This story is all in the comments below.–CT
Is it the restraint of love? Is it reverence? Amid the effervescent joy of buildings that look like music; the muscular formality of a 50-foot-high gate on an ancient wall; the fleeting intoxication of wafting jasmine: Why, exactly, amid these things, do I feel the contrary impulses to stop and snap an iPhoto yet not snap an iPhoto?
It’s reverence is what it is, no? Reverential surrender so deep snapping a photo would be like naming a nameless God or stealing a soul.
You just plain want the beauty of Florence and that’s enough. Forget the illusion that it can be taken home in a doggy bag. Just want to be here among the Hard Rock Cafe and New York City T-shirts worn by Italians that make sense when worn by Italians. Just want to be here in the shadows of the Italianate style. Just want to stand in the shadow of a medieval gate and imagine its closing in an evening.
Outside our window at the Pensione Crocini a bone-colored awning shimmers in the breeze through ancient wavy glass, looking like nothing so much as a pixellated screen momentarily frozen: emblem of colliding worlds.
OK and lemme say this, too, vis a vis distilling rules from beauty: three stories is the right number of stories for a building and its windows. Three three three three three. All up and down the Arno, buildings face the river and they all have three stories: It’s a river of architectural rules that could be spelled out like this: If you have a river, put some buildings along it. Make the buildings similar enough that there is harmony on the river, yet different enough that there is variation. Color them in shades of earthy amber, sandstone, mustard and salmon; place clay tiles on the roofs; make pale bone and white awnings that ruffle in the breeze off the river. In the distance place a tower with a crenelated wall at the top from which cannons might be shot. Put the whole thing in early spring and make the temperature between 68 and 74 degrees F. Put puffy white cumulus clouds in a blue sky and add the sound of children playing and Vespas whizzing over the Ponte Vecchio.
Tomorrow: to Le Santucce to meet folks and for three weeks spend time dreaming aloud.
p.s. I didn’t take any pictures for the aforementioned reasons i.e. some kind of scrupulosity born of profound reverence. Tomorrow however before we leave it may be different. I said to Norma on our walk today that I’m not taking pictures because you’re just going to have to take my word for it: We were here, it was beautiful beyond all imaginings and beyond all iPhoto renderings and we will leave it behind tomorrow but it will be here for you later, should you come, any time at all, until the inevitable catastrophe of time erases it all but we’ll be gone then too, all of us, won’t we?
Kids are beautiful in cities. They ain’t been ground up yet. There’s harmonicas. After grueling San Francisco-Paris-Florence flight we ride the tiny Pensione Crocini elevator to the tall windows on the courtyard, wash, nap, then espresso at the cafe and luxuriating in the beautiful visual rhythm of the Italianate style, the beautiful rhythm of spring on the Arno, which is rushing past the American Consulate now with the heavy spring rains (spotty snow still on the Alps as we flew from Paris), art students in retro ’80s T-shirts and Deloitte employees in white shirts and black ties on motos, and the carabarini with their carbines guarding the embassy down Corso Italia a block from the Arno, golden buildings in blue light, our tiny cage elevator with the seat where the operator used to sit, our courtyard with the magnolia tree in flower, the salmon-colored apartment block sprouting satellite antennas and bedsheets drying in the warm May air and laundry and awnings and the ubiquitous shutters. A city like a painting, pretty in its particulars, well composed, holding together, yielding up its treasure as long as one cares to keep looking, flowing past on bicycles and Maseratis and scooters. Three euros for two espressos at a red metal table under an awning in the breeze off the river. High walls. High fashion. Mysteries behind towering doors.
Saturday we meet Janet Shepard and Joya Cory and her husband Richard here at the Crocini and Sunday we take the train south from Florence to Castiglion Fiorentino and start the first of two nine-day writing workshops at the Le Santucce residence, looking forward to seeing our hosts Alfeo and Miranda and Luisella and Luca .
Would you like to come to the Chateau du Pin writing retreat with a well-planned route that is easy to follow? My wife Norma is a great planner, plus she reads French, German and Italian, so she has figured it all out for you.
