To the Wandering Writers who I now call friends, may we continue to wander, write about it and share our words with each other.
I returned home yesterday from a six day trip I signed up for with little information and a lot of impulsiveness and I’m so thankful I did. I was on my way home from my 50th high school reunion, breaking up my driving trip into two days instead of one, because I was only one month out from getting a knee replacement. Because I follow writers on social media, my feed is filled with anything and everything that has to do with writers and writing, including workshops, retreats, Zoom classes and sadly, sites that will give you the coveted information on how to write a book in a matter of days and get it published in even less time, at a cost that likely ends in a .99. I’ll humbly admit that, yes, I looked at the site with the same frame of mind that had me contemplating the purchase of a small bottle of oil that was “guaranteed to heal the pain of bone on bone joints.” I did not send money for the writing secret or the knee pain cure. I saw Jessica’s post while seated at the bar at a restaurant in Salina, Kansas (it feels less obvious to eat alone at a bar than at a table, eliminating the awkwardness of the hostess quickly removing one place setting before being seated). Halfway into a plate of gluten-free pasta and trying to enjoy a not very good glass of the house red, I saw the words “Sayulita, Mexico” and “memoir.” I was hooked with Sayulita, a place I had been to multiple times, but the hook was set when I saw “memoir.”
Writing is a solitary endeavor — a team of one, where the writer is the coach, the player, the audience and the cheerleader. While in the process of writing, whether a page or a chapter, there is no one but me to look over my shoulder and say “good work, strong metaphor, don’t go there and definitely not there, but I liked the circuitous route you took, or what all writers wait to hear themselves say, “stand up and dance, because you, my friend, just nailed it!” It’s difficult to be the cheerleader who says “keep writing, you’ve got this” when there are days when you can’t find the right words and everything reads like the voices of the adults in the Charlie Brown shows, “Mwa, Mwa, Mwa.” A writing group, I thought, as I entered my credit card numbers onto the form in-between bites of pasta, was exactly what I needed. A writing group would be able to tell me to keep the words, change the words or maybe write about something else entirely. Actually, short of the two writing workshops I have attended in person and five via Zoom, each only lasting a day or two, I had no idea what six days at a writing retreat would be like, but I did know Sayulita and that seemed like a good enough start.
Insecurities crept in, as they so often do when faced with something new — what if my writing is not good enough? My subject not tragic enough? What if don’t like the other women? Or worse, what if they don’t like me? What if I’m the oldest? The least creative? And finally, for the lightening round, what if no one cares about the pages I’ve written? I can’t speak for the entire group, but can confirm I heard several going through a similar zig zag of emotions.
As I was driving home the next day, my feelings swung from I can’t believe I signed up for a memoir workshop in Mexico, to I can’t wait. Fortunately, the “I can’t wait” stuck and I began preparing pages to share with Jessica Hill, the facilitator, and diving into the two books we would have discussions on while at the retreat. Jessica went above and beyond in preparing us for what to expect with two Zoom meetings to meet the group beforehand and two individual Zoom meetings to dive deeper into our goals and expectations with her.
Yesterday, we said our goodbyes to each other, with hugs and promises of staying in contact. Half the group left for earlier flights, while the remainder of us gathered in the seating area outside of the reception and played with the in-house kitten. We said our goodbyes again when we arrived at the airport in Puerta Vallarta, then again while some of us spotted each another in the long security line that snaked itself around what felt like half the airport. Then finally, yet again, when some of us found each other at our designated gates, where we exchanged our final final on the hugs and goodbyes. Hardly the Irish goodbye of sneaking out the backdoor without notice, we did the opposite and let it linger until we had to finally let go and line up at our respective gates for the flights that would take us home.
Mary, a brilliant writer who had us leaning in when she read, followed by uninhibited laughter at her uninhibited words, found me at gate 10, shortly before boarding and gave me a beautiful pair of silver earrings she bought for me. She told me she saw them and remembered I wore silver. It may have been the night you tucked in early, Mary, and didn’t hear all the pieces that were read that night, but “remembered I wore silver” was a line from one of the chapters I read, touching me even more. After all the hugs followed by more hugs, Mary’s gift to me was what brought on the tears. I let them fall down my cheeks, not really caring about the couple in front of me who was also going to Denver and appeared to be a lot more anxious about leaving than I was. The tears were the kind of tears I wanted to remember and save — tears of support, friendship, love and a connection with our words. Moments I’d be reminded of when hunched over my computer in the early morning hours, wearing a bathrobe with beautiful silver earrings dangling from my earlobes. Moments I will recall while wondering if what I’m typing is good or readable or enough.
Showing off one of my earrings from Mary. I think they’re magic.
I unexpectedly connected with 11 women, who I now call friends, on a level far deeper than I could have imagined possible in six short days and I did it near the place where I took my first trip after my divorce to an all girls surf camp with my sisters. It felt very cyclical in the timing as I thought back to the night eating dinner at the bar in Salina, Kansas. I was supposed to be at La Joya Resort, gathered with these women, sharing my work and being inspired by theirs, while recognizing the journey I had been on since finding my courage on a surf board so many years ago. And inspired I was. I heard words from memoir chapters that made me cry, both for the experience the writer went through and the tremendous bravery she had to share it. I held my new writing friends’ words like the precious gifts they were as I made my way back to my bungalow every night on the the cobble stone paths in the dark, the memory of their words mingling with the sounds of the ocean as I fell asleep. Mornings were spent workshopping various aspects of memoir writing and writing from prompts we shared or kept to ourselves. In the evenings, after afternoons of writing, we shared our words and our hearts in the process.
There were so many places to write and although it was a small resort, we all were able to find our spots and our privacy, whether in lounge chairs by the pool or on the beach, or on my little balcony with views of the ocean or in the lounge area of the dining room. At night, our proximity to the ocean became my sound machine, so loud the first night, coupled with the breeze from the ceiling fan, that I woke up in the middle of the night wondering where I was and if I should take cover given the roar of the waves. I’m a midwest and a mountain girl. The ocean sounds are a novelty, albeit one I embrace. Last night, while having a hard time falling asleep, I tried to replicate the sounds that had lulled me to sleep for the past several nights with an “ocean sounds” app. After 15 minutes it became annoying. It was not the same. One of my new “sisters in writing” (thank you, E. J. ) sent us all a recording she made of the ocean before we left. It was one more reminder for me. I hope the reminders will continue.
When 10 open-hearted women opened their notebooks or computers, and were willing to embrace their most vulnerable selves, magic happened. Beautiful, inspiring, magic. To those women who listened to my words, gently rubbed my back when they came out shaky and gave me the push and the inspiration to keep on writing when it felt uncomfortable and even painful, thank you from the bottom of my very full heart. To say the experience was life-changing sounds overly dramatic, but it truly did change my life, so I’ll go with the dramatic. The words I’m sharing have barely scratched the surface. We ended our time together with a bonfire on the beach where we burned our resistances. It was the perfect ending to new beginnings.
Our resistances, road blocks and fears, up in flames then gone.
Finally, to you, Jessica, who created and orchestrated these past 6 days so beautifully, I’m forever grateful. The alignment of the stars, Devine intervention, manifesting or perhaps a committee of all three, came together for me that night when your post made its way to my instagram account while eating pasta at a bar in Salina, Kansas. As my writing mentor, you’d likely tell me write stream of consciousness about my experience. And so I did. Thank you.