Getting to Why

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Writers