A year later, I’ve returned to Whidbey Island for another PeerSpirit writing workshop. There are thirteen participants this year, all of whom have been through the initial workshop before. We are led by Christina Baldwin, whose writing and teaching I adore. I’m staying in the same house as last time, the same room even. I just got here this afternoon, and I’ve already done the beautiful run to the beach that I enjoyed so much last year. It’s good to be back in this place. Continue reading
I spent the weekend in Nashville at a Storyline Conference. Storyline is the brain child of Donald Miller, who made a huge splash with me and countless others about ten years ago with his memoir Blue Like Jazz. The idea behind the conference is to give attendees tools that will help each person live a better story than the one he or she is living right now.
On Friday, I went to a bloggers breakfast and an improv workshop, both of which were officially pre-conference activities. Yesterday, we asked two questions: who are you and what do you want? Today, we talked about the good that can come from suffering and where we go from here. In addition to hearing incredible speakers like Donald Miller, Bob Goff (the author of Love Does), Becca Stevens (the founder of Thistle Farms), John Richmond (a human trafficking and civil rights prosecutor) and many others who are doing big and beautiful things in the world, I got to spend time with other attendees talking about our dreams and the things that keep us from them.
There were a thousand people at this conference, but with each session, I felt like the presenters were speaking directly to me.
I’m not ready to get into what this conference meant to me, but I will say that I walked away with a few things I know for sure. For sure, I know that this gathering of like-minded spirits from all walks of life was exactly what my heart needed right now. For sure, I know that I want to go home and continue the work I started here in Nashville. For sure, I know that no dream is too big and no change is too small, even at my age.
It’s not every day that a girl gets to meet and be inspired by one of her favorite authors. This was my today. This was my weekend.
I’m so grateful for Donald Miller’s intelligence, his heart, his energy, and his desire to equip me with the tools I need – the very tools he uses – to write a better story for my life. It’s been an incredible weekend.
Normally, after a fun conference of any kind, I’m usually a little bummed about seeing it come to an end. But not this time. This time, I’m ready to get home. I’ve got a lot that I want to do, and I’m excited about getting started.
I’m sitting in an airport (JFK) waiting for my connection to Barcelona. I’m going to visit my friend Erin, who is spending a semester there as part of her business school program. I am also going to run the Barcelona marathon this weekend. I’m super excited about both.
The start of my journey was exceptional. I boarded a flight in Austin and sat down in my window seat expecting to take a nap. It was a full flight, and they were asking people to check bags rather than carry them on. A young guy, a backpacker who looked like he’d stepped straight off the trails, entered the plane with a hiking pack. His seat was in the row one up and across the aisle from mine. He looked around, trying to decide what to do in the face of full and mostly closed bins. Then he started inching into his row, with his pack still on his back. In my mind, I thought, “What the hell? Where do you think you’re going to put that monster pack?” At that very moment, the guy next to me got a look on his face that said exactly what I was thinking. He was so expressive that I had to laugh, and that started a conversation between us that lasted until we got off the plane.
Sebastian and I talked about my favorite thing in the world — writing. He gave me tips on how to become a personal historian, a ghostwriter for other people’s stories. It’s something I’ve been interested in for quite some time now. He’s done it and generously walked me step-by-step through his process. I felt like I was sitting in a fabulous writing workshop taught by the most personable of instructors. We also talked a great deal about how everyone has a story and how important it is to learn the stories of others. I learned so much about him and his family on that flight.
If learning, being entrusted with his story, and being distracted from my usual motion sickness were not enough, Sebastian also gave me tips on what to do in Barcelona, as he’s lived there before. Erin, we apparently need to try the absinthe at a great little bar not far from the circular hotel in Barcelona. Do you know the hotel? If not, let’s figure it out.
The whole exchange was a tremendous gift. I love that I made a new friend to start this journey. What are the chances that I’ll make a new friend on the next, much longer flight? Normally, I’d say they aren’t too good. But I don’t know. I’m tempted to say they’re good.
And you know what? I have no idea what happened to the guy with the monster pack. Where did he put that thing?
It helped me a great deal to be in circle with Jeanne and friends last night. We read some poetry, talked and wrote a bit. One of the writing prompts sent me in the direction of affirming myself a bit by considering some of the things I like about myself. I’m not perfect in relationships or in my family or at work, but when I think about it, I can come up with things about myself that I appreciate and that make me proud.
