Writing Retreat in San Miguel de Allende, May 2017

I’ve been trying so hard to write our story. It has been three years since we lost Rebel Heart. While we interviewed with This American Life about what happened (you can listen to that episode, Call For Help, here), and while this piece written by Kevin Grange for the Journal of Emergency Medicine, was recently published, neither I, nor Eric, have told the complete story of what happened at sea in April of 2014. 

Writing workshop with Amy Ferris, March 2017.

Writing workshop with Amy Ferris, March 2017.

I’m working on that. I’ve done two of Linda Schreyer’s, Slipper Camps, or online writing workshops (dubbed Slipper Camp because you can write from home in your PJs) and I recently attended a workshop held by Amy Ferris in LA about writing/righting my life. Both of these tools have helped me break through mental and emotional blocks to access the story in my head that wants to be told. Time, and therapy, have done their part as well.

One thing I’m becoming increasingly cognizant of is how hard it is for me to write at home. Even when my girls are away, and the house is relatively quiet (remember, Eric and I work from home), the presence of everyone and everything is still there. Getting away helps me write.

So I went all the way to San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico to keep my writing momentum going. 

San Miguel de Allende (SMA) has a long tradition of attracting artists, poets, painters, writers, and other creatives. It welcomed me like a long lost friend.

What’s amusing is that I needed to get away from these, my favorite humans, in order to write about them and write about our life together on Rebel Heart.

God, he’s gorgeous.

And these two just shine.

This is Lizz Huerta. Isn’t she fabulous? Lizz is a writer. She has been publishing poetry, memoir, and fiction for over 10 years. Check out this story she wrote that won the 2016 Lumina Fiction Contest. 

She and our friend, Beau, rented a gorgeous home right in the center of SMA and invited me to join them. Lizz and I have talked about doing this before: renting a comfortable home, in an inspiring location, and spending our days writing and sharing, and our nights, exploring, drinking, and then writing and sharing some more. The stars had aligned so I bought a ticket from Tijuana to Leon (one of the airports closest to SMA) and drove down to San Diego.

The night before my plane left I got to see a huge group of my San Diego mom friends. They are women I love very much and who have been there for me time and time again.

Left to right: Brigid, Teal, Kristine, Monique, Alex, me, Katie, Sandee

The next morning, my brother, Rich, drove me to the new Cross Border Express Bridge and I sauntered across an international border to the Tijuana Airport to catch my flight. Easy, breezy, travel girl.

After many, many hours of travel, I walked into a four story home in San Miguel de Allende to the smell of a home cooked meal, a heavy glass of red wine, and a killer roof-top view.

No, seriously. Check.out.the.view.

And this is Beau. Lizz and I BOTH used to date Beau. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m in San Miguel de Allende with my ex! And Lizz’s too! And you can go ahead and think I’m weird. Most people already do. I like weird. 

We’ve all been friends for years. And Beau is also friends with Eric (my husband) and Hari (Lizz’s boyfriend) and everything about this trip is awesome, including Beau’s cooking, and his wonderful support of our writing. He also walks behind us like our bodyguard and gives us all the hours we need to write and laugh, and cry, and listen.

The first full day in town, I walked up to the roof and started writing.

Lizz read a fiction piece of mine I’d recently submitted to a writing contest. It got turned down and this only bugged me a little because it’s a really a damn good story idea and I am going to write it regardless. After I finish the story of Rebel Heart.

We spent hours writing. In between we munched on chips, and guac, and salsa. There were coffee and cookies too.

Finally, we said, ‘let’s be done at 5,’ and ice cold, Mexican beers were poured.

We walked to dinner that night at a local corner restaurant but as soon as we had finished, we headed back to the rooftop to catch the evening view and to share our writing.

In this photo, Beau is reading a piece I’d written for the memoir about life on Rebel Heart. It’s a sex scene that happens on the Pacific Crossing and I was so nervous as he read it. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not to include pieces like it in the story I finally publish. After talking to fellow writers, I believe I will. I still need Eric to read it, and approve, and I’ll do that before I move forward, of course. Sex is integral to the human experience; it’s certainly fundamental in ours. If it’s written well, and it moves the story forward, I think I have to do it.

