Starting Anew

Elaeocarpus holopetalus - Mount Imlay Rainforest

Elaeocarpus holopetalus – Mount Imlay Rainforest (Photo credit: Poytr)

I have loved my job for so many reasons for so many years. Just because you love someone or something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let it go. Like parenting. My kids want to go to camp or on school trips. I love them but let them go.

Without going into all the deets, my workplace has offered a voluntary severance package to everyone. And I’m taking it (effective within the next couple of months).

Sometimes work grows around you like a vine in a tropical rain forest, hitting the top layer and you’re still on the forest floor. Or sometimes work’s part of the undergrowth. And you’re reaching for the sky.

According to the internet, (which we all know is NEVER wrong!) there are four layers to the rain forest (and these coincide with where we are on any given day):

  • the emergent layer
  • the canopy
  • the understory
  • the forest floor

I think the point of life is to grow wherever you are. Life is only about growth. Or maybe the pursuit of happiness. That’s all.

And I need to grow. And pursue my happiness. We all do.

To such an end I’m starting some projects such as offering a querying and getting published workshop in New York on August 16 in partnership with Kelly Wallace who’s offering the workshop in Portland on August 18. We’re working on the website. We’re onto something.

We’re on the forest floor or the emergent layer, continuing to grow, starting anew.

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Getting the most out of writing conferences

Gill and Coudal at the National Arts Club

Yesterday I was studying memoir with the International Women’s Writing Guild at the National Arts Club. It was a great group of women in New York’s most beautiful brownstone.

This morning I was journaling about how much I love writing conferences and being in community with other writers. I also love Twitter chats around the hashtags #blogchat and #wjchat (web journalist).

Writing is a solitary endeavor so communing with other writers online or in person inspires and energizes me. I fill my soul with other writers’ stories and feel less lonely and more courageous when I return to my writer’s desk to write my own story.

Here is advice on attending writing conferences:

  • Sit in the front, pay attention
  • When a volunteer is called for, raise your hand
  • When a question is called for, have one ready
  • Make one friend
  • Tweet one quote from the speaker
  • Tell someone about your big secret project
  • Share the struggle, share the joy — be honest

I mostly took my own advice:

  • I sat in the back, but I paid attention
  • When a volunteer was called for, I read something funny about marriage and work being overrated (got some nice laughs)
  • I made a friend who is heading to Abu Dhabi to report from a falconer conference
  • I tweeted, “Writers make the invisible visible” -Eunice Scarfe #iwwg
  • I told Judith Glynn about my secret project
I love IWWG women’s writing workshops because, beyond the juicy substantive information, i.e., Eunice shared a ton of unknown delicious memoirs, there is always depth, laughter and understanding among women writers.

The International Women’s Writing Guild is a fabulous group that has empowered me as a writer, by giving me mentors and a sense of belonging.

The Westport Workshops

Went well.

I love when people open up — give me stories about your divorce, depression, cancer treatment, or dysfunctional childhood. And then half-way through your writing, lay it on me about how you handled the whole thing with faith, resilience, humor, or alcohol.

Better yet, write about your most embarrassing moment — the time you felt so humiliated you thought you’d never crawl back into civilized company again. You’ve got an epic fail? You’ve got an epic tale.

The stories of our struggles are the ones that will get published, get a laugh, get a tear, get a friend to open up on her crappy/crazy/resilient/hopeful life.

I’m not saying we wrote about any of these things (Maybe we did, maybe we didn’t!) at the Westport Creative Writing workshops, which I offered the last three Saturdays of August 2011 at the Heritage House.

But even if we did, I wouldn’t tell you, because the rule in my writing classes is confidentiality.

I will tell you generally what we wrote about — in the first class, among other topics, we wrote about a safe place from our childhoods; the second class, we wrote about our mentors from high school; the third class, with Hurricane Irene on her way, we wrote about riding out a storm (literal or metaphorical).

At the first class, we had 6 people, then 3, and then at the last class, 8. Hooray! It felt great. There were so many brilliant writers with brilliant life stories. It was an honor to be a part of and facilitate a creative writing experience for non-writers and professionals alike.

I believe there is something healing and transformative about writing your life story. It is sometimes unbelievable, but never never dull.

I will offer these “Story of Your Life” workshops (inspired by Dan Wakefield’s book of the same name) again.