June 2, 2011
Anticipation. Curiosity. Hope.
Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll climb into my aging Honda CRV and drive about three hours west to a conference center in rural western Massachusetts. I’ll join an unknown number of strangers for a long weekend devoted to learning about, talking about, and doing writing.
On a whim, well a researched whim, I decided to attend a retreat run by The Sun magazine. “Into the Fire: The Sun Celebrates Personal Writing.” That’s the headline the nearly 40-year-old magazine gives its retreats. A writer friend recommended I check out The Sun. I fell in love with the frankness of the magazine’s prose, whether it was fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. Much of the writing was elegant, yet not overwrought. I fell too for the description of the magazine’s retreat: “You don’t have to be a writer to attend. Our aim is to simply to create a space in which people can tell their stories from the heart.”
I most definitely consider myself a writer. I first wrote an article for a newspaper when I was 16 years old. And yet, the idea of spending three days in a space where I can tell stories from the heart particularly woos me. I know I can tell those stories from my desk in suburban Massachusetts. I know I can write those stories in a newsroom. And yet, I also know that I can always tell those stories much better.
It takes a lot to write from the heart and do it well enough that others will want to read the result. Writing stories about my own life is more challenging than the feature and news stories I wrote for years. I can search through reporting to find the best quote or scene for a feature story. But do any of us have years of quotes from conversations at our fingertips? We have to dig deep into memory to recall conversations and to reassemble scenes from childhood or even two months ago. Then we have to realize that what we write is our recollection. I often gut-check writing about my past with relatives and friends. But no one remembers events perfectly. We remember the essence. We remember the mood. We remember a smell or even a color of a shirt.
So why begin this musing with anticipation, curiosity, and hope? Because as my weekend of writing immersion is about to begin, I am filled with anticipation. I have not been to Rowe, Mass., where this retreat will be, and yet I know that part of the country. It is beautiful, peaceful, pristine. I know that simply going some place else can free up the cobwebs blocking creativity.
Curiosity. I have never met the editor of The Sun, and yet, I feel like I have a sense of Sy Safransky by his honest, beautiful writing that appears in every edition of the magazine. He is a proud grandfather and father. He is a keen observer of life’s nuances. I am curious to see what he is like as a writing teacher. I am curious, too, about the others who will teach during the weekend and about the participants. Unlike other writing conferences I have attended, this particular retreat bills itself as a retreat not just for writers but for readers.
And there is hope. Maybe I will find inspiration that will help me grow as a writer. Maybe this weekend will lead me to new paths in writing. Maybe it will remind me how important it is for a writer to be brave. Take risks. Be willing to leave my adorable family for a few days. Try new things. Sign up for a weekend with strangers. And of course, write, write from my heart.