To my relief, Beau, said ‘wow,’ and ‘it’s really well written.’  :whew:

Lizz read us one of the short stories she finished that day. Her goal has been to finish a story a day while she is here. Her productivity, and not to mention her creativity, is amazing. This particular piece was about a mysterious, time-traveling Mariachi. I cannot stop thinking about it.

I’ve been writing on and off for years with Lizz. We did National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) together in 2010 and during that time she shared many of her favorite methods for getting large chunks of writing done in short bursts of time. 

On the second morning, she had me draw three cards from her deck to help set the mood for my writing that day. I wasn’t at all surprised when these three were flipped over:

1.    The word wants to be written.
2.    What do YOU feel?
3.    Defend to the end, the worthwhile.

The universe was in tune with my intentions. I continued to write my story.

We had lunch at El Mercado and enjoyed the vibrancy of the city as we walked.

There was a May Day parade happening for International Worker’s Day (that’s not a line of taxis, it’s a PARADE of taxis.)

After hearing Lizz’s story the night before it was especially thrilling to see all the mariachis.

We wrote, and wrote, and wrote some more. We wrote until it was time to watch the sunset again.

Then we all went out to dinner. I often tell Lizz that if I’d had known her in our twenties, we would have gotten into so much, of the best kind, of trouble together. 

Now we’re in our 30s and we still make trouble, just a little more sedately. 

The third morning we headed to some local hot springs at a place called La Gruta, but La Gruta was closed. Luckily, the neighboring hot spring, Escondido, was open. 

This is the writer, Elizabeth Rosner. She was introduced to us online by our mutual friend, Amy Ferris, and was brave enough to say ‘yes’ to meeting two women she’d never met in person for a morning in some mineral baths. 

Elizabeth is a writer and a teacher. She is the author of three novels, The Speed of Light, Blue Nude, and Electric City, and a poetry collection called, Gravity. Her upcoming book, Survivor Café, the Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory, comes out in September 2017, and is available for pre-order now on Amazon.

We explored the springs together and talked the way only writers who have never met before, but have the common connection of writing, can.

Is this real life?

If you ever visit San Miguel de Allende, I highly, highly recommend you explore the hot springs at Escondido.

After the hot springs it was back to work and back to writing. That afternoon we all separated into different parts of the house to focus.

Our last night came too soon.  I can’t wait to kiss Eric and to squeeze my girls, but the siren song of San Miguel will remain in my heart for quite a while.

Thank you, Lizz and Beau, for the friendship and the opportunity. Here’s to next year and another writing retreat. Please!

One Wild and Precious Life | Remembering Kitty

IN MEMORIAM TO FIONA "KITTY" GRACE, 2010-2015

The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean - 
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

---------------------------------------------------

(All photos in this post are shared with consent from Kitty's family.)

The sailing community joins Kitty's family in mourning her passing. Here are other posts that do a better job of putting into words what I cannot.

From Melissa: http://littlecunningplan.com/2015/04/for-kitty/

From Amanda: http://www.asabee.ca/archives/5883

From Behan: http://www.sailingtotem.com/2015/04/some-good-must-come-from-this-tragedy.html

From Brittany: http://www.windtraveler.net/2015/04/the-world-lost-bright-light.html

From Anne: http://frompinetopalm.com/2015/04/23/in-a-moment/#.VUfDivlVikp

From Laureen: http://theexcellentadventure.com/ea/2015/04/23/sheltering-from-the-wind/

From Cindy: http://zachaboard.blogspot.ca/2015/04/kitty.html

Kitty's family has asked that donations be sent to Equusearch in memory of Kitty.

This post originally appeared on our Rebel Heart blog on May 4, 2015.

Did You Write Yourself a Note? | On Self Love

Last month I drove from Mammoth Lakes to Sherman Oaks, California (a part of LA) to attend a women’s writing workshop with author, Amy Ferris. I recently wrote a review of one of her books, Marrying George Clooney, Confession from a Midlife Crisis. The workshop was two full days and because Mammoth is a seven hour drive from LA, I rented an Airbnb for four days so I wouldn’t have to drive at night (I’m a crap driver when it gets dark).

