Writing Retreat Aftershocks

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(the main room at faith’s lodge courtesy of faithslodge.org)

Ah! The luxury of a writing retreat! February’s retreat was a biggie: Kate Hopper’s Motherhood and Words retreat at Faith’s Lodge.

I could give you the background on the Lodge (it’s a bereavement center for families who have lost a child.)

I could give you the backstory on how I first heard of it (from my high school friend Kara Thom.)

Or how Kara and I reconnected after our 20-year high school reunion (because I discovered I was pregnant with twins and Kara is a Super Twin Mama of the highest degree).

Or how through Kara I met my dear friend Mary.

I could tell you how I write in Mary’s living room every Wednesday and how much of my stuff is born there.

Or how Mary is one of the editors of our writing group’s book Mamas Write due out in April. (Actually I should be telling you a lot about this—you know, the whole “platform-building thing.”

I could tell you how remarkable it is to write with a group of women who write and share and belt it out.

Or I could just sum up the whole weekend with a fancy emoticon.

<3

You know, ‘cause what’s better than going to a writing retreat where you crack open your soul and scribble the stuff that leaks out and then coming home to write in symbols?

Guess it means I need another writing retreat.  🙂

Bring Your Best

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What’s Lit Camp? It’s a fantastic juried writers’ conference in wine country. Thinking about applying to Lit Camp? Well, you should. Deadline to apply is January 15th. Here’s the blog post I wrote about my application process, a post which first appeared on the Lit Camp blog

When I saw the cover photo on the Lit Camp website last year—the one with six lawn chairs overlooking green countryside—I started salivating. Four days in wine country. Stellar faculty. Rustic cabins. Pool, hot tub, and organic meals. A “Yoga for Writers” class.  This was the writers’ retreat for me!

But then I read, “Only 40 spots,” and my shoulders slumped.

“You’ll never get in,” my inner critic said. Lit Camp was the kind of place for “capital-L” literature, not the stuff I wrote. I wrote mommy memoir, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t the sort of thing the judges were looking for.

In spite of my doubt, I dusted off an essay I’d written the previous year and started revising.

I’d written the essay for a contest. The theme was “unforeseen challenges of parenthood.” I wrote about my high-risk twin pregnancy that ended in an emergency Cesarean section when I was just six months pregnant and my babies who spent three months in the newborn intensive care unit where they had breathing tubes, feeding tubes, and even surgery for their heart murmurs.

The essay didn’t get any traction—not in the contest, not in the motherhood magazine that sent a request for original childbirth stories, not in the spoken-word Mother’s Day event that I auditioned for. Apparently it wasn’t the sort of story anyone was looking for.

But I liked my essay. And each time I gave it to my writing group for feedback I remembered something else about those early months in my boys’ life. Instead of trying to shock with provocative phrase such as “weaned from his baby morphine-drip” I began to explore out why I was writing about this in the first place—why I couldn’t let go of vivid images such as the eerie green glow of the hospital equipment at 3 a.m. or the plaster cast of the boys’ footprints that were barely bigger than my thumbprint.

With each revision, the cranky old critic on my shoulder muttered, “People don’t want to read this stuff. You’re not going to get in.” But it mattered less and less. Maybe nobody else wanted to read that story, but I did. I needed to figure out why this story still tugged at me three years later and I worried that if I didn’t use the Lit Camp deadline as motivation to write and revise, I’d never figure it out.

This time I was writing for me, not for what I thought other people wanted to read.

So I kept writing. I revised the final paragraph over and over—the scene in which I held my 26-day-old twins for the first time. I wanted to capture in words the warmth and weight of holding a newborn who’d just had surgery three days earlier. Each rewrite got a tiny bit closer to that sensation, rooting my memories in concrete phrases.

Nineteen drafts later, I uploaded my essay into “Submittable.” Maybe it wasn’t some great literary work of genius, but I knew it was the best work I could do. More importantly, the essay that had started out as 800 words was now over 3000 words and my writing had a more authentic voice.

litcamp2013

photo copyright Chris Hardy

Of course, you know how the story ends. I got accepted to Lit Camp. I went to Lit Camp. Lit Camp rocks.

And wouldn’t you know? During the four fabulous days of discussions, panels and hot-tubbing there was one concept repeated over and over. Sometimes it was dispensed as advice, other times it was given as testimony: “Don’t try to write you think agents/critics/Oprah’s book clubs want to read. Just write the best book you can write at this time.”

