AROHO, poetry, Writing, writing retreats

Writing on the Edge

writing in diary

Five days after returning from the AROHO writers retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico I still have many memories swirling through my mind . One such memory is particularly embedded in my skin. I have 12 itchy scabs from 12 mosquito bites despite the mosquito repellant and itch cream.

On the second day of my arrival I began my small group, Writing on the Edge, taught by Jillian Lauren. She is the author of Some Girls: My Life in a Harem and Pretty Girls . Jillian proved to be an excellent guide and inspiration.

The blurb for her course caught my eye and interest:

Drugs, sex, violence…are you bored yet? Why is some of the juiciest material so hard to translate onto the page in a dynamic and engaging way?

I don’t know if Jillian chose the location for her class, but it was near the edge of a small mesa. I had to hike up a dusty switchback to get to class under 90 degree weather.

Road to Class: Writing on the Edge
Road to Class: Writing on the Edge

First day in group, the seven of us were asked if we knew yoga. All of them, sans moi, knew the poses. I lumbered onto the map, stretching and opening my ‘creativity’ as Jillian instructed. Plank, Downward Dog, and Pigeon stretched me beyond where I had gone before. I do have to say that the stretches, deep breaths and silence did make me feel better.

Conflict and tension is necessary in most stories, especially to keep the reader interested. But how do we do that? Jillian explained that the act itself may not be dramatic, but to

…look at the journey, the motivation, the fear of the character

The result of those thoughts is what has to be created and put down on paper. A way to do this is with a free write:

Warm Up: After you have stretched and opened up your creativity, pull out a pad of paper before your “real” writing begins. Think about what you’d like your next “edgy” scene to convey. You can use a timer to write for 10 minutes. Write without your pen lifting from the page, no cross outs, no self editing. You may find the words flowing right away on the page.

Jillian had us sit with our journals and gave us a writing prompt. We had to write for five minutes, again keeping the pen on the paper.

The prompt: How are you feeling right at this moment? Here is my response.

A very intelligent mosquito found its way to a patch of unsprayed flesh beneath my bra strap. He bit into my warm skin and drank like a thirsty elephant, leaving me with a swollen itchy blob of mounded skin. It is a testament to his prowess. Cortaid is too weak for the wound.

 Scratching has released oozing fluid beneath the tender hill of skin. His creativity is to be applauded. He bit a spot that is difficult to reach. The itch will soon go away, leaving a brown scab on a red sensitive bump, a reminder of my time at the AROHO retreat. 

Some memories are made from stuff like this, the sudden bite, the quick stab, the stealthy adventure in the dark. A surprise visit from someone or something you tried to avoid, someone you tried to keep safe from. The best laid plans sometimes need to be disrupted reminding us we can’t stay insulated from pain or danger.

Two days later we talked about our “shadow self. ” In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. This was the ‘edgy’ writing we came to learn.

We had a ten minute exercise to write to our shadow, then we burned the paper, mixed it with sand, straw, and water. Some of the shadows were lumpy blobs of clay, others smaller, holey, glittery, big and small. We released the dried clay into the Abiquiu Lake a couple of days later, bidding them goodbye.

The next day we were given another prompt. We could choose one of these: Fear means… Shame means…Risk means… I chose to write about shame.

Shame means…

Shame means inward responses to outward looks. Whispering or shouting responses that no one hears.

Shame turns inside, tight and tiny, steals whatever is near to cover up, look like something else. Only you see the shadows lurk, grow huge, come nearer.

Shame hunches shoulders, shuffles feet, has you fascinated with your hair or a piece of candy. 

Shame has you move into corners, watch the world go by, carry a purse full of secrets, and lies. A wardrobe of masks and decorations.

Shame has you sweat inside when you see those particular set of eyes, a facial gesture, a mannerism. 

Shame makes others use tools, hammers and chisels, to get to the real you. Tools very few people seem to carry or want to use.

Shame makes you fight, first with yourself, then with others.

If you’re lucky you fight the real reasons for that shame. You use the chisel to cut off the crap, move deeper, make something uniquely beautiful from a slab of stone. *

The yoga exercises, discussion on the “shadow self,” and prompts were valuable. You never know what you will find when you delve in deep. Thanks Jillian.

*The narratives are copyrighted and the property of Mona AlvaradoFrazier. Thank you for sharing and linking back.

Pearl S. Buck quote, Strong Women, Wisdom, Writers, writing retreats

11 Qualities of Strong Women who are Writers

Four times a year the biweekly writing group I belong to takes a writer’s retreat. Our group of seven ranges in age from 39 to 64 years. Some have young kids, others older, like my YA’s. 

We write in different genres and have a wide gamut of ‘real’ jobs, but through these retreats we have bonded together like writing sisters, or writing comadres, (kind of like the word comrade, but much closer).

Sometimes the retreats are for one day and other times it’s for a week. It sounds like a lot of time away for women who are mothers and spouses, but taking time out for writing and ourselves is important to all of us. 

After this weekend I thought about what transpired and realized that women writers often need the relational support of other women writers. We spend so much time in isolation, during early morning hours or late nights squeezing in as much writing as possible between kids, spouses, and family life that we need time with other women who understand us.

This past weekend we spent our winter retreat in the Santa Ynez Valley, in a working vineyard, surrounded by oak trees, snowcapped mountains, and undulating rows of grape vines. Horses, mud hens and jackrabbits enjoyed the surrounding land and the huge pond, with its requisite rope hanging from a tree limb, outside our place. 

Through connections we enjoyed this retreat free of charge. That’s how we find our locations, someone knows someone, who knows someone and we usually end up with a super reduced rate or no charge almost all the time. 

On the first night, our ritual is to each light a candle and verbalize our intention for the retreat. Sometimes it’s simply to rest and recharge, other times it’s to draft a few poems, or to work on a manuscript. And there is always chocolate, wine, and cheese. Yes, we treat ourselves well. 

Many times, when we are having meals or sharing our work, we get emotional and let it all out. There are many listening ears, shoulders to cry on, many hugs to give and receive. It’s a safe place to be.

From our retreat I learned that strong women writers have the following qualities. They :

  1. Ask for the wisdom of others
  2. Nurture themselves
  3. Know when to give a hug and not judge
  4. Encourage, validate and edify others
  5. Are honest with their feelings without tearing down someone else
  6. Are women who inspire 
  7. Respect themselves
  8. Celebrate others success
  9. Demonstrate grace (the exercise of love, kindness, mercy)
  10. Teach you something
  11. Keep on writing, keep persevering

All writers need a retreat, heck, all women need retreats of some sort just to recharge, so they can keep going forward with life and responsibilities. 

How can you take a retreat for yourself this year?