Saturday, September 14, 2013

Emerging from the Cocoon: Sisters, Real and Imagined

I arrived two years ago for my first A Room of Her Own Foundation retreat in O’Keeffe’s desert without notes for the class I was responsible for teaching on blogging and a suitcase full of wedding clothes and heels due to a series of travel glitches; Why Every Wife Could Use Her Own Hmong Tribe (and a Thundershirt) chronicles that chapter of finger-pointing strain my marriage survived. When I snapped a photo of the silver mirror in my room at Ghost Ranch, I saw in it a variation of the Yin Yang necklace my husband gave me as we parted ways that day, his attempt at reconciliation.

How lovely, then, two years later, this year, still in the habit of chronic omen surfing, to find the image in my mirror to be one of an open door. How different to arrive with the suitcase I’d packed for the occasion. With all of my blogging and mask-making teaching materials. To know the venue. To trust the women of AROHO like family, to have a sturdy circle of amazing friends I'd kept in tight email, phone, and face-to-face orbit. To be coming “home” to my second home of red cliffs and incandescent blue sky by day, Perseid meteors by night. To have a roommate, a friend I’d come to love so deeply at the last retreat, a writing sister I can’t imagine having not known. Jockeying for toothpaste spitting space, up late in a fit of infectious giggling, helping one another winnow down our reading selections to the allotted three and five minute windows, goading one another to take ridiculously harrowing risks that paid off for us both internally and externally.

By day, the sobering beauty of each day’s Mind Stretches and presentations (AROHO’s retreat daily schedules offer so much), which provided the structure for heart and mind to align. A daily practice of sacred collaboration. Which I experienced both internally and externally. It meant hands on panels like Beyond the B*tch Session: A Candid Conversation About Writing and Motherhood…where the conversation strolled right past the usual complaints about how hard it is to get to one’s work…just the title, “beyond the b*tch session” poised presenters and listeners attending the panel to move out of dichotomy and into success narratives: this is how I mother and this is how I write (see below for a list of links to blog posts by panelists).

It meant stepping out of my comfort zone to attend a workshop taught by Nicole Galland and Nicelle Davis, Reading in Your Authentic Voice, knowing that I’ve battled shyness most of my life, knowing that I’d be reading poetry aloud at some point for the group, knowing that as a professional writer one has to keep working on shortcomings. I dawdled over breakfast, had a second cup of tea, but still made it there in time for a shape-shifting exercise: to choose an animal to inhabit...that best might represent my work. Locked in shyness, I chose a far corner of the room and opted to be a cocoon, in honor of one of my groups of poems (November Butterfly). I flattened myself guiltily on the cold floor of the Agape Center eye level with the feet of the rows and rows of wooden benches parked there.
Though successfully frozen and inanimate in my cocoon, I couldn't help but notice other braver animals roaming the room, becoming more fully themselves: a horse, stomping and snorting as she ran along the bench surfaces, an elephant trumpeting her trunk as she loped past.  I lay there feeling sluggish and inexpressive and slightly selfish holding still on the floor. But eventually, once the cold thoroughly permeated both shoulder blades and the portion of my spine touching the floor, I had the urge to rise to sitting, and in slow symmetry, raise both arms to the sky.
What pleasure to take one's time--to move slow, to anticipate the sun, to move wings up, then down. I forgot to notice the others and how much better they were at the exercise. My feet felt just right, mute, tandem, but providing a solid base for the wings to venture.
Flying home that Sunday, thinking back on the myriad conversations, I felt struck equally by the layers of inspiration we goad one another towards as well as a bit taken aback by the layers of doubt and insecurity I heard come out of the mouths of many of my fellow retreat goers (my voice in the mix). But then even that made sense: it seems when we converge in the desert and dare to align with our biggest visions for our writing lives, both dreams and opposing shadow appear. Both find voice, find ear here. 
And I wouldn't be where I am today in my own writing process without the loving mirror provided by the women at the retreats. In my experience, we end up shoulder to shoulder with our strengths and our vulnerabilities. Thus poised at the right place and time to help one another face the negations as they arise. Thank you AROHO.
Further reading and other fertile negotiations that arose from the retreat:
I was thrilled to solicit work for Mother Writer Mentor on behalf of writing mothers otherwise unable to get away to a writing retreat. These guest blog posts are from AROHO's amazing panel, Beyond the B*tch Session: A Candid Conversation about Motherhood and Writing:

Barbara Rockman: Mother Writer: Boon of the Parallel Journey, Mandy Alyss Brown, AROHO’s Tille Olsen fellow: Creator: Rejecting theMotherhood vs. Writing Dichotomy, Nicelle Davis: No Love is Singular: Confessions of a Poet Daughter
On the bus ride to AROHO, instead of sitting next to the illustrious Marlene Samuels (read the story of how we met at the first retreat, bonding mutually over a love for her mother's memoir), I sat behind her and my poet friend Lisa Rizzo (read here Lisa's beautiful poems we published at The Fertile Source, solicited many years prior to our synchronous "re-meeting"), I had the privilege of scanning Samuels forthcoming When Digitial Isn't Real: Fact Finding Offline for Serious Writers.

As a poet I can tend to favor the imagination over historical fact. Exposure to Marlene's book gave me pause when selecting poems to read at the retreat--I realized one poem mentioned "Cleopatra's sister"...a line I'd sort of tossed in to my poem without ever checking to see if Cleopatra in fact had a sister. I still read the line, held my breath and waited for Marlene to correct me, but as luck would have it, Cleopatra did have a sister in her life--at least a half sister. Here's my review of Marlene's book on Amazon.  
I am also thrilled to announce that my first poetry collection, November Butterfly, will be forthcoming from Saddle Road Press in 2014. I will be reading at AWP in Seattle and rubbing shoulders again with many AROHOites there. A tremendous joy and gift. I hope to see you there--to share and compare notes.

 Photos and Artwork:

are by the author (moi) with exception of the feathered wings. The image was taken by Robyn Beattie and appears in our photo montage for Amelia (poem forthcoming in November Butterfly). View the photo poem montage here (video and text of poem originally published at V's Place by E. Victoria Flynn).