First on the list of things that came to mind is that I have a great capacity to love. I am capable of loving boldly and completely. One example is that I spent a decade loving someone who never really loved me back. There is one version of me who thinks I’m a big idiot for having done that. But the better version of me likes the part of me that was capable of believing in and loving someone for so long. I still believe in and love that person, and, when I’m my best self, I think that love and willingness to love makes me a better person, not a weaker one.
More recently, I’ve been more timid in my love. Rather than being bold, putting love out there – whether it be in a friendship or a relationship – and not worrying about what people think or whether the love would be returned, I’ve been cautious. I’ve been uncertain, timid, keeping score and even harboring grudges. When I realized that driving home from last night’s meeting, I started to get angry at myself. But I stopped myself from being angry and asked myself a question. Can I reclaim who I was when I wasn’t so afraid?
I’ve spent the better part of today trying to remember in detail the time in my life when I was my best self – when I loved most willingly and most fully. It wasn’t that long ago. It was a time when I was working hard and training hard. It was a time when I had the confidence to get up in front of a room full of people and make them laugh. It was a time when I was less calculated in who I invited to do what, a time when I forgave easily. I worried less about what people thought because I liked myself more. I followed my heart rather than questioning it and trying to measure the likelihood of success or a favorable return.
I really like the version of me that I’m remembering. It’s been a while since I connected with her, but I know her well. I’m pretty sure I can still reach her. I’m definitely going to try.
Years ago, I participated in a workshop based on the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I did the workshop with one of my best friends and ended up making a bunch of other really good friends, including the instructor, Jeanne Guy.
Jeanne’s way draws me in. She is funny, real, loving and without judgment. Since that initial workshop, I’ve continued to sign up for workshops that she leads. Every time I’m around her, I learn something. Every time I sit in a circle with her, I walk away feeling more full somehow.
Most recently, she’s been doing monthly workshops that last only one evening. She calls them Re-Story Circles and invites each of us to “re-story” our lives with intention, acting kindly towards ourselves and others. Tonight, I am going to one such workshop.
Each month Jeanne has a different theme. Recent themes have included:
I’ve often said that Jeanne’s workshops seem to be designed specifically for me. They give me what I need when I need it. And tonight is no different. Tonight, Jeanne’s theme is Saying Goodbye In Order to Say Hello.
I hate goodbyes, but I’m trying to wrap my head and heart around loss right now. I’m trying to feel my way through it. So Jeanne has done it again. For a couple of hours, I get to sit in circle with her and other women who, like me, come back for these gatherings again and again, and we will write, listen and learn from one another about making room for joyful hellos.
I’m thankful for you, Jeanne, and for the love and intention you put out into the world. I hope it all comes back to you many times over.
Something has shifted in me since my wonderful retreat to Whidbey Island. I’m home and feeling grateful for the women I met there – the friends I made. I am feeling grateful generally and thought I’d take a few minutes to make a list of wonderful things happening right now.
- I’m writing again. My silent time on the island kicked that off.
- I spent a wonderful evening on the phone last night reconnecting with a dear one. And if that wasn’t gift enough, Bread insisted on sitting on my lap the entire time.
- I had coffee at home with my mom this morning before heading in to work.
- I was able to attend Toastmasters today after more than a month of missing meetings.
- I just made plans to meet my friend Erin for a run and breakfast before she heads to Barcelona next week.
- I’m meeting a friend I’ve known for years but don’t often get to see for dinner tonight, in part to celebrate how close she is to having her first child.
- Tomorrow, I get to meet with my financial advisor, who has become a most trusted friend, to talk about retirement planning and goal setting for 2013.
- I leave for the Grand Canyon on Friday to celebrate the fortieth birthday of one of my favorite people in the world. (Happy birthday, Jenny!)
- I finally know exactly what I’m doing for my mom for Christmas. I owe my new friend Gretchen, from Whidbey Island, for the gift idea.
- I made my Christmas card list on my way up to Whidbey Island last week. Looking at it – and realizing now that I have some additions to make after last week’s retreat – I’m reminded at how rich my life is in friendships.
Happy Wednesday, everyone. I hope yours is as sweet as mine has been.
I’m back home after an incredible week on Whidbey Island. I joined a remarkable group of women there and spent the week talking about our stories and writing some of them. After we wrote, we read to one another. Through the readings, we offered the circle of women a piece of ourselves, and those pieces were received and celebrated in the most loving way.
