Will our words ever be heard again?

 

Write for Advice

We write and we write and we write on the Net, dispensing thoughts and advice. For what?

 Cary’s classic column from  WEDNESDAY, FEB 4, 2009

Dear Cary,

My problem is that we have a one-day cycle in our writing, in our lives. You read our problems; then people read our problems in your column. Then people read our responses, but then the sun comes up again, and all our writing goes down on the cycle, to oblivion.

I go nuts trying to give good advice to your letter writers, and also trying to provide wisdom and info in other Salon topics. But it all washes away after a single day. Smart, thoughtful posters get their say, but raging ding-dong posters get away with their silliness, because it all starts over again every day.

I always have imagined that future historians and archaeologists will read Salon, and gain insight on our society. But, Lord Almighty, we have so many words on our World Wide Web, and so many people!

Classical civilization had fewer writers than we have now, and even fewer whose work has survived. It is possible for a person to read every single surviving written work from all of Greek and Roman literature. Now, though, yikes! Overall, we generate as many words in a day as all those surviving classical works.

So! My question: Will anybody ever read what we write here, after today? I am sure our writing will persist in the World Wide Web, but will anybody ever read it again? Will our best, well-meant advice ever help anybody else in the future? Will our detailed knowledge ever help anybody in the future? Or do we just get filed, permanently?

And, does it matter?

Frequent Wise Man

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Dear Frequent Wise Man,

We do not know what will be left of our culture.

I do imagine that in oral cultures a great deal of brilliant talk was made and all of it is lost. I imagine that Homer composed poems more brilliant than any that were written down, and they are lost. I imagine that throughout time seers and sages have solved the mysteries of the universe while drunk on wine or high on hallucinogens, have seen it all and tried to convey it but had no tools with which to do so, and therefore countless moments of wisdom and genius, perhaps the very keys to the universe itself, have been glimpsed and they are lost.

If you have ever had the sensation of comprehending for an instant the totality of the universe and thinking, I’ve got it! I see it! I understand! and then slinking sheepishly into the house an hour later with only the fuzziest recollection of what you have witnessed, then you can imagine how many times this has happened throughout history, how many solutions to the world’s ills, how many poems of crystalline brilliance, how many mathematical proofs, how many perfect melodies and glistening poems and fantastic, indescribable visions of universal harmony have come to our ancestors and our brothers and sisters throughout time meditating high on mountaintops or walking along dirt paths from village to village or sitting in forest shacks and caves, or journeying in ships across vast oceans or contemplating the enormous desert sky, and you can imagine the tragedy or humor implicit in this: that it all has been lost. I imagine that many who have taken psychedelics have seen, in an instant, the very core of existence, but have not had the mathematics or the physics or the poetry to convey it, and so those visions are lost. I imagine that in the pubs of Ireland poems are composed daily by farmers in their cups and they are lost by the morning. I imagine that in New Guinea seers know with utter certainty the secrets of the universe but do not trust us or do not know us or figure we wouldn’t understand anyway, and so these secrets of the universe will die with them and be lost.

At the same time, as we prattle on endlessly in our way, I imagine that software of ever-increasing subtlety will be devised to ferret out important truths from the staggering mass of words that now pile up like a digital landfill, clogging the servers of the world. I imagine that everything we have written on the Net will eventually be retrieved, sorted and priced, valued according to its originality and wit.

But does what I imagine bear any relationship to the actual future we race into as though sliding down an icy mountain? Will what we say here ever really be unearthed and used? Will there be a need for it? Are we just playing out the old fantasy of immortality, dreaming that our words will live on? And, as you say, does it matter?

I do not know, but you and I and all the rest of us go on dreaming, trying to see the order in chaos, to glimpse the perfection at the edge of madness, look for the souls of trees and hear the voices of clouds and see in each occluded heart some echo of divinity. I know that we keep on talking and writing and it goes somewhere. Perhaps in that universe that even now is spinning backward from our own, our words are coming back out of the spring air and into our mouths and back into our brains where they will lie dormant, as if never spoken, until the pre-universe universe contracts sufficiently to cause another Big Bang, and it will start all over again, and after millions of years fish will climb the rocks and grow lungs again and apes will pick up tools and invent language all over again, and again as they speak and speak they will begin to wonder, Will this ever be heard again? Will future generations benefit from all our thoughts and visions? Does any of this really matter? And again the apes will go to psychiatrists and lie on couches and fill the air with doubt and uncertainty.

