and I hope your eye is better! -Cecilia

Christine Sweet said...

Sounds wuuuuuunderful! I would so love to be a part of something like. Unfortunately for me, finances and distance keep me from participating in one of your retreats. Here's my question. Do you ever offer online workshops? Do you have recommendations of sites to check out, online writers critique groups, etc. to join? I'm really interested in taking my writing to the next level, understanding and knowing just what it is I write anyway, and what my venue is. I would appreciate any direction you have regarding this. Thanks soooo much for what you do!

gillian said...

I wish I could have joined you all!

Mary said...

Oh, Kate you summed up the weekend so perfectly! (I'm going to link this post to my blog.) Art was definitely created this weekend -- brave, beautiful art. And yes it was also therapeutic.

It was honor to be there and I am still glowing and energized despite our gray rainy skies. Wisconsin definitely beats Berkeley, CA in February!

Sara said...

Everything about this sounds good. I think I'm in a journaling for other people right now. My writing is journal like, but I'm aware that I have an audience. I'd like to move more toward crafting. Time is the culprit, but writing (and running) are priorities for me when my husband finishes school in May. I'll keep watching for your next online course--and maybe the retreat if you do it again.

Leightongirl said...

I'm sure it was amazing, and one of a kind. Thank you for another beautiful, thought provoking post.

Joy Riggs said...

Inspiring post, Kate!

kate hopper said...

Cecilia, I think you'd be surprised in a group like this one. (And of course I would love to meet you in person some day!)

Christine, I might be teaching Mother Words online again in the summer...and definitely next year.

Mary, you can visit anytime!!

Gillian, I'd love it if you could make one of them at some point!

Sara, it's interesting that you mentioned "journaling for other people." I think that blogging really helps writers find their voice and hone their craft. So important!

Vicki and Joy, thank you!