First: Would you like to fly into Paris, or into Nantes? The advantage of flying into Paris is that it’s Paris. Paris is an amazing, life-changing city. Nothing can describe Paris. If you haven’t been there, you owe it to yourself to come a couple of days early and see Paris. The advantage of flying into Nantes is that it is easier to get to the chateau from Nantes than from Paris.
To get to the chateau from Paris, you will need to take the TGV from Gare Montparnasse to the city of Angers. To get to the Gare Montparnasse directly from Charles de Gaulle Airport, take the Les Cars Air France shuttle (16.60€) to Gare Montparnasse. (If you are spending a few days in Paris, take a taxi or other form of transport to Gare Montparnasse.) From Gare Montparnasse take the one-hour and forty-minute TGV ride to the city of Angers (book via Raileurope.com: $88 U.S. and up. Trains travel at speeds up to 200mph. They depart every one to two hours.) Then from the train station in Angers, take a fifteen-minute local train ride to the village of Champtocé-sur-Loire. Trains depart from Angers to Champtocé-sur-Loire at 12:30 pm arriving 12:45 pm; 3:37 pm arriving 4:00 pm; and 6:05 pm arriving 6:30 pm. Depending on which train you take, we can pick you up at the Champtocé-sur-Loire train station at 1:00 pm, 4:00 pm, or 6:30pm. If you arrive and have not made prior plans to be picked up, or you don’t see anyone there waiting for you, call or text Norma at 415 317-4460. We are here to help!
It’s easier and quicker to get to the village of Champtocé-sur-Loire if you fly into Nantes, and the total prices are comparable, once you add up all the train travel. In Nantes Airport, Hall 1, buy a 7.00€ shuttle ticket for Gare de Nantes. At Gare de Nantes, buy a ticket to Champtocé-sur-Loire, 17.00€. Take train from Nantes to Champtocé-sur-Loire (7:41 am arrive 8:30, 12:11 pm arrive 12:58 , and 5:35 pm arrive 6:30 pm). (You can also buy this ticket in advance through RailEurope.) We can pick you up at the train station at Champtocé-sur-Loire at 8:45 am, 1:00 pm, or 6:30 pm. Or call or text Norma at 415 317-4460. If you have any questions please let us know–we are here to help!
Maybe you’re perfectly content writing by yourself day after day in your kitchen on that old table, or at your cramped desk in the spare bedroom. Fine. À chacun son goût. You can find us this September at Le Château du Pin, a private French château in the Loire Valley which the French government has officially classified as a “Monument Historique.” We’ll be writing together in daily Amherst Writers and Artists workshops, using the power of the group to keep us from the many devilish maladies endemic to the literary calling.
Now look. I’m not a rich guy. I don’t come from money. I wouldn’t know how to get up on my high horse even if I could afford one. I’m as proletarian as the next lug.
But who doesn’t like a well-appointed Louis XIV drawing room? I mean, even a person of modest means has choices. We could do our workshops in a nice Ramada Inn conference room in Fremont, or Watertown, or Atlanta. Or we could go to France. What’s it gonna be?
Maybe our writing will get an extra boost from Le Pin’s gardens and grounds, which the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication has designated “Des Jardins Remarquables.” Or maybe we’ll just enjoy that for its own sake and let our writing take care of itself. All I know is—and I’ve been a professional writer for about 30 years—this stuff gets old. Writing, or trying to learn to write, or looking for inspiration in the same old postage stamp of land, well, it worked for William Faulkner, but he was an odd duck. He liked to get so drunk he couldn’t get out of bed and then write from there. So, like I said. À chacun son goût. Or, in English: What’s wrong with getting out of the house now and then? I like to at least put my slippers on. Anyway …
You have to hand it to my wife, Norma, she of the many languages spoken and the intrepid traveler’s spirit. She found this place. She did all the work. We’ll just go and sleep in big French beds and come down in the mornings and eat croissants and then languish in the glory of our own collective unconscious.