Who said it first? Was it Jane Ciabattari? T. J. Stiles? Amy Williams? Janis Cooke Newman?

I can’t remember. But every time that critic on my shoulder starts doubting, I repeat it to myself.

“I’m just going to write the best book that I can write at this time.”

How Best Friends with College Rivalries Say Thank You

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Last year when we had our Indiegogo campaign, I wrote “Generous Souls” posts for each person I knew who donated. Here’s the post I wrote to thank Andrea Torres, my best friend and first writing partner from 7th grade, for her generous donation last year.

So when we launched our campaign this year and Andrea matched last year’s gift before I even put the word out, I thought, “I need to write another post to thank Andrea. Luckily I have so many good Andrea stories!”

But by the time I sat down to write, the Big Game had already been played. You know which “Big Game”—it’s the one best characterized by this picture

And this video.

 

You know—the most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending… exciting, thrilling game in the history of college football. The one where California wins the Big Game over Stanford.

Only this year we didn’t win. More like we got crushed. And not just crushed. Our hearts and spleens and livers and kidneys were pulled out through our pores and strained and made into paleo-smoothies with genetically modified strawberries (because all smoothies taste better with strawberries and let’s face it, all strawberries are genetically modified these days) and then the Stanford team fed their strawberry-organ-meat smoothies to their ruthless fans who gulped them up with fury and frenzy. It was horrible.

(At least, that’s what I gathered from reading my Facebook feed. I haven’t watched a college football game since the third trimester of my first pregnancy–that’s seven years ago for those of you keeping track at home.)

So even though Andrea is a generous soul and she made all the family vacations from my teenaged years tolerable because she came along and she let my little sister store all her stuff in her house when my sister studied abroad for a semester. And even though she hosted our family and let us drink the fancy micro-brews she left in the fridge when my sister graduated from college and even though she’s actually thinking of flying out for the Write On Mamas book launch party and even though I didn’t even remember that the game was happening this past weekend.

Still. Once a Bear, always a Bear.

And maybe Andrea’s Stanford degree is her only character flaw, but this time of year, that’s enough.

(But that shouldn’t stop you from donating to our campaign! We’d still appreciate your help and your contribution. Even if you went to Stanford.)

Meet Sue LeBreton the “Quick-Draw Commenter”

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1375255_10152250035388222_1916757086_nUsed to be around these parts that if you had a blog and you linked it to your Facebook wall and I found it on my feed that I’d go and leave a comment. The first comment.

But then Sue LeBreton and I started following the same blogs.

I met Sue at Kate Hopper’s Madeline Island retreat (because I couldn’t possibly write a blog post without mentioning Kate Hopper). My first impression of Sue was that she was sweet, you know, in that Canadian sort of way. I invited her to be our first international member of the Write On Mamas. She accepted. I asked her to write an essay for our upcoming anthology. She accepted.

Sue wrote about listening to her tween read to her as she lay in viparita karani (legs-up-the-wall pose) and how it brings her back to the days when her daughter is 18-months old and in the hospital with infant leukemia. I won’t spoil it for you because I know you’re waiting to read it from your very own copy that you’ll get with your perk after donating to our Indiegogo campaign (See how I worked that in there?)

That’s the middle story—Sue and her beautiful essay. But the real story is how I used to be the first person to comment on blogs. And how I was so sure that I’d be the first of the WoMs to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign just launched a day ago (or two days ago, depending on the blog you’re reading).

But nooooooo. Quick-draw Sue beat me to it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for her contribution. My question is this: How did she beat me?

I’m telling you—a mutual writer-friend has a guest blog on a site. I click on the link. Sue has already left a comment. And a thoughtful one, too! Not just the generic “This is awesome! Thanks for sharing! Smiley face.” I look at a profile I’ve written for Literary Mama. Sue has already left a comment. How did she even know this profile was up? I didn’t even know the profile was up. I suggested to Sue that she link to my blog in lieu of fishing for Indiegogo donations and she found my blog post that not even Google knows about.

I’m in awe. (And feeling a little displaced. What’s to become of me? Will I be Second-to-Sue from now on?)

So here’s your challenge. Post a comment before Quick-draw Sue does. GO!