It is odd for me to not immediately write a review about a writing workshop that I have attended. I understand the value of feed back, good or bad. So for it to take me five months to write a review is an astounding amount of time. This review jumps back and forth from Trebor Healey and Saratoga Springs Retreat Center. The venue made the workshop complete. I'm sure it would work other places, but this is the way home feels to me. We'd be family anywhere, but this is our place.
Writing From The Four Directions, lead by Trebor Healey (http://www.treborhealey.com/) was an event I had looked forward to for over a year. There were a lot of detours to getting there; so when I was finally at Saratoga Springs Retreat Center (http://www.saratogasprings.com/)it was surreal.
There were three big things that made this especially poignant for me. First, I allowed myself to step away from home after losing my Dad. I feared that the grief I carried with me would distract from the experience. Second, spending money on my craft is something "professionals" do. Taking this trip was, to my thinking, taking a big step in my own view of my work. Third, being the first to do something; even when it is welcomed; is scary. More about that in a minute.
So, I went. Checking off firsts along the way. The first time I left my state (or county for that matter) to go to a writing workshop. The first time I ever rented a car in my name and was the sole driver. Weird, I know. The first time, this is the biggie, a woman has ever attended "Writing From the Four Directions".
Trebor and the staff at Saratoga Springs were as excited for me to be there as I was, but would the others be so happy. As we gathered, introducing ourselves individually, then formally in a circle, I remembered the old adage, "open with a joke". "I'm Laura, and I'm not a gay male." As the room erupted in laughter, we all became family.
Those next few days together were times of trepidation in sharing work, bold honesty, lots of laughter, thought provoking poetry and prose, and tears.
Trails that wrap around the retreat center brought times of nurturing friendships and connecting with the earth that is so carefully preserved by the retreat center. Listening to the brook babble it's tales and the wind whistle it's song through the trees took me to a time when wagons and walking brought people to this spot. In the middle of the lawn there is a small plaque, commemorating the post that was there that started this town. I wonder what the trees would say about the people who may have planted them there. And the trees that were there before the people.
The workshop was structured enough to keep us on track to explore writing exercises, yet loose enough to let the moment be the inspiration. Trebor did a wonderful job of orchestrating the movement of the group.
As I got into my rental car to return to my life, there was peace that hadn't been with me for a while and joy in the connections I had made.
So, why then has it taken so long to write this review? If it was all peaches and roses, why not write it right away?
Time is a great truth teller.
Trebor and I sat for a little while and looked at some of my poetry. He had taken them the night before and made notes. As we sat there he proceeded to do what Trebor does, he was honest. I listened and tried to ask good questions. But the truth is, my feminine ire rose up. I had not been told how great I am, funny right? No happy voices of assurance. He spoke to me the same way he would any of the guys. I will always be grateful for that.
Returning home I ran a gambit of emotional responses. "I'm not good. Others have lied to me." Then, "What does he know? Others tell me it's good." Then, my all time favorite, "Who cares about any of this anyway?"
I love Trebor. I didn't write this review immediately because I knew time would sift out the emotion until the fine powder of truth made the cake rich and fluffy.
The truth is Trebor is a gay guy. I know, pretty revolutionary stuff right there. Before this two kinds of people had reviewed my poetry, women or straight guys. These two people groups tend to filter their comments through kindness or fear. They are honest, but don't want to hurt feelings; and they don't want a woman to go off on them for being told they need to work on it.
Trebor wants me to be a better writer. Crazy, I know.
Having sifted the truth I know a few things. Some of my writing is more feminine than I can explain to Trebor. Women get it without having to explain it. That's okay. Some of my writing is bad. That's okay. Some of my writing ends at a place I'm comfortable with, but he isn't. Neither is bad, it's just different. That's okay.
What I've learned is to know my audience and write for them, without apologies. To listen to the voices around me, both audible human voices and the whispers and whirls around me. And kick down the box! Take my art to the least likely audience and respectfully listen to their feed back. People who like it, or are like me, will tell me what I want to hear. That's nice, but not helpful. Go where the honesty hurts, pain brings growth.
I hope that more women will attend Trebor Healey's workshops. His talent for making blunt descriptors poetic and his eloquence in dealing with difficult subject matters, as in "A Horse Named Sorrow", make him a valuable teacher.
Saratoga Springs Retreat Center is a wonderful setting. Enough creature comforts to be comfortable, but not so much that it detracts from the setting. The staff were all helpful, engaging, and fun. Arnna took very good care of all of us.
What ever your art is I hope you will go to a place that is very different and learn from the time there. Nurture your mind and spirit to flourish in astounding ways. Find the hope of your art in the differences that surround you.