This is the fourth in a series of guest posts, written by Carolyn Hopper and Eden Royce. For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for other writers to share. I’ve spent a few weeks posting their words while I’ve focused on my own writing. This year, I’ve asked Haven alum to write a short piece describing something they’ve learned or a way they’ve transformed through our writing retreats. I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks.
Haven by Carolyn Hopper
I flick a glance at my chest. Up at her face.
“I can’t write about that.”
“Yes. You can.”
“My daughter might read it.”
One eyebrow arches. A conspiratorial smirk passes her lips. I trace circles with my toe in the breeze.
“I can’t write about my orgasm on top of a mountain during my Vision Quest. Not in the book I am writing about my mother and me.”
“Yes you can.”
I stop moving my toe.
Sitting beside Laura during my one-on-one session in the last time slot of the last day of the Haven Writing Retreat, I swat a mosquito, listen for cranes, inhale the tang of rain-soaked pines. Look her in the eye again. The gleam in her eye ignites mine.
Laura holds her edited copy of the beginning of my story about my mother and me begun before she died—two months ago. I’d planned to use my time at the Writing Retreat to refocus on writing, take time for grieving, and relax.
“Just write it. The way you told me.”
“Sounds like porn?”
Heat rises inside me at the memory of my Nature induced orgasm.
The next day I hear those words as if spoken while I stalk the lush, fertile plot of the Ranch garden with my camera. As I crouch beneath curlicues of squash vines, inhale the aroma of gleaming mahogany onion globes, finger puckered frills of kale. Attempt to catch the perfect drop of rain in a photo for a magazine article about permaculture gardening and our chefs.
“Go Braless.” That was unexpected! Certainly not what I thought would be the outcome of any editing of the piece I’d sent in a month before the Retreat. Yet, it fit. Is this what happens when you leave home to spend a weekend with 11 other women at a writing retreat in the woods, eat Vegan food for four days, curl around a body pillow at night, give yourself to Place instead of Time? I know what was meant by those two words—be bold! Okay then, I will!
I began to digest that new recipe for stirring some spice into an otherwise straight forward story about two women and their connections or disconnections—my mother and I—one living and one dead, during my drive home. And I thought of the message from hummingbird as he flew around me and in and out of my tent every day during my Vision Quest—love, joy, celebration. Maybe he watched while I danced naked for the full moon.
Now, before I tackle the next chapter for my book, I’ll dig out my old CD and rock to “Celebration!” Uh huh! With my figure, however, I think I’ll wear a bra. Black lace.
A Not-so-Hasty Retreat by Eden Royce
In early 2013, I had a challenge with my writing. I not only felt uninspired, I felt that my vision exceeded my skill level. While a little of this is normal for a writer—or indeed any artist—it drained me. I was recovering from a health issue and I’d promised that I would charge forth once I was 100% again. But it didn’t happen. I returned to normal life—slowly—but I didn’t create with the fury of a life restored. My typical inspirations didn’t work. My head wasn’t where it needed to be.
I needed to get away. Press reset on my writing. But the little negative voices chattered at me: You don’t have time. It costs too much. You’re still recovering, you need rest…
I ignored them.
A search of the Internet revealed there is no shortage of writer retreats. Some of them are minimalist. You get a room with a desk and three meals a day are left outside of your door. For others you are on your own in a new city and you have to shop, cook, create, and if you want to meet someone interesting, it’s upon you to start a conversation.
Neither of those was for me.
I must admit if I weren’t still on my I’m-so-glad-to-be alive high, I may not have booked the retreat. I may have let my chattering voices get in the way. But I didn’t. I made my way to Big Sky Country: Montana and the Walking Lightly Ranch.
During my Haven retreat I felt cared for. Not just physically, but emotionally and creatively.
Sitting on the edge of that lake I felt a connection with beauty of the land and a profound peace that meant acceptance of my new life. Something that I craved more than I thought.
Laura and my fellow retreaters were supportive and helped push me beyond my normal boundaries. There was a part of me that I held away from my writing—a part too tender to be shared. Deep hurts and cherished memories that I feared would overwhelm me if I set them free. But these women—I call them my sisters now—allowed me to put down that burden I held so tightly.
I’ve never had a sister. As an only child I was denied that bond, that feeling of sisterhood that meant I could be as silly, shocking, or sad as I needed to be and it would be okay.
Haven gave me sisters. Sisters in writing. In life. It opened my heart to sharing and writing more powerfully as it brought bittersweet memories and tears of laughter. Most of all, it gave me the knowledge that there are people that want to hear my words and my voice.