Friday, May 29, 2015

INTO THE WILDERNESS

On the first morning of the "writer's intensive," I got dressed, had breakfast, practiced my French horn with the Silent Brass I had brought along since I assumed that no one would like to hear scales and chords and hymns I needed to work on for church played at full volume at 7 A.M.  I got downstairs early, the cab arrived on time and carried me to the home where the retreat was.  I walked up and down the street until another writer appeared, and we entered the gate together.  It was quite a thrill to meet the woman who was leading the retreat; she had interviewed me on Skype for one of her online courses, and I had taken several of them, but to be able to hug her in person was a delight.  The other woman who was co-leading the retreat was also interesting and struck me as being even more intense, and the two women complemented each other well.

There were fourteen women making the retreat, all very different and very different kinds of writers, from a dynamic red head who was a television producer writing her first book to a blonde who shared sections of her young adult fantasy in a delightful voice that carried an edge of humor.  But as I realized that many of the women came with extremely different religious and political views, I started to wonder if I would be an outcast and I could feel myself mentally pulling back from the circle we were sitting in.  When we got into our first reading group, after our first extended period of writing, and two of the women read pieces that reflected unhappy childhoods and criticism of various Catholic components that seemed to have contributed to their unhappiness, I felt under attack, at least indirectly.  When it was my turn, I  read a section about my husband that included the information that we are Catholic, which I judged at least threw down the gauntlet so that they would suspect that I might take random anti-Catholic remarks personally. However, the challenge of writing so extensively, and of being able to listen to intelligent women comment on what resonated with them, and what they wanted to hear more of, carried me through the rest of the day with a deep sense of gratitude.

I had decided to walk the three miles back to the hotel so I could time myself, and didn't think I'd have any difficulties, since it was primarily downhill.  What I hadn't taken into consideration was the fact that I was carrying the bag that held my notebooks and a very heavy laptop, which is so old that when I had to have it repaired a few years ago, I discovered that its serial number classified it as either vintage or obsolete.  It wasn't an ergonomically designed bag, either, but cut into either my shoulder or hand, depending on how I juggled it from one to the other.  By the time I got back to the hotel, I decided that I would have to get a ride or take a cab the other days.  There was a delightful breeze blowing, and I would have enjoyed the walk if it had not been for my uncomfortable burden.  I decided to go to the same restaurant where I had been the night before, and had another delightful meal, sitting outside on the patio again, chatting with the waiter, reading my book, and feeling very much in harmony with people passing on the street and the world in general, a comfortable ambience that stayed with me back in the hotel and made it easy to crawl into bed, read a little more, and fall easily asleep.

Friday, May 22, 2015

WAY OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE

I'm back from what was labeled a "writer's intensive," and that is exactly what it was for me, even before I arrived.  My daughter took me to the train station, I checked my French horn, and managed to get my suitcase, the bag with my computer, notebooks, books and pens, up to the second story of the train.  I had a view out over the ocean which was inspirational, ate my lunch, read more of Gaudy Night, and had just texted my oldest daughter that I was thinking of her as we passed through the station where I usually disembark.  Suddenly the train stopped out in the fields, and the conductor announced that they had hit something and would have to investigate.  A little later they said something about a trespasser, and even later they said that he had "passed."

This required the police and a coroner and a very long delay.  I could see officials in uniforms along with Amtrak people walking up and down beside the train.  The man in the seat ahead of me, was calling people he was supposed to meet and canceling his meetings, and that reminded me that I should probably call the hotel and tell them that I would be in later and ask them to hold my room.

There were conflicting announcements about where we would go when the coroner was finished, but eventually the train pulled into the next station, where we all had to leave, since our train crew had to leave and be replaced.  We stood on the platform for nearly an hour, it began to rain, and a few umbrellas went up.  I had brought my down coat with a hood, because the train is often cold and even in Southern California we can have chilly weather.  I was thankful I had dressed that way, since quite a few people were dressed for the beach and they were all shivering.

Eventually, another train came and we were allowed to get back on, and I sat next to a nice woman who assured me that it was perfectly safe to walk from the train station in Santa Barbara to my hotel, so I felt reassured about that. After she got off, there was a huge rainbow over the clouds, and when I finally made it to Santa Barbara, the sun was shining cheerfully. My map had showed that it was .3 mile to my hotel, and I knew it would be an easy walk.
It was sharply uphill, and I was pulling or carrying all my luggage, but I took off, enjoying the ocean breeze.

At one point, I noticed a restaurant that must have been a chain, since we had eaten at one in Solvang, and I continued on my way reflecting on the fun we had had with most of the family together there.  I kept looking at my map, and looking at the quaint street signs as I passed each block, but my street did not appear.  After an hour, I was hot and disheveled, and a kind woman came up to me and asked if I was looking for something.  When I told her the name of the street, she said, "Oh, that's all the way back down there," pointing in the direction from which I had come.

I thanked her and set off again, grateful that at least my path lay downhill this time, although my French horn got heavier with each step, and I spent time changing it from one hand to the other as I trudged along.  After I had been walking for what seemed like forever, I still didn't see my street sign, so I found a man in a shoe store and asked him if he knew where it was.  He didn't, but he had a smart phone, and quickly revealed that I was only two blocks away from my elusive street.  When I finally arrived at the desired street, I realized that the restaurant that had triggered my memories was on that street corner, and the name of the street was on the other side, so being side-tracked led to much more exercise than I had anticipated.

When I reached the hotel, the clerk who checked me in was extremely helpful in recommending a restaurant very close by that had tapas and small entrees.  I unloaded my luggage and walked the half block to the restaurant, where I sat on the patio, watched people passing by, and had a delightful dinner and slowly felt the stress of the day unwind.

Before I went to bed, I called one of the cab companies that had been recommended, and scheduled a pickup for the morning, since I didn't want to walk the 3 miles to the writer's retreat the first morning since I wasn't sure how long it would actually take me to reach my destination and I didn't want to be late.  It's a curious fact that since my husband died, for whom punctuality was next to Godliness, I have become much more concerned about getting places on time or early, and that definitely reduces my anxiety in all kinds of situations.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

DIFFERENT DIMENSIONS OF BEGINNING

As I started pulling out clothes to pack for the writer's workshop I will be going to this week, I realized that this is something I've never done before, even though I've thought of myself as a writer since third grade when I realized that the Nancy Drew book I was reading did not begin "Once upon a time," and I decided to start writing a story in medias res.
Underlying that realization was the dim awareness that there was power in words.

I took a class in writing poetry before I got married at what was then the New School for Social Research in New York City, from a poet who is still my mentor--and friend--forty years later. At the time, I took a class in poetry because I knew I wouldn't have time to write the Great American Novel, which was my ultimate ambition, but I discovered that I loved poetry and it was the ideal m├ętier for someone who would eventually have six children  I had to write in line-size snatches very often, though over a course of about 15 years I did finally write a novel.  It is languishing with a publisher in Great Britain, and I don't have many hopes at this point that it will be rushed into print.

But the workshop I'm going to is being given by a woman whose online webinars I have enjoyed, and since I have begun another novel, which is interspersed with poetry, and is different from other things I've written, I thought it would be a good way to veer off in a different direction and see where this winding path will take me.  

I have my train tickets and my hotel reservation, directions to the workshop, and I will probably be in better shape when I come back, since I discovered that the walk from the hotel is not a mile, as I estimated, but 2.73 miles.  So I will have to readjust for that, but it's in a beautiful coastal town in California and I can ponder life from a different perspective as I travel to and fro.