Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Story of a Teaching Cross-Roads and AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer Interview with Tracey Cravens Gras

I remember precisely where I was when I got the news that I’d been accepted to work with women writers at A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Summer 2011 Retreat: in my cubicle at the community college where I’d just returned to teaching after ten years at home raising my children. I thought I’d earned my black-belt in teaching due to the seven years of teaching I’d done in the Midwest BK (before kids), and the several years I did for the college in California where I now dolefully sat.

But it seemed during my ten year absence, the dynamics of classroom teaching had intensified in a way I was struggling to surmount: students texting beneath desk tops, clusters of talkers with little regard for my presence in front of them, students disappearing for days without notice only to surface and demand passing grades, other students signing in their missing desk mates on the roll sheet as casually as eating lemondrops.

I’d been called to my Dean’s office twice already, once for a complaint that my course was too easy and once for a complaint that my course was too hard, and on this particular day, I’d been challenged voraciously by a student who didn’t buy my definitions of similes and metaphors. Armed only with my MFA in poetry and my quiet disposition, I folded quietly and gratefully into my office to wait out my office hours (passing, as usual, without visitor) where…in my inbox…I found an email from A Room of Her Own awaited me…

…as merciful confirmation that maybe until I wised up to this next crop of students, maybe I belonged working with women writers. The confirmations kept rolling in, when, to my delight, I got the chance to engage immediately with the women running AROHO. It caught me off guard at first—these women got in there with a volley of emails and wrangled with me over the details of the work I wanted to bring to the table for my Mind Stretch…

Tracey Cravens Gras
Photo by Jamie Clifford, 2011 AROHO Retreat
Only, this time, I wasn’t in trouble….I was in love…with thinkers of like mind, ready to play. I realized later that the Mind Stretch presentation was a new format for them too, so in actuality, we were in effect collaborating on the enterprise.

One of those women, authoress of those rich emails, who immediately made me feel not only welcome, but inspired me to do my best as a writer, presenter, and a person, was Administrative Director of AROHO retreats, Tracey. All that warmth emanating from her emails fulfilled its promise when I finally stepped off the bus at Ghost Ranch, and there she was, smiling, handing out thumb drives (a godsend, as all my teaching materials had not made it to the ranch, but that’s a story I told on another day, here).

Without further ado, I’m honored to share this interview with Tracey here. She embodies the AROHO spirit, wether in person, or in virtual exchange.

AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer, Interview with Tracey Cravens Gras

In your AROHO Summer 2011 Retreat Bio, you mention savoring “the boundless creative opportunities and inspiration that working for AROHO offers:  dabbling in graphic and web design, problem-solving, collaborating, and most recently, working to make the 2011 Retreat unparalleled and uniquely AROHO.” I know it is safe to say, Tracey, that all of us attending the retreat were in awe of your role as Administrative Director. Can you talk to us about what was unique to this retreat in comparison to others? What you enjoyed most bringing to the table (besides boundless energy and a smile regardless of the dilemma at hand)? Most challenging aspect and its reward, if there was one?

I answered this first question last, because I’m a procrastinator at heart, not to mention deficient in attentiveness and a smidge rebellious.  Since the 2011 Retreat was only the second one I’ve been personally involved with, I don’t feel qualified to distinguish it from all the others that came before.  I can say, however, that I feel strongly that AROHO is a living, breathing organization which thrives on the energy of the women it supports.  Making the Retreat more reflective of and shaped by the community felt like the right direction for such a collective of talented and creative women. 

The most challenging aspect of the 2011 Retreat was without a doubt its biggest reward—inviting participants to more fully invest their passions and expertise into the week’s program was at once terrifying and powerful.  The women—yourself included—who dove in head-first made it all worthwhile.  The creative projects and collaborations that have grown out of the week could never have been planned, only encouraged.  It is fascinating to watch and gives me a great deal of pride to know that I helped create favorable conditions for such transformations to take place. Read  more here.

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