So here’s the program, basically the same as the program at the Marconi Conference Center, and at Guest House in Chester, Connecticut, and in Tuscany and Amsterdam:
Mornings and most afternoons will be devoted to writing workshops. Workshops at Le Château du Pin will take place in the Grand Salon on the ground floor. When workshops are not taking place, the entire ground floor, including the tower library, Grand Salon, Petit Salon, and dining room are at your disposal for reading, writing, dreaming, and relaxing throughout the day. Feel free to wander into a secluded nook in the gardens to write, walk the trails of Le Pin, relax by the pond in the formal garden, or venture into the charming small town of Champtocé-sur-Loire. Angers is the nearest major town (about 15 miles away) and is also a beautiful place to visit. Nantes is also in easy reach. Check out this page to get more information on getting to and from Château du Pin.
Prices range from $1699 to $1999. Some of the rooms are small singles and others are large with king- or queen-sized beds. Bathrooms are shared with no more than one other person. If you choose one of the smaller rooms, rest assured that there is plenty of room in the château and on the property in which to escape for peace, relaxation, and a beautiful view. All workshops, breakfast, nightly family-style dinners, and a private conference with Cary are included in the price of registration. $975 saves any room. For more information about rooms and reservations check out our online store. If you have further questions or would like to talk to Cary about your writing goals, give him a call at 415.308.5685 or email us at email@example.com. Allez, on y va!
A super-big thanks! to all the Amherst Writers and Artists workshop leaders, friends and fans who have spread the word about our upcoming four-day AWA workshop/retreat at the Guest House in Chester, Connecticut! (And if you know somebody who might like to know, please feel free to pass this along.)
Big thanks go to Jan Nielsen of the Universalist Church in West Hartford, Ct., Patricia Bender of Rutgers University, author, teacher and workshop leader Annecy Baez, author and teacher Grace Farrell who can be found at the Carolina Fiber and Fiction Center, and Beth Goren, practitioner of Body-Mind Centering, and Marcia Gomes, and Maureen Ciara, and Jill Quist, and Robert Haydon Jones, and the Westport Writers’ Workshop and Valerie Ann Leff.
And a special thanks to Patricia Chaffee for alerting Connecticut writer Sherri Daley of Moffly Media, whose May 1 roundup will highlight not just my Chester retreat but Sandi Shelton’s “Words at Play” workshops, Lisa Saunders and the Mystic Writers Colony, and mystery writer Roberta Isleib’s Seascape “Escape to Write” Writers Retreat taking place at the Guest House in September. And of course Pat Schneider, Maureen Buchanan Jones and all those who make Amherst Writers and Artists the amazing organization that it is today. You are all making my upcoming visit to Connecticut a special treat!
Did I leave anyone out? If so, contact me. Just wanted to say thanks. With your help this thing will come off and we’ll be able to come back in 2015.–CT
Yesterday in my intro to the column I mentioned “how we need to fill the January getaway,” and that apparently set off some worries, like, it won’t be cancelled, will it?
Of course not. The Creative Getaway Jan. 17-20, 2014 at Marconi Conference Center is definitely happening. It’s just that some people who were hoping to make it found they couldn’t come, so there are some open slots.
Norma said to me, What will we do if there are only 5 people? And I said, Well, they’ll get a very good workshop! They’ll get a lot of attention and will have a lot of time to write! And what if there was only one person? Then we might lose money! It would never occur to me to cancel.
And then I thought, why is that? Why would it never even occur to me to cancel? Am I not thinking enough about the bottom line? And I realized: I’ve never been motivated by money — even when doing business. Business is just a way to make great things happen.
As I thought about it, I realized that’s what it comes down: I don’t do things for money. I do things for their social utility, or for their beauty, or for love. And then I try to figure out how to make the money work. Usually if something is socially useful or beautiful or if there is love involved the money part can be made to work.
It’s so funny what you think of as business expertise — the other night I was at a dinner in San Francisco with some experienced, cosmopolitan people from the world of business journalism — much more sophisticated in the world than I am — a speechwriter for the head of the Federal Reserve, a business editor for a major metropolitan daily newspaper and now for the Wall Street Journal, that kind of person.
