Wednesday, December 14, 2011

AROHO Speaks, Writer to Writer: Interview with Maura MacNeil

Maura McNeil
 I'm proud to cross-post this interview with Summer 2011 AROHO Retreat writer Maura MacNeil (conducted by Barbara Ann Yoder). I decided to jump in and give you a quick glance mid-interview. I continue to be moved by the tremendous strength and resilience of the women gathered for the retreat; it seems many of us crossed intense barriers (emotional, spiritual, physical) in order to perservere and attend the conference.

Is there one specific moment or event at the retreat that sparked an insight or shift in how you perceive either your work or yourself as a writer?

During the retreat I recognized that the fear I carried with me as a woman writer in the context of tackling difficult subject matter, or fearing judgment from others—all that baggage that we tend to carry around as writers that keeps us from writing what we are meant to write—is part of what Marilynne Robinson spoke of as a categorical way we are taught to think. While I listened to her words I suddenly understood that I had the power to break that spell. The “deeper experience hidden from the categorical ways we are taught to think” that Marilynne spoke to was a space I suddenly felt the courage to enter because I was surrounded by women who understood those words just as I did.

I arrived at the retreat having just lost my husband who died quite suddenly in June, so I was raw with grief. But at the same time I was in an emotional space where I was completely open to the authentic creative energy of AROHO women and to the possibility that I might be able to frame a new perspective on my writing life in this foreign land of widowhood where all that was “familiar” was suddenly erased.

Over the past decade or so, even though I was writing and publishing and editing, I felt as though my life had become increasingly compartmentalized into my “life as writer” and my “other life” that was filled with obligations that constantly tugged me away from being present in my creative life. I was increasingly distracted. When Marilynne told us that we should make ourselves into someone we might enjoy being with, that we should give ourselves a creative life that as writers we want to live, her words were like an alarm going off, and I knew that something very important was happening to my sense of myself as a woman writer.
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