I nearly fell off the edge of the earth! But I'm okay! I'm pretty sure, at least. Time will tell. But regarding the edge of the earth and how close I came to it, that’s just what happens, that kind of wild tumble, when you suddenly, with no preparation or forethought, fall truly, madly, deeply and even desperately in love with a house around the corner from where you live. Right in your own sweet neighborhood! What's that thing about not making gigantic decisions on pure emotion? Well, anyway, you decide to buy that house which means you have to very quickly sell and move from the one you’ve lived in for eighteen years, and you do all this in the space of less than three short months.
Meanwhile, you are also falling in love with the sellers of the house you are buying, because of course you are breaking all the rules and becoming friends. I mean, you are already neighbors and also, she is a writer, too, the author of, among many other books, the children's classic, On the Day You Were Born, which you read out loud at least a billion times to your kids when they were babies. In fact, this treasured writer was just honored by the Minnesota Book Awards in the “From Main Street to Your Street: Minnesota Writers on the Map” series. She is also an amazing artist and an outstandingly warm and generous human being whose graciousness and patience in waiting for you to sell made it possible for you to even consider this maniacal endeavor. Because, by the way, getting your house ready for market involves sorting the accumulated belongings of yourself, your extremely sentimental husband, and the six adult children who have shared the house with you. You thought you had previously pared down all this detritus of life pretty well, considering, but you are grossly deluded. One trip to the basement ought to have told you that. By the way, during this time you also conduct the final writing workshop in the old house (yay to the writers who joined me for that wonderful weekend in October!). You tell yourself all along that the move is not that big of a deal because the new house is only a couple of blocks away. But you soon realize the magnitude of this lie. But by this time you are swallowed. November feels both interminable and like, well, whoosh.
By way of explaining this impulsive leap, I can only invite you to join me for a lemonade on this front porch, this porch I have dreamed of without even knowing it. In fact, my husband and I also didn't know what an adventure, in the best way, it would be for us to choose a house for ourselves together for the first time. I owned the other house before he and I started out fifteen years ago. So sharing this rite of passage, however late or unconventionally timed, is so good. Yummy. In fact, I may go sit for a spell on the porch right now, in my snow suit if I have to, just because I love it so.
Before I pull on my mittens, though, I have so many things to tell you. First, and most important, Summer Solstice is coming up! Several spots remain but it’s filling pretty quickly, as it always does. Let me know if you have questions about this very special retreat; I am happy to speak by phone to help you decide if this is the right one for you. It's a very intense and magical week. Other upcoming offerings include a spring workshop (no lodging) in Minneapolis and a fall three-night intensive in Park City, Utah. And, here’s something exciting: Elephant Rock is cooking up a Costa Rica retreat for February 2017 with Anthony and Katie McMorran, the lovely couple who provided body work at Summer Solstice last year and who will do so again this summer at Stout’s! I’ll keep you posted on these future events as the dates and prices are finalized, and meanwhile, do consider joining us at Stout's this June!
Second, I’ve been writing my heart out, truly, and want to tell you that I have absolutely confirmed a hunch: the more one writes, the more material one has to submit, the more one submits, the more good things happen. It really works.
So what's been happening? Well, I finished my first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts and am almost halfway through the first draft of my novel, which stuns me, even if I know it will need a million revisions. I so enjoyed working with Martha Southgate as my advisor and am looking forward now to working with Brian Leung in the next months. And I attended the Loft Literary Center’s Pitch Conference in November and was genuinely wowed by Donald Maass’s eight-hour lecture on 21st Century Fiction. If you work with me privately, you've seen those notes. The upshot? So much more can happen to your characters than you might think. Your character can transform ... but only if you can. Amazing insight for fiction writers. Next, I am headed to the Tin House Winter Workshop in February to study with Dorothy Allison. I am ecstatic about this. Allison's novel Bastard Out of Carolina makes me believe anything is possible, in writing and in life.
Meanwhile, my short story "Tumbleweeds," the one that won second place in the Curt Johnson Fiction Awards judged by Joyce Carol Oates (that really happened!), is real now, in the printed pages of the beautiful literary journal december. And my poem "Wingless Bodies" was nominated for a Pushcart, holy wow, and my essay "Stray Girl," after bouncing around as a finalist in several different contests but never winning has finally and happily been accepted for publication in the awesome The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, forthcoming in March. Here’s a tiny excerpt of that essay, since we're on the topic of March:
March brought the thaw, and something else, too. It happened suddenly when I was alone one evening, driving home from work, so that at first I was unsure, but then it came again: a flutter under my belly button, which made me laugh out loud and then sob because of the glory that rose up and filled the car, spilling out through the wheel wells and the heater vents and the tiny fissures between the windows their casement. There is a reason this moment was once called the quickening. Not long after, as the last dirty mounds of snow ran down the gutters under harsh March sun, I began watching for the roses. Having never had roses or, for that matter, any kind of garden, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When should the bushes come back to life? April brought my twenty-second birthday. May came in chilly. I hoped this was why the rose canes looked exactly as they had after their November shearing. By June, the sun was soft and warm, the grass thick and green. The world slid into summer. The roses, however, were dry brown sticks. Clearly, they had died.
So, 2015 was huge. But the most beautiful thing of all, by far, is the search for newness, not the results of the search. The thrill of not knowing and of tapping into a story I hadn't before heard hovering beneath the surface, that's what brings me back over and over again to the writing exercises I love and the ones I have yet to discover or invent. The restraints, the pursuit of negative capability, the call to creativity, it's like a hunt, and the exercises are like the dogs! Well, kind of like that. I'm a vegetarian, but you get the point. When the stars align, this practice allows me to surprise myself in a way I never can without the discipline of returning to the language itself and its limitations and infinitude all at once. That’s the magic I’m after. And creative catalysts are never to be outgrown. David Bowie, bless his amazing soul, understood this, too, and used it in relation to how he used “cut-ups” to create lyrics, because of how much it revealed to him about his past and future, about himself and his unconscious. This is the work. This is what we dive deep into on retreat, and what we bring the surface never fails to amaze. I think practicing in this way made our new house adventure possible, too, because it meant seeing outside the lines of my own expectations, and being ready to leap. Like Donald Maass says, change your writing, change your life. Or wait, maybe I say that. Either way, it's true.