What turns one person on is anathema or simply boring to another person. My local librarian spoke to me about recently hearing a lecture on George Washington portraits. Not only did the subject fascinate her, but she expressed dismay at missing a weekend talk about the relationship George had with some of the portrait artists.
Overheard in a small store, " How can I be assured that this is the purest kale." What does that even mean? I recently ate a kale cake. It's a patty in the shape of a burger, but thinner. I have a book that bills itself as a cookbook of five hundred quinoa recipes. Perhaps the same publisher will do the same for kale and answer the question of purity.
Eleven writers in the newest issue of Poets and Writers
share "stories of retreats that changed their lives." I never went to a writer's retreat, but I did go to a writer's workshop. The first one I attended, The Feminist Writer's Workshop, met in a college in upper New York State-- an area far removed from New York City.
We were twenty women, including one from Italy and one from Germany, meeting for two weeks of workshops, shared writings, and new experiences. We were diverse-- a few women on scholarships, several women of color, and all of us on a continuum from those just dipping their toes into a feminist agenda to separatist radical feminists.
We started out writing quiet acceptable pieces until we learned how to navigate the shoals of our emotional landscapes. I learned that if you write a poem you needed to keep writing until you discovered the emotional truth. Without that, all you had was acceptable diction.
One woman from Utah, a rancher, wrote about the sound of the wind. She also supplied a bottle of Grand Marnier for our late night readings. One woman, a nun, wrote small biographies of the nuns in her house. She was a social worker who worked in the toughest area of the Bronx. On a rainy Sunday evening she agreed to call the numbers in a Bingo game. She taught me that some stereotypes just don't fit real people.
A woman from upstate New York wrote and smoked in her room every afternoon. I didn't recognize the smell until the good Sister told me it was pot. The woman from New York's writing was strong and political and demanded your attention. She told us that she lived in a house with no indoor plumbing.
I left the workshop thinking I'd write and write until I found the bare bones of what I wanted to say.
The woman who lived in a single room in New York City and worked as a bouncer at a women's bar wrote a story about loving the bartender, who didn't even remember her name. In the story she sent the bartender a bouquet of long stem roses with no name on the card.
I wrote to Joyce, the woman who lived in one room, for awhile-- just the way many of us wrote to each other after we left. Those were the days when writing a letter was really a way to share thoughts. Joyce wrote the saddest letters-- about eating a pizza on a bridge table in her room, of the ceiling peeling and pieces falling onto her bed. After she moved to California and after a letter or two, letters came back with a post office stamp -- no forwarding address, I stopped writing. I always wondered if she just gave up.
The woman who smoked pot died of cancer several years after the workshop. The woman from Utah and a woman from Manhattan got together and they both lived on the ranch. One woman went on for an MFA. A woman from Florida returned to her rural community and wrote pieces about the Everglades.
A woman from Louisiana moved to Somerville, rode a bike to work at a newspaper, and left after a year. She hated the weather.
Some of that fervor seeped out, but when I remember to look for the emotional truth I find myself connecting to that time. It's both frightening and liberating to push to that point.