You should have seen them trying to figure out the check.
Heck, I can do the arithmetic. But that’s not what the getaway is about. The getaway, if I may be so bold, is really a spiritual and aesthetic experience.
So why is Marconi so special?
Come to think of it, what happens at Marconi fulfills all three of my values mentioned above: It is socially useful, it is beautiful, and it is done with love. That’s why we do it.
It is also a response, a critical response, to contemporary American culture. It is a brief respite from life in America. Most of the time it is like we live in pressure cookers. We run around taking care of business and then we sleep. Underneath all this frenetic activity, our best and highest thoughts, our creative dreams, and our deep pains — the stuff of our souls, basically — simmer, shut off, made to wait. As what is delayed or put aside for later or repressed continues to press against us, at times will become a shadow, threatening and perverse. And that is how we live in America day to day: overworked, insecure, unloved, delaying the best parts of ourselves, hindered in our dreams. And yes, I say, unloved in a way. Unloved for that creative part: the part that dreams.
I feel this. I feel it intensely. But because of the unusual, countercultural way I grew up, because I always assumed I would be an artist, an outsider, mostly broke, because it never occurred to me that I might have a comfortable and secure life, because I never worried about that so much, I take material deprivations with good cheer, feeling essentially taken care of and lucky to live amidst so much luxury and splendor in the U.S. I always go for the risky but true aspiration, the dream that is underneath the daily grind. That seems the natural path. But it is a different path.
That path is what Marconi is about: It is about taking this chance, for just a few days, to live in the realm of the creative, the possible, and the true.
What we do at Marconi is provide a setting in which one can put one’s inchoate dreams first. When that happens energy is released. People make plans and change their lives.
Last year was amazing. Seven women — yes, it was economically perilous, like this one because there were only seven participants; I think we made a profit of $24 but that is the nature of the thing. Sometimes we do well; sometimes we make $24. But what made it socially useful, beautiful and full of love was how the seven women (and yes, it happened to be all women, but it is not by any means always women) bonded and shared their stories, which were amazing and inspiring and at times full of pain and doubt and longing. I won’t go into details but I am looking forward to the return of some of them, to try and shepherd along the stories that began to take shape last year. But not all seven can make it. One, on the strength of her experience last year, entered an MFA program in poetry and is taking up seriously her calling, so she is otherwise engaged this year. She’s very talented. But she found the courage to pursue it at Marconi, in our workshops and in our private conversations. She was clearly a person deeply literate, steeped in the American tradition of poetry. But it was sitting in McCargo Hall, with the freedom to improvise and let her voice rise naturally, like that voice of the baby in Sylvia Plath’s poem “Morning Song” — “And now you try/Your handful of notes;/The clear vowels rise like balloons.” So we’re happy that she is able to do that. People go back to their lives changed in fundamental ways, renewed, ready to be more authentic and to take some chances, awakened to the fragility and brevity of life and determined to be more alive.
People come and they bond with each other and then go on to do things in their lives with more passion and clarity. Like one of our “people of the week,” Amy Souza. Like Bill Kerr, who is organizing writers workshops in Baltimore to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans speak their war-torn truths to power. Like Brian Herrera, who dazzled us with his voice and his performances and is now teaching drama at Princeton. Like Mary Burnham, who found her voice and style and is writing books about wine. Like Lisa Eldridge and Kathy Doran and Gil Schwartz and Gil Gallagher and many, many others. Something starts at Marconi and it echoes and ripples outward into the culture and that is why we do it.
Meanwhile, in the weeks running up to it, I belly-ache. I kvetch. I pace and worry and pace. So what if we make only $24 or even if we lose money? That’s not why we do it. We do it because it is one of the few things in this world that is socially useful, beautiful to behold, and full of love.
It is also a really enjoyable time for me personally. The people at the front desk who run Marconi — Margaret, Julie, Venta and James — are really sweet, kind and likable people, and we love to see them whenever we come up. And the food is outstanding. It is really, really good to eat.
Here’s one other interesting thing about Marconi, which I just realized it has in common with Burning Man: Basically, you don’t spend any money there. Everything is already paid for. It’s subtle, but I think there is something about being liberated from paying for things that releases one more strand of worry, one more little link to the everyday grind. We just go and eat breakfast and then write. Then we eat lunch and write. Then we eat dinner and gather to read and tell jokes or perform or sing, or just crawl into bed in the great, serene, quiet darkness of Tomales Bay, West Marin, the Point Reyes Peninsula a dark finger jutting north into the Pacific.
There might be a better place than Marconi to do these things, but for the price I haven’t seen it. And we looked around. I mean, when we started out in 2008 we looked around. And we looked around again last year when we thought we might not be getting the best deal, or that people might be tired of Marconi. We looked at retreat centers in Napa and up the coast and down the coast; we looked at a number of well-known and well-regarded centers. But nothing beat Marconi. We just love it. The serenity of the location. I mean, you just have to go there and walk about in the morning and you get it. Or at night, walk up Tower Hill — where the first trans-Pacific wireless receiving station stood in the early 20th century (yes, it’s named for that Marconi), and look up at the sky, or down at the few lights twinkling on the bay.
It is always memorable. So that’s why we do it. There’s no better way to start a new year, in my opinion.
And it’s easy. Whatever needs to be done payment-wise, we’ll do. We’re revamping our Internet store but meanwhile, if you want to go, and you’re not sure about the payment options or how to proceed, or how to get there from the airport, just email firstname.lastname@example.org, or just phone. We’ll work it out. We can run your card, or we can take a check. There are no real barriers.
See you there.
Well, I’m in Monterey this morning, here to help some writers. Also here to write on my own.
When I was writing the Since You Asked column for Salon.com, which I did for nearly 12 years, every day I wrote it I wanted to be proud. It was an extraordinary opportunity for a writer, for someone who really doesn’t know how to do much else and so has had to find jobs writing and editing and weather the uncertainties and deprivations of such jobs. Having had writing jobs and lost writing jobs I knew also that it would eventually end. That had been my experience and my observation, that writing jobs end. They live at the most 15 or so years, like dogs. So I was ready for it to end.
But every day until it ended I wanted it to be something I could be proud of. So I never slacked. I never dashed anything off. It may have seemed at times that I did but when the column was sloppy or not well thought out it was just because I reached the limits of my own personal ability. Because I knew it would end and I wanted to serve in that strange army with whatever strange distinction I could muster.
So when I left Salon, when that job ended, I thought at first that the noble and fine thing to do would be to end it. I did not want it to have a sloppy, drawn-out death of half-starts. So if I were to continue, I would have to give it the same effort as before. This I continue to hold to. So if I cannot give it the same attention and care and desperate effort as before, I do not think I should do it.
This raises a problem, because the one reason I was able to throw myself into it every day was that I knew it was paying the bills. I knew that as long as it was a salaried occupation, I could give it everything and be exhausted and unable to do much else for the rest of the day, and that was OK because the nut had been secured.
The nut is now not secured. So when I write the column I must somehow again reach that fevered certainty that what I am doing is vital.
I am going to try to reach that condition by placing “Donate” buttons at the end of the column. I will see if that works. I figure on some days, if the column reaches a person, truly reaches them, changes their life for the moment, as I have been told these columns occasionally do, then it would not be unreasonable to say that such a column might be worth $25, or $50, or more. Not every day of course, but I would like to present that option, that when a column truly moves someone, they can express that, and by doing so, they can keep me writing it. And of course it would also be possible to donate $1, or $5, or nothing. The column would be free. The donation would be like an expression, a statement: Yes, Cary, I want you to keep doing this. Do that again. Here’s some vital inducement to do that again.
Because I really am going to have to figure out how to make a living.
So for today, because I do not feel I can give it everything I have, because I am in Monterey and have to go to breakfast and see if I can be of service to some other writers, because the day is uncertain and I am in a strange hotel, because I never want to rush it or short-change it or cut corners, I do not think I am going to write a column today. Besides, I have to figure out how to work those “Donate” buttons.