So it goes. Our uncertainty and doubt extend to the infinite sky and throughout time, shrouding perfection, blurring truth, undermining what feeble faith we can muster, reminding us that we are both divine and mortal, that we live both inside time and outside time, that we are creatures of many worlds, and that we will always wonder, and always try to cheat death, and always listen for the echoes of our words in every strange town, on every strange mountain, in every strange dream that comes to us in the night.

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My boyfriend is my boss

Write for Advice
Cary’s classic column from MONDAY, NOV 23, 2009

I’m getting sick of being “the editor’s girlfriend”


Dear Cary,

I’m a college student and a reporter for my university’s paper. I’m a good writer — my work has shown up in publications beyond the university, and since arriving here I’ve established myself as “one to watch” in the English department. I really don’t intend to sound cocky, but I’m not affected with false modesty. I have a lot to learn, but I know I have a knack for this.

I’m in a fairly new relationship of about three months, with a boyfriend who so far has been entirely wonderful. We’re both ambitious types with busy schedules and social lives, but we make the time. I think it has been a revelation to both of us just how extraordinary it is to have another person who is truly in your corner.

Here’s the problem — he’s my boss. He’s two years older and is the editor of the school newspaper, while I’m a staff writer. We met outside of the newspaper, and other people are in charge of how much I get paid and where my articles run. We’ve had several serious discussions about ethics, during which we emphasized that I’d never, ever ask him to do me any professional favors, and he would never give me any sort of special treatment. The relationship is more public than I’d like at such an early stage — we’ve both gotten long personal lectures on ethics from the head of the journalism department, and how he heard about us is anyone’s guess.

The thing that bothers me is not the ethical question — I feel like we’re managing that. It’s that I’m entirely fed up with being “the editor’s girlfriend” and not defined as a reporter in my own right. I have never, ever been the kind of woman who would be defined by a relationship — it is extremely important to me that I be defined by my own actions and my own work.

I’ve been doing good work at the paper, and I’m likely to be getting a promotion in the next couple of semesters. But I’m so, so sick of having to hear jokes about my sex life every time one of my stories runs in a prominent place in the paper or I pick up a particularly coveted assignment.

These aren’t serious allegations — the newspaper staff knows that it is not my boyfriend who makes these decisions, and people from outside the staff are only kidding. My friends say to laugh it off, but the fact is that those small successes are things that I earned through a lot of hard work, and the suggestion that I’m somehow trading sexual favors for good assignments truly offends me. I worry that the staff will take me less seriously and that this could endanger my future at the paper.

I know that having a happy relationship and a successful career are not mutually exclusive, but I feel like I’m too young to be dealing with such a minefield. I don’t even know whom to talk to about this — my boyfriend and I are handling it as best we can, but I don’t know how to tell him that although I’m pretty attached to being his girlfriend, I’m getting damn tired of being “the editor’s girlfriend.” I’m not giving up on my work, or on my relationship, I just need to figure out how to reconcile the two.

Her Own Girl Friday

Dear Girl Friday,

I suggest you try to be a little lighthearted about this. Imagine strutting around campus wearing a T-shirt that says, “I’m sleeping with my boss and enjoying it. You got a problem with that?”
Picture yourself walking amid these yahoos with your head held high. Imagine striking them down with wit and glamour and sophistication. Imagine shutting them up and putting them in their place.

Do you feel better?

Keep going with this. Conjure up an image that makes you feel powerful and proud. Make it vivid and real. Draw some cartoons or make a collage. Create the image of the superhero you are. Inhabit her skin. Name this woman. Give her special powers. Keep her image close to you. Appeal to her for strength and guidance.

And know this: Sexism pervades our culture. The assumption that a woman’s achievements stem from her value as a domestic, sexual and romantic companion rather than as a skilled worker is evidence of that sexism.

You know what else exists in our society? Morons. The world beyond your college gates is a nightmare of hulking, mouth-breathing morons. Morons even run newspapers. So be ready. You’re going to be encountering a lot of sexist morons.

So that’s the sociological part of this.

The other part is psychological: By mixing creativity, sexuality and power, you run the risk of incurring deep psychological wounds if things go wrong. By hooking up with your boss, however much you trust him, you have placed your fate in the hands of someone who may damage you, even if he doesn’t mean to.

