Four days later, and I still can’t put into words what going to Sage Hill this year meant to me.
Conferences and retreats and residencies have always been a little bit magical for me, for the most part because of the people I meet. I have done enough of them to know that as time goes by, relationships will settle and solidify, or will become more fluid, but no less close.
This time, I was more nervous because of all the months of criticism I had been taking for so long just for being me. Luckily, as I did three years ago on my last (first?) visit, I quickly found my way to friendship with really great writers. From evening Singalongs With Steve, to storm-watching; from quiet reflection in the non-chapel, to late-night dancing “Home” on the pews; from the sadness and dark connection of other rape and abuse stories, to the laughing-till-we-cried discussion about nipple tattoos at another “carb-up-to-write” lunch–I was surrounded by my people.
But my big win as a writer was the round-a-bout discovery I made that I need to finish my prequel to Clearwater. I’d submitted three short stories to Alissa York, and it wasn’t until we had our first meeting that I realized that all three of them were overtly and tangentially about some form of emotional or physical violence.
Alissa gave me some very wise advice in such a lovely, gentle way — “Just when you get to the hard stuff, you make a turn. Write into the dark.” “Write the dark.” “Go deep into the dark.” She has this way of moving her hand that both signifies pushing the crap away, and allowing space for the dark.
I’ve been afraid to write Rita’s story. It’ll force me to face a lot of questions I need to answer for myself. Preconceived notions about women who stick it out. THIS TIME will be different.
Writing it won’t be easy, but then neither was the utter fear and confusion I lived in. If I could do that, I can do anything. The things I can’t tell, Rita can. She’s been trying, in every short story, every essay, every blog post and email and text message I’ve sent for over two-and-a-half years. I silenced her, as I was silenced.
I’m still thinking about this – and women who hold out hope for the smallest kindness, and men who have such low self-esteem they have to break the ones that care the most. The ones that see the potential underneath the self-sabotage and cruelty. I am afraid to access the empathy necessary to write these characters.
I am just now realizing how far into shutdown mode I’d gone to stop the bombardment of confusion of daily verbal and emotional beat-downs, inadvertently cutting off my access to that place where the writing comes from.
Sage Hill allowed me to find that way in again. The support of my beer-in-plastic-cup-pals, meal-mates, brilliant workshop group, and my new songwriting partner (lol, LisaG) and most especially Alissa York — thank you. I feel like a writer again.
I am a writer.
And so I write.
Book of the week: Lisa Guenther’s Friendly Fire
Song of the week: Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes