This spring, I told my friend Gail that I would consider going to Ghost Ranch for a writing workshop in the fall. That response alone surprised me because for the past two years I had declined immediately. Since I had said I would consider it – I did consider it. Ultimately, I decided to go. The deciding factor, in a bit of woo-woo mysticism, was that the workshop began on my mother’s birthday.
Many writers have talked about having a special reader, someone that they write for – to please that person, or impress him or just someone whose opinion is valued. Stephen King calls that person The Reader. For me, that person was always MoC and the reasons were exactly the same: to make her laugh, to impress her and because I valued her opinion. When she died, I lost my reader, and my blog – the only thing I was writing with any consistency – suffered.
At some point in the last few posts (which could have been as long ago as summer), I said that writing is in my soul. I feel empowered when I write. I feel magical. I feel creative. I feel … good. When I stopped writing on the blog, I lost those feelings. And I suffered, too.
I was terrified. There really is no other way to put it. And I was talking to MMB about it and I asked her to come with me – partly because I thought she would enjoy it and partly because I was really scared about going alone. Although I didn’t admit the second reason, I believe she sensed it and that is (mostly) why she agreed to come along. She’s pretty perceptive, that one. Or she’s known me for
48 years a long time. One of those.
That first day, I walked into the class and met 7 people I didn’t know and one person I had seen twice since 6th grade. It was easy to just fall back into the ‘school’ routine – the one where I soak up information, sort it, give the expected answer and then forget everything I just “learned.” It’s what makes me excellent at taking tests but terrible at applying those lessons in life situations. School mode is easy. It works almost every time – except when it doesn’t.
I don’t know why I chose to tell the stories I told instead of other, less emotionally expensive ones. Gail told me it was a safe place – and she was right. The instructor was incredibly kind and had only constructive criticism delivered in such a gentle way that it wasn’t criticism at all, just a fresh perspective to help us hone our skills.
Gail also told me she met friends for life at Ghost Ranch and that she goes back every year to refresh, regroup and reconnect. She was right about that as well – the people in my class were unique, special, intelligent, funny and honest; all things I look for in a friend.
The ranch itself is gorgeous, set in a little basin surrounded by what I would consider mountains but which are probably only foothills. Hey, I’m from Missouri – the tallest office building I know of only has 42 floors and is, not surprisingly, the tallest building in the state. In the mornings, the rising sun hit those foot-mountains and sprayed color all over basin. You could take a picture in the exact same spot at the exact same time on two different days and get two completely different pictures.
I felt … peaceful. I felt quiet – deep down in my soul. I felt at home. And the words flowed from me for the first time in decades. Yes, plural. I don’t know that what I learned was about the writing process itself (although I did learn some things) as much as it was about giving myself permission to write. It sounds kind of silly to say that, but … that’s where I was. On some level, after my mother’s death, I felt I no longer had permission to write. Which is crazy, because when she died, I also felt like I could finally write about things I never would have written while she was alive.
This post is the only thing I’ve written since I’ve been home. That week took something out of me … but it gave me back much, much more than it took.