Before I left home I put a sticky note by everyone’s beds telling them how much I loved them. The girls took theirs down and played with them and the slips of paper eventually got lost in the detritus that tends to collect on the floors of children’s rooms. Eric’s is still stuck directly above where he sleeps. I love that he hasn’t taken it down. 

A few days ago my youngest daughter, L, knocked softly and came into my room while I was getting dressed for the day.  I was quickly pulling on thermals (it is still COLD in Mammoth Lakes) when she pointed at the pink note and asked, “What does that say, mama?”

L is four years old and is very curious about the written word. She makes up her own spelling for all kinds of words and now has started to identify some words on her own. Pre-reading is a magical time. Instead of reading it word for word, I summarized, “it’s a love note from me to daddy. It tells daddy that I love him very much.”

She nodded and puffed her lips out, thinking. I’d gotten my other leg in my thermals and was now putting on wool socks when she said, “okay, but did you write yourself a note?”

Image by Ella Sherman

Image by Ella Sherman

I just stopped. L has large blue eyes. She looks very much like me. I stopped and looked at the little human in my life, the tiny four year old who had just dropped a truth bomb on me, and all before I’d even finished my first cup of coffee for the day.

“Did I write myself a note to say I loved me?” 

“Uh huh,” she nodded, her eyes locked inquisitively to mine.

“I, well, no...” I was at a loss for words. Instead I squatted down and opened my arms up to her. “I didn’t write myself a note, but I will next time, okay?”

“Okay!” And she flitted into my arms like a tiny fairy, then pulled away, bowed deeply, and pirouetted, because right now everything in her life is a make believe ballerina game. 

Her words chewed at me all day the way only your own offspring’s words can do. Do I love myself? How do I know if I do? How do I write a note to say I love myself? 

Image by Amy Ferris

Image by Amy Ferris

At the writer’s workshop I attended a few weeks previously one of the prompts had been how to fall in love with myself and I had been completely stumped. All around me women’s fingers flew on their keyboards, tapping what I later listened to as excellent suggestions, but I couldn’t do it when it came to me. Instead, I set a wish for myself that I’d live long enough to see my girls into adulthood, and possibly meet their children. That wish was intrinsically linked with the hope it would specifically not be suicide that ended my life before I got to see all those things.

That was the only prompt in two days when I was stuck. The rest of the time I let my words flow and I met the challenge of each prompt eagerly. I’d been experiencing writer’s block for months and there was something about the personalization of the prompts and the ability to share with other writers (especially other women) that finally unlocked the floodgates of my writing.

Do I love myself?

Here’s what I know how to do when it comes to myself: I respect myself and my boundaries and my limitations. I also push and challenge myself constantly. I give myself time to rest and to reset. I remove toxic people from my life and my family’s life. I take care of my body. I try to meet my creative and emotional needs and I set goals for myself. I very much love others.

But, does all of that equate to loving oneself? And if doesn’t, what DOES? How would you define loving yourself? 

I find it very hard to write out these words: I. love. myself. 

It makes me feel uncomfortable to say that, but why? I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out. My daughter thinks I’m deserving of self love, so maybe I should listen to her truth bomb again, “did you write yourself a note?”

 I’ve been to writing workshops before. They’re very important. Octavia Butler once said,

A workshop is a way of renting an audience, and making sure you’re communicating what you think you’re communicating. It’s so easy as a young writer to think you’re been very clear when in fact you haven’t.

I’ve received feedback (sometimes solicited, sometimes not) on my writing many times, but at Amy’s workshop there was also emotional feedback, and at this point in my writing (and my life), that was everything for me. It was helpful, nourishing, and rejuvenating. 

I’m not sure I have this whole ‘loving myself’ thing down yet, but I will keep writing; I have a feeling that it’s writing that will get me there. When I do, I’ll write myself that note and post it somewhere that L can see too.

Sheryl Moore Goodspeed, Maureen Custer, Linda Schreyer, me, and Amy Ferris.

Sheryl Moore Goodspeed, Maureen Custer, Linda Schreyer, me, and Amy Ferris.

I am hosting Amy Ferris for a women’s writers’ workshop this July 8-9 in Mammoth Lakes, California. Please join us and please share this event with any women writers in your life. Details are here.