That is my opinion, but I assume that it is also a fear of yours. If you sense that you are in dangerous territory emotionally, I would agree that you are.

Stuff can happen in such a relationship to shape the rest of your life. Sometimes people make decisions in such circumstances that last for decades. “Oh, he told me I’d be happier if I wasn’t writing, so I quit.” You know, crazy stuff.

How power, sexuality and creativity combine to damage the psyche is complicated. Let’s assume that our emotional responses are rooted in invisible structures formed very early. As a baby, you must be loved unconditionally. You are helpless. You have no vocational skills. You are just a cute, wiggling bundle that eats and shits and throws up and makes noise. You are not a cowboy or a princess. You must be loved and cared for unconditionally. We get older and develop skills, but underneath, our need to be loved unconditionally persists even after we develop great skills and charm and form adult relationships. One area where this need for unconditional acceptance seems to persist most deeply is in the area of creativity. Why is this so?

Could it be because creativity is our one way back to that primal state?

That would be my guess. Betrayal of this creative self reaches beyond personality self into some realm of existential pain and fear that is difficult to find access to. So if you are exposing this fragile, unprotected, raw creative pre-verbal self — the one that cannot protect itself but must be cared for unconditionally — to the upheavals of romantic and sexual relationship, you are in frightening territory. If for instance you were to break up you might feel unconsciously it was because you were not a good reporter. That may sound stupid. But these decisions, we do not make consciously. They are made by this pre-verbal, emotional self that reacts to rejection as if it were an existential threat. So I assume you feel concerned and confused for good reason. You are exposing your psyche to risks that you might not consciously understand.

What can you do? For one thing, you can begin getting assignments outside the school. You can strike out on your own so that there is no question in anyone’s mind how you did it. And  I would suggest, if possible, that you find some ally, a therapist or counselor or older friend, and go through this with that person, checking in frequently, discussing this, asking for protection, watching for ways that you have placed your fragile creativity in danger. If you are in self-doubt, ask yourself why. If you feel like quitting, interrogate your feelings. Honor them but interrogate them. It might be this frightened child who wants to quit. Beware. It’s complex. Keep moving forward.

p.s. You know that Yeats poems that ends, “I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”? What a lovely and moving poem that is.

Stolen words

Write for Advice

 

Cary’s classic column from

My boss uses what I write in e-mails as his own. What should I do about it?


Dear Cary,

I’m an in-house copywriter/creative director with a small technical company, working for a boss whose communications skills, to put it delicately, are not his greatest asset. Lately I learned he’s been passing off my writing (not ad or brochure copy, just conversational e-mails on internal issues) as his own. I’ll write him a note on a topic, and later on that same note will land in my in box as part of a forwarded e-mail conversation chain — only now the note has his name on it. It’s happened several times that I know of.

I’ve always thought of him as a fundamentally decent fellow, and I sense he does this more for expediency’s sake (“Why bother rewriting this opinion that I share, when I’ve got this version sitting here?”) than to lay claim to my thoughts and words. Still, they are my thoughts and words, and I worry that by keeping my name out of these conversations he’s limiting my ability to benefit from people’s reactions to my ideas. Besides, I’m a writer: Even within the quasi-professional forum of interoffice e-mails, it feels like plagiarism.

Am I overreacting? And if not, should I confront him?

Accidental Ghostwriter

Cary Tennis Writing Retreat in France

Dear Ghostwriter,

Here are some suggestions: Stop giving your boss great lines that he can use and call his own. Do your job on the brochures and the official stuff, but stop giving him stuff for free. If there are people you want to impress with your ideas, send your ideas directly to those people. Or if there’s a discussion you’re having with your boss and you can predict that it’s going to widen to include others, if you suspect he’s going to steal your material, suggest that that you include those people to whom he’s likely to send your material. Ask, what other interested stakeholders are there? You know, act like you care.

Either suggest they be included, or just cc them as though you thought that was the normal thing to do, since you know they’re interested parties.

Don’t be telling your boss not to cop your copy. He won’t get it. He’ll just think you’re being a pain.

You might also review just what you were hired for. Did you get a job description? Did anybody ever tell you what your job was? There is probably some expectation that you provide “other written materials.” These e-mails could be considered other written materials. You just want credit for it, right? So I’d find some way to let others know where it’s coming from — like, by cc’ing them before your boss steals your stuff.

And I would beware of your own personal motives that are tripping you up, too. Hey, I know about this: You want to do a great job of writing e-mails because that’s what you are. After all, you’re a writer. So you could be tricking yourself into giving your stuff away because you’re so damned good and you can’t help it, and you can’t help trying to impress your boss. I know what it’s like to be a writer. It doesn’t matter who the audience is. You’re still going to sweat over a few sentences until they’re perfect.

Bosses in non-media companies are so weird. They have no idea what it’s like to be a writer. They are just so weird. How do they even get through the day without being able to communicate?

Who knows. But they do. I guess they do it by hiring people like you.

Don’t pick a fight with him, but don’t be a sap!

WhatHappenedNextCall

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Our person of the week: Eva Finn

First, I’d like to give a shout out to the other featured writers, some of whom I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting at Cary’s first Creative Getaway. It’s good to see their faces again and inspiring to witness the success they’ve achieved with their writing. Going to the Creative Getaway and meeting Cary and Norma changed my life. I knew I wanted to do more with my writing but I didn’t know what. Cary was very generous with his time and counseling. After asking me a few really good questions about what I wanted to write, because seriously, I had no idea, he suggested young adult fiction might be a good area of focus for me.

I didn’t know that that conversation would lead me, five years later, to writing a blog that gives advice to young women. But I always loved Cary’s Salon.com advice column, and his book, Since You Asked. I felt a very personal connection to him through his writing and always thought he was better than any psychologist I ever had.

Which brings me back to what I’m doing now. I made a lot of mistakes in my 20s and sometimes wish I had done things differently or had had more guidance. I started the blog, Wisebefore25.com so young women could avoid some of my misfortunes. The topics range from finances, to boyfriends, to roommates, to family, to sex, to entertaining and beauty tips. But most of all, the goal of the blog is to help young women feel better about themselves and know that they’re not alone.

I also hope to finish a young adult book I’ve been working on. Not surprisingly, it’s a coming of age story. I plan on enlisting Cary and Norma to help me self-publish it once I’m done. It will be great to have their passion, devotion and inspiration once again.

Our person of the week: Terry Sue Harms

Back in 2008, I had the good fortune to be introduced to Cary Tennis.  I was trying to make sense of a novel length story I had been working on for two years.  I was self-conscious and insecure about what I had produced, and those insecurities were all but squeezing the life out of my creativity.  I didn’t believe I qualified as a writer, but a story came to me with such compelling force that I couldn’t not write it.  Without having any grand plan for what I was doing, I followed the story that played out in my mind like a movie; I wrote down what I saw, what the characters were saying, and how they felt.  The words just kept coming until I had the working draft that I gave to Cary for editorial assistance.

While he was reading my novel, he suggested that I acquaint myself with Pat Schneider and The Amherst Writers and Artist Method.  As soon as I read Schneider’s “Five Essential Affirmations,” I knew Cary could be trusted with my writing.  The Amherst Method’s philosophy affirms that all writers have a creative voice that cannot be silenced by social standing or academic status, and mentoring can be done without stifling the writer’s unique voice or creative inclinations.  It boldly proclaims that if one writes, then that one is a writer!  Hallelujah!  The writer in me broke out in a happy dance.  I didn’t have to somehow prove that I was worthy of the title; my thoughts on the printed page proved I was a writer.

PearlsCover_smallWith Cary’s trained eye, ear, and supportive input, I began to hear and validate my own creative impulses; I stopped doubting my right to say what I needed to say, and I was able to move forward and write the novel, Pearls My Mother Wore, to a satisfying conclusion.  It was during the first Creative Getaway at Marconi Center that I was able to go off by myself and complete a critical chapter in the novel.  The experience of writing by myself while among such a strong and supportive writing community and in such a relaxing and gorgeous setting was magical.

With assistance from Cary and Norma Tennis, I self-published Pearls My Mother Wore at the end of 2009.  Once the manuscript was as polished as I could make it, I hired Norma to put a professional touch on the book’s layout.  My husband and I designed the cover.  I got to set the selling price and pick the publication date.  It was such an all-around positive experience that I’m now working on a second book.  This next one is a memoir about my absent father, a man I’ve never met or spoken to, how I found him, and how I let him go.

Let the revolutionary self speak

by Kyoko Ide

Revolution. I feel such resistance towards it. Why?

I feel fear, I get tense, I feel like I have to find the right, proper words and expressions that wouldn’t offend anybody, so that my revolutionary self wouldn’t get criticized. But that’s not revolutionary at all. How come I feel like I have to protect myself and guard myself when I try to let my revolutionary self speak?

I have been always cautious not to offend anybody: Don’t offend anybody. Read the air. Read the atmosphere. Read other people’s minds. Keep the harmony. Don’t stick out. Tie your hair. Wear your uniform. (The ruler in the teacher’s hand that measured the length of the hem of my skirt.)

Keep your head down. Don’t speak up when your grandma speaks; she doesn’t want to be bothered by little kids; you have no right to speak up at the dinner table, you should just listen and nod quietly.

My mom told me she regretted that she didn’t let me speak up at the dinner table.

“Why didn’t I let you speak up? You were little and you had so many original, creative, incredible things to say, and I forced you to shut yourself up, because I feared your grandmother. I didn’t want to upset her. But who cares? Why didn’t I let you speak up? I should’ve let you speak up. I should’ve told your grandmother, ‘Excuse me, but now my daughter is speaking, could you shut your mouth and listen to her, please?'”

Why have I been silent? Why did I not say anything? What for? What was I afraid of? Where has been my revolutionary self? Why has she been so silent? Why has she been hiding? Why was she smiling, when she wasn’t smiling at all inside? Why did I keep silent?

My grandma’s dead. Then my mom’s dead. The teachers are gone. My father is old. What am I afraid of? Why do I have to keep my head down?

Where’s my revolutionary self — that wants to scream? That wants to stand up. That wants to walk ahead. That wants to turn the light on. That wants to pour the water and wash it all out. That wants to swipe it all. That wants to open her eyes and look them straight into the eyes.

Where is she? She is here. She has been hiding way too long. And she says: “Basta. I’ve had enough.” I’ve been listening and listening and listening and not saying anything. Nodding. Smiling. “Yes, yes.” “Sì, sì.” “Ho capito.” “Hai ragione.” “Sugoi desune.”

How wonderful! Basta, basta. I have something to say, too. I have a lot to say. I want to speak up. In any language. In Japanese. In my dialect. In English. In Italiano. Whatever.

I learned and learned and learned the languages; now I should actually use them. Stop nodding. Say something. Just say it. Say it loud. Don’t be silent.

I’m alive now. I won’t be alive forever. Death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain. I’ve got to say something.

Let us speak. Let us all speak. Let my sister speak, who is so afraid to speak. Let my friend speak, with her voice that is so free when she’s speaking to me. We have been speaking behind the walls. In the tiny Skype windows. In the car, when we were sure nobody was listening. In the kitchen, when the kids and the husband were not there. Behind the closed door, after we made sure it was locked, looking at the clock.

Let us be free from the darkness, the dense air that doesn’t circulate, the bad lighting, and the cold floor. Let us open the windows, unlock the door, turn the knob and open wide the door, let the air come in, let us swim in the sunshine. Let us say it all out loud. Let us show who we are.


[Note: This Voices from the Workshop World first-draft text was produced live in Cary Tennis’s Online International writing workshop. The goal of this Voices series is to showcase the literary productions that arise from these online Amherst Writers and Artists workshops, which are designed to maximize verbal creativity in order to free the expressive energy of all the world’s people.–Cary Tennis]