I told the group this morning, as we were saying goodbye, that I had entered the island determined to spend a week alone. The reality though is that I was never truly alone. I did have my own room. I also had quiet mornings to myself before the house woke up. I took time to run by myself to the beach. And we agreed, as a community, to have an extended period of silence so that we could write without interruption. But I was never truly alone. These women entered my heart within the first couple of days, and I carried them with me the entire week – when I slept, when I read, when I ran, and when I wrote. I carried them with me off the island, and I will carry them with me going forward.
I will also carry with me the freedom of this moment on the ferry back to the mainland.
Thank you, ladies. I will carry you with me wherever I go.
This morning, I woke up excited to run to the beach. Aldermarsh sits inland, about three miles from the shore. I had been told the beach was a nice run from here, but I hadn’t tried it, mostly due to time. But since today was an unscheduled day for writing, I decided to give myself a couple of hours to make the journey.
It was cold and rainy. Normally, that would have kept me indoors, but I’ve gotten more used to wandering around in the rain just in my week here. Also, I knew that I could wear the rain cycling jacket Erin gave me for Christmas last year. It would keep me dry, and it’s bright yellow, which gave me confidence that any passing drivers would see me. So I put that jacket on over my long-sleeved layers, and I set out for the shore.
I didn’t know the terrain or how long it would take me to get there. But that didn’t matter. The run felt good on my legs. I noticed the barns and fields along the way. I saw some small roads but only one major intersection with stop signs – no light. My mind was on my writing project as I ran and before I knew it, I was at the beach. When I got there, I realized the rain had stopped.
I was running with my phone in a plastic bag in my pocket, largely because I didn’t know exactly where I was going. I thought I might need to call for a ride if I got lost. I didn’t, but the phone came in handy because I was able to take this picture.
Now, I’m back at the house drinking a cup of tea and working up the courage to dive back into my project.
I have a feeling it’s going to be a good day.
Last time I checked in, I was writing early in the morning. I can’t believe that was just yesterday. I’ve been through two days of workshops since then, and now we are in a period of silence. From this evening until Sunday morning, we are not disrupting one another with conversation. The idea is that we get into the flow and just write.
Talk about pressure.
Today I outlined the project I have in mind. Tomorrow, I have to start writing. Not brainstorming. Not outlining. Actually writing. I have all day with nothing on the program to serve as an excuse. It’s me and my laptop, and we’re off.
I expect to have a full productivity report late tomorrow or early Sunday. In the meantime, check out one view of where I am.
This place is called Aldermarsh. It’s a stunning piece of property on Whidbey Island. Just stunning.
It’s 6:30 in the morning on Whidbey Island, and I’ve been up since 5:00. I spent the morning in my room, but after making coffee a few minutes ago, I moved into the common area of the house – the dining and living area I share with three others.
I’ve only been here since Tuesday, but this very much feels like home.
Last night, after dinner, we spent the evening working on collages. We sifted through piles of magazines, photographs, calendars and other paper containing all kinds of images. We pulled the ones that spoke to us, and then we put them together however we wanted to. I’m a fan of the collage process. I did it more than a year ago, in Round Top, Texas, at another workshop with Christina Baldwin. I built that collage in my journal and have referred to it often, so I’ve become a believer in the process. In fact, I recently learned about SoulCollage and ordered some materials from that site, intending to spend part of the holidays building a set of cards for myself.
So last night, I built my collage in my journal, as I’ve done in the past, and I love it. I thought about putting a picture up here for you to see, but I think it’s too close to me right now to be shared in that way. Maybe soon.
After the collage process, I came back to my room and continued reading Ann Linnea’s Deep Water Passage. I had started the book in the afternoon, which is always dangerous when I’m trying to be productive. The best of books can disrupt all activity, and this one pretty much has. It’s about her effort to kayak Lake Superior in her early forties. My sense is that something profound happens on the trip, but I’m not far enough yet into the book to know what that is. I love her language though, and I appreciate the exhaustion she describes of one hard day of kayaking. I’m ready for more.
In fact, since I’ve been up since 5:00 and have done writing of my own and even managed to write up a post, I’m going to give myself time to read before the rest of the house wakes up.
Happy Thursday, everyone. Make it count.