Thanks for being there.
p.s. Oh, one other thing. I find that I miss the daily writing for an audience. I have never acquired the habit of blogging about whatever, because that seemed pointless and self-indulgent and also because I had the column as a perfect outlet for my daily writing obsession. But now that I don’t have the column, and I can’t afford, mentally, spiritually and economically, to write the column every day, I may just adopt the habit of blogging every day about just whatever. It would at least give me the illusion of being in touch with others. And the bar would be a bit lower, so that if I had nothing of any consequence to say, I could still meander a bit, like a morning walk with friends, not saying much of anything, just mumbling, but being there.
Anyway, that’s it for today, from me, for real this time, down here in Monterey in the fog, by the beautiful, beautiful sea.
Over the past six years of writing workshops and retreats we have met so many extraordinary people with extraordinary stories to tell that Cary and I decided to feature a person every week and share their writing or other creative project with rest of our writing community. My pick for this first column is Archana Kalegaonkar. We first met Archana at our 2013 writing retreat in Tuscany. After this adventure she started a blog in which she paints beautifully rendered, intimate portraits of life in India. Here is a link to her site. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Even from as far away as Australia, I could feel the relaxed, open atmosphere he created among us and found it surprisingly easy to get writing.
— Alice Allan, Melbourne, Australia
I was writing descriptions without events, like jokes without punch-lines. The workshops led me to try more active, engaging and complex storytelling. I gave up some fixed ideas about what kinds of writing I do and what kinds of writing are worth doing. After a while a novel erupted.
I avoid workshops because of the damage they can do to writers. Cary’s workshops are nothing but helpful, quietly and subtly leading writers to do their best in an open and welcoming environment.
— Randy Osborne, Author of Big Pinch World, Made of This, and a forthcoming memoir
It was a cozy place with all of us talking across borders. I felt charged, and my imagination took me to various lands. I could be myself. I had thought I was a certain kind of a writer and then suddenly I wrote about a Pterodactyl and I was like “Whoa… who wrote that?”
— Geetanjali Dighe, Mumbai
I hadn’t done any real creative writing in years. If only I could find a workshop where my writing wouldn’t get ripped to shreds and I wouldn’t feel like a loser idiot. Cary’s approach is flexible and supportive. The prompts take the work in interesting and unexpected directions.
— Lorri Leon, Pacifica, California
Nobody waits with a red pencil, nobody judges. The comments are limited to what rings true, what strikes your imagination. After a while I noticed I was writing to feel that ring of truth for myself.
— Leslie Ingham, Palo Alto
We write together. We’re all in the same boat. Now I’m a writer, because here I am, writing. I wouldn’t take a class from anyone else. I wouldn’t let anyone else see inside my head.
— Judy Evans, Los Angeles
The rules protect the often fragile and sensitive nature of writing. Cary is the ultimate host and leader. I’ve been in writing workshops for over twenty years. This one, by far, is the best. Norma almost always bakes amazing snacks, and the dogs provide a little levity. I would urge anyone to attend a series of these workshops and feel your soul begin to expand.
— Julia Penrose, Half Moon Bay, California
The structure is creative and supportive; I like it so much that I’ve been back every week. Writing is part of my life now. I look forward to those two hours of group writing each week, both to spark my own creativity and to hear the amazing things others write.
— Molly Mudick, Phoenix, Arizona
We write in warm surrounds of vibrant voices from far away places in an intimate cyber-circle. We write of things, ideas and stories that lure and propel. Cary guides us to ways of knowing each other and remembering ourselves. It’s where I breathe deeply and write.
— Treva Stose, Annapolis, Maryland
“A writer is someone who writes.” Hearing that line every week and reading my writing aloud, without fear, made it come true. I write. I am a writer. I want to be a surfer… A surfer is someone who surfs. I’ve been surfing since May 2010. I dance harder and smile while I’m moving and twisting my body, because that is what dancers do. I am a dancer. I took pieces of wood from the basement and painted them and hung them on a fence. It’s my gallery. Open studio is tonight. Or tomorrow. Or whenever anyone passes by. … I am an artist.
— Shannon Weber, San Francisco