Monday, September 28, 2015

Passing the Torch

I'm back.

I have missed you.

So much has happened.

Let's catch up, shall we? Where did we leave off?

Oh, right: Esalen.

I went there because of Cheryl Strayed, as I told you last time. Her writing as Dear Sugar was what brought me back to writing again after so many years. It inspired me to start this blog. In her columns, I saw the shape my writing could take-- how a post could tackle a difficult topic, delve deeper and go darker, and push through to the light on the other side.

Her words resonated with me beyond their content. I felt her speaking to me, one writer to another: this is how these things are done. Watch and learn.

And I did. I think her writing felt so powerful to me because it mirrored the way I already thought, and it validated that thing I so desperately needed validated at the time: my right to speak from my own earned wisdom. 

I didn't trust my own eloquence then. I didn't believe I had the right to assume authority over anything-- not even my own experience. And I didn't understand how profound the connection could be between a writer and her audience when she allows the personal to transcend to the universal in her writing.

I trust and believe and understand those things now. I learned them from Cheryl. And from myself. And from this blog, and from you.

Five years ago, Cheryl Strayed's writing helped me change my life. I went to Esalen so I could thank her for that in person.

(And I did. Awkwardly. Mortifyingly. But I did!)

I also went to Esalen to see what would come next, for me. The workshop was called "The Story You Have To Tell," and I've been telling quite a story for a while, here, haven't I?

I thought I'd go and figure out the next step in bringing this story to book form.

I may have. Or. I don't know. I met some people, and I forged some connections, and I think at some point things will lead me forward, as they always have and I trust will continue to do.

But even better: I met Pam Houston (Cowboys Are My Weakness; Contents May Have Shifted), who taught me a few things that will carry me through the next few years of my writing life.

Pam spoke to me right where I am now, as a writer. Where Cheryl helped me to see shape and impetus, Pam offered insight into depth and breadth and richness that appeal to me in this moment, not as a writer getting started but as a writer in progress. 

She had amazing things to say about maintaining one's practice-- something I've struggled with over this past year (until now-- I think I've managed to put all the pieces back in place to have an even more robust and regular practice than before, so this should bode well for us, faithful readers!). She said so many things that I recognized instantly as meant for me, if that makes sense: sort of "Oh, this is why I'm here" moments that were so satisfying and perfect and worth every penny of admission.

There were three other writers on the panel, each of whom also had at least one resonant gem of writerly wisdom that I've carried with me and thought about daily ever since that magical week: Samantha Dunn (Failing Paris), Steve Almond (Against Football: A Reluctant Manifesto) and Alan Heathcock (Volt). 

I even shared a joint of marvelous homegrown Esalen weed with one of them. And you know how I am about pot, so you know that's saying something. Or maybe it was just that great of a writerly rapture we were in. Ha ha.

And all of this only describes the panel. The other attendees-- my fellow students-- were equally wonderful and wise and many of us have stayed in contact and even forged closer relationships since our Esalen week ended. I joined an amazing community there. I don't think I can quantify all that it has brought and will continue to bring to my writing life.

I'm going back next year, too, and I'm bringing a dear friend. It's that kind of place. You go back. You bring people. You share the gifts. You spread the love. 

It's how art works, at its best: a passing of the torch from one heart to the next, connecting, reverberating, lighting up the world.

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