NOW IT'S AUGUST. This is about smashed crabapples on the sidewalk, dense bready heat, and babies. Three times I have given birth in August, so how can I help but reminisce? Lately, it's been about the terror I felt during my first pregnancy, at age twenty-one. Diffuse waves of terror, a grainy porridge of terror too slippery to grasp hold of or name or understand. I lived in a white clapboard house in an industrial strip of Northeast Minneapolis and we had a sweet, stray cat that I called, for obvious reasons, Baby Girl. Our backyard decor included chain link around a rose garden that withered away and died during the winter of my pregnancy. Here’s an excerpt of an essay I’m working on about that time (a bright tidbit, because today is Sophie’s actual birthday!):
I wish someone could have told me how my daughter’s gray, wondering eyes, when she first looked at me that August, would become like the beam of a lamp along that “something more permanent,” how her sweaty little head might point me toward the thing I had always been coming for. That would have been a comfort on those terror-stricken mornings spent alone staring into empty chain link. But I had to find it out myself, when she finally arrived, my featherless bird. The girl who breathed first under water, the girl who lived first inside the wreck of me. I would name her Sophia, for the sheer beauty of it, and because it means wisdom. She would give her lifelong love to Baby Girl, dressing her in doll clothes and walking her on a leash and dragging her around like a stuffed toy and reading her stories and eventually, seventeen years later, watching her die. And all this time I would give my daughter the one thing I owned, which was my words, all of them, filling her up as she nestled against the curve of my life. I would be awed when she grew up to be a writer, so that decades into the future, she would read my writing, and, with utmost precision, pick the words up, one here, one there, to test their shape and weight, before skipping them back across the water, counting how many times each would bounce before slipping under.
AS FOR OTHER news, where to begin? First, the Write for Your Life Memoir Intensive is now registering, so if this is your time, grab your spot now! I would love to write with you, and boy have I been writing. Remember when I said I was applying for and entering and submitting like mad? Well, it’s amounting to something. This summer I published a bit of flash fiction called “Lady Madonna” in Fine Linen Literary Journal, and my prose poem “Wingless Bodies” was included in Up the Staircase Quarterly’s special issue, Prairie Mountain, with audio that included violin accompaniment by the fantastic Susan Sophocleus, my dear, dear friend and partner in creative crime, except we don't ever do anything criminal, that's just a saying.
Most exciting of all, my short story “Tumbleweeds,” based on childhood in Wyoming, was selected as a finalist in several contests, including the Tiferet 2015 Writing Contest and the Orison Anthology Awards, and it was ultimately honored by the editors of december magazine and judge Joyce Carol Oates in the Curt Johnson Fiction Awards. Watch for it in december magazine this fall!
(Wait, did I just say Joyce Carol Oates? This actually happened! Also, Joyce, which is apparently the name she goes by, since that is how my editor referred to her, as in, "here is what Joyce had to say about your story," will be the keynote speaker at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference in February. I’m probably going to go to the conference just to meet her, because she is one of the best writers alive and she liked my story, and I was thinking that if you go, too, we could all meet each other. How lovely that would be?)
ANYWAY, all of this news arrived while I was still riding the bliss wave from an extraordinary Summer Solstice Retreat on Stout’s Island with twenty amazing writers and the brilliant poet Emily Vizzo leading yoga and meditation and the unbelievable musician Brianna Lane leading the most outlandish and wonderful collaborative songwriting experience, plus the grace of Tyler Lewke, my friend who is a Buddhist monk, leading chanting every morning and revealing the startling truth that labyrinth walking is supposed to be ecstatic and filled with joy rather than solemn and silent. Who knew?! Plus the unflappable Liza Stoner, who gracefully and tirelessly (except I worked her to the bone so she probably was secretly quite tired) took care of our every need while on the island. These people filled my heart right up.
Can you imagine being carried by all that sweet energy into my first MFA residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts less than a week later? I am still bursting with gratitude and inspiration. Thank you to all of you who’ve walked any part of this wonderful word-strewn path with me this summer.
WHAT'S NEXT? As I said, I’ve finally put the fall Write for Your Life workshop on the calendar! Go here for information and registration:
We held three of these last year, all intense, outstanding, productive, and fun, and I look forward to seeing more magic this fall.
I’m also adding two spots for private students; these fill quickly so if you want to make serious progress on your writing, advance your craft substantially, work with goals and deadlines and feedback, and if you are ready to commit time and effort over the next six months to a year, contact me to converse about private study. I love working one on one, and if the time is right for you, you can cross oceans this way.
FINALLY, LAST BUT not least, something exciting. Elephant Rock has found a potential home, a real, permanent place for this wonderful and transformative work. Those of you who've experienced something special, something deep and luminous at a retreat, know what I mean by transformation. Writing in community is profoundly powerful; it's a vessel for more than we know. This place I stumbled on is right on Lake Superior, a historic property built originally as a place of healing, and it's walking distance from a community center. It offers everything Elephant Rock could need for retreats and workshops, especially because it’s such an easy drive from Minneapolis with its international airport. Of course, the unsurprising thing is that to make this happen, I’ll need to raise money. And to make that happen, I’ll need help. If you want to see Elephant Rock grow, this is the time! Please contact me if you would like to help with this exciting endeavor—as a donor or a fundraiser or both. I would be so grateful!
Meanwhile, remember what I said about submitting, entering, applying, and what it takes to stand on waves. Which is lots of falling down. If I listed all of the things I submitted, entered, applied for, and did not get, we'd be here forever. That's how the ocean works. You get tossed around. You go under. You come back up. Sometimes you stand on waves and get carried to places you never imagined. I, for one, enjoy floating now and then. Through it all, though, you must keep writing. That, of course, is the beginning, the middle, and the end.