Let the revolutionary self speak

The world turns, and as it turns, people who could once keep to their feet and balance their weight against the motion, who learned to drink and dance and cook a meal while effortlessly poised against the turning of the world, these people suddenly found themselves thrown down to the ground, their plates and cups dashed from their hands, their feet hopelessly tangled, their heads broken and their limbs crushed. And those who lived began to ask themselves, as they fought to hang on to the violently-turning world, what has happened to the Earth’s rotation? Why do nights and days now flash by at such a speed? Why must we live with this awful perpetual motion, and why must we feel nauseous, and nurse injuries, and constantly risk our lives to cling onto the world by the very tips of our fingers?
They had little time to think about this problem, as daily life had become such a struggle for existence, and it was as much as they could do to keep body and soul together, let alone ponder big philosophical questions about the turning of the Earth. But they still did think about them, whenever they could gain a little rest and relief from their battle to hang on to the spinning world, for such is the nature of people. So one of their number said: “The rotation of the Earth has become so much faster because it suits the needs of a few rich men that it should be so. Never mind the fact that most of us are caused such discomfort, and that our friends and family and our neighbours have fallen off altogether, or become so sick and dizzy that they despaired and let go, or perished under the weight of heavy objects that have been displaced.”
Another said: “The trees are being uprooted and the atmosphere stripped away and the tides are too high and the land is flooded. The rich men do not care, for they can afford to live in special compounds that are protected from all the ill effects. But there are few of them and many of us. Why do we not demand that the Earth is slowed down to rotate once in 24 hours again? Then we can think of ways to repair the damage the rich men have done.” But one poor citizen who had suffered grave losses, and who was deeply scarred with old injuries from rolling objects, said: “Perhaps it is much better that the Earth should turn quickly. It is progress and progress cannot be argued with. And the wealthy men must surely be wise, or why would they have been blessed with wealth?”
Another spoke up: “If we do not accept that the Earth must spin nearly out of control, the rich men will give us no work, and if they cannot earn such vast wealth then surely we will all be poor. And if we do not hurtle through space at this frantic rate then we will be overtaken by other, faster planets who will rush around the sun much more quickly than we can, and they will steal our rightful warmth and light. And the rich men will label us ‘anti-revolutionists’ and all the world’s ills will be laid at our door. No, comrades, it is better that we should suffer in silence and continue to try to hang on until our luck changes and, perhaps by some miracle, we can join the ranks of the rich men.”
And so they did not try to right the wrong that had been done to the Earth and all its people. They lowered their heads and continued with their daily struggles as best they might. Until one day the Earth began to spin so fast that nothing could stop it. The last trees were uprooted, and the seas overran the land, and the atmosphere was stripped away, and the planet hurtled headlong out of the solar system and rolled away into deepest outer space.


[Note: This Voices from the Workshop World first-draft text was produced live in Cary Tennis’s Online International writing workshop. The goal of this Voices series is to showcase the literary productions that arise from these online Amherst Writers and Artists workshops, which are designed to maximize verbal creativity in order to free the expressive energy of all the world’s people.–Cary Tennis]

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Our person of the week: Lucy Hilmer

Lucy Hilmer has been a regular at Cary’s writing practice table at Café La Boheme in San Francisco, for the past 2 ½ years. Lucy is a fine art photographer, documentary filmmaker and poet, who spends most of her time working alone in her home studio. But every Friday at noon, she heads to the Mission to sit with Cary’s pop up community of creative people for an hour, where she and others fast write from prompts, and read aloud the instant trajectories of their free flowing imaginations. Writing with Cary at Café La Boheme has given Lucy — a self-described hermit/artist — a place she can count on for community and creative risk taking with others.

My Valentines BOOK COVERWe are please to recommend Lucy’s first photo book, MY VALENTINES, 21 Years of Portraits From The Family Album. It is a gift for all seasons, but especially appropriate for gift giving on Valentine’s Day. Here is the link to Lucy’s website, where it can be purchased.

For more than 40 years, Lucy has photographed, at regular intervals, the ever-changing lives of herself, her family, and friends, creating multiple, B&W series-in-time, which she is currently funneling into a trilogy of photo books with short, companion piece films.

For 21 years, the time it takes to bring up a child, Lucy made an annual portrait of her daughter, always in relationship to a rose and some abstracted portion of her black-sweatered dad. These classic, B&W portraits were then mailed out as Valentine Postcards to everyone her family ever knew or met. “Annie Cards” travelled all over the world to be archived in albums, stuck on refrigerator doors, pinned on bulletin boards in all sorts of offices— and now, they are available to you in this beautifully printed and produced book, which tracks the life a child growing from a 3-day-old infant to a 21-year-old woman who has come of age.

Annie Valentine Card 1993


Cary's Writing Retreat in Chester, CT

Jan Rosamond

Our person of the week: Jan Rosamond

Happy New Year! After slowing down for the holidays, Cary and I are back working at full speed. The “Featured Person of the Week” is back, as are more columns and creative writing from Cary.

A note: because many commenters have mentioned that they would like the ability to edit their comments after they post them, we’ve changed our method of posting comments. You now need to log in to our site to post a comment, as this is the only way out site will let you make edits after posting. I hope you won’t find this extra step too cumbersome. Please keep the comments coming!

Have a great week!

 

We first met Jan at our writing retreat at Marconi Conference Center. Since that time, Jan has embarked on a “self-funded, self-directed, multi-media inner research project” called Dharma Town. Dharma Town is intended as a sangha-building resource for practitioners of Insight, Mindfulness and Metta Meditation in the St. Louis area. For the past 2 years she’s been writing every weekday on Dharma Town Times, where she posts her reflections on all-things-dharma.

Below is Jan’s unique take on the Creative Getaway:

I’ve been to several of Cary’s Creative Getaways…the first one he ever held and then the second, and the third one, too, I think…and they were all wonderful, joyous, inspiring and quite amazingly productive…but the one I remember the most was the one where the Bear showed up. Not a real, live bear, of course. Not exactly.

Cary had given us a prompt which asked us to let that part of ourselves that is afraid to write—write. He said to let it say whatever it wanted to say. Which sounded a little too “woo-woo” for me, but then I got started and I found myself writing the words: “You don’t trust me, you don’t believe in me, you don’t feed me.” And then: “You put me on display—like a bear on a chain—and you expect me to dance for you, but you don’t own me.” And then it was like the power of whatever it was that I had been afraid of for so long took over and these words just poured out:

“I’m a bear. I’m a huge, smelly, filthy bear. I have sharp, yellow, slobbery teeth. Don’t try to pretty me up. I have wounds that oozed. I have festering sores. But my eyes are clear and my great, soft belly is the color of ripe peach. Let me be what I am. Let me breath and drool. Let me claw through the garbage and break things. Let me roam and let me stumble in the dark. Let me stink the place up.”

Then I wrote: “You’re scaring me.” And then: “I know. Let me scare you.”  

But the thing is, I wasn’t afraid. I was energized. And since then, I’ve never been afraid to write.

Cary Tennis writing retreat in Chester Connecticut

 



Our featured person of the week: Brian Herrera

We first met Brian Herrera at our first-ever Creative Getaway. An exceptionally talented and inventive writer, he amazed us all during our evening reading sessions by one moment reading us the most deeply moving piece, and the next reading something that would leave the entire room in tears of laughter. Here’s what Brian has to say about himself, the Creative Getaway, and his new project, Storywork:

When I got the email announcing Cary’s first Creative Getaway, I knew immediately I had to go. Even though it made no sense. Such an extravagance. Terrible timing. School would be back in session and, dang, it would be the weekend immediately prior to the last-chance, do-or-die submission date for my long-overdue dissertation! But…it would also be my birthday weekend. And a perfectly-sized lump payment had finally landed in my account. So when my partner said he’d spring for the airfare as a birthday gift, I clicked the button. I was in.

It was a gift, I reminded myself. Not a reward exactly, but a tangible gift to confirm that promise I made to myself. That promise that I would finish the dissertation. That confirmation that finishing the dissertation was itself an act of healing. That reminder that finishing meant I could no longer pretend I was just a dissertator. That finishing meant I was a writer.

And what better way to make that promise real than to join a bunch of other writers on a mountain near Tomales Bay?

That first Getaway was indeed a life-changer. In maybe the first session, I wrote my first real amends to my writerly self (using only single-syllable words, naturally). Within twenty-four hours, I wrote my first words of fiction. And by the weekend’s end, I felt as if a new chapter of my life had begun.

Looking back, just five years later, I realize that Cary’s Getaway didn’t make me a writer, but the experience did goad me to embrace that I am a writer, because I am someone who writes. That simple turn of mind not only opened a new chapter in my life, but also a renewed sense of self. And, in the five years since, I have kept writing in all kinds of ways. And not only the scholarly nonfiction required for my job, but exploring other forms, including young adult fiction, children’s picture books, and creative nonfiction The practice I began at the Getaway also took me directly to the particular set of coincidences that launched my autobiographical one-man show, I Was The Voice of Democracy, which has since been seen scores of times in more than a dozen states (not to mention Beirut and Abu Dhabi). I now enjoy a thrilling sideline in what I call “storywork,” or a mode of autobiographical storymaking in which the processes of writing and performing are so twined that the one can never be fully untangled from the other. (My new Storywork website launches this week — check it out!) And just a month or so ago, my ecstatic editor sent back a set of glowing reader reports, so now I’m hunkering down for a few weeks of deep revision because… Well, you remember that old dissertation? It is now nearly a book, presently under advance contract with a major university press and with a likely release sometime (hopefully early) in 2015.

And it all tracks back to that gift of a promise that Cary’s Getaway made real for me: I am a writer, because I am one who writes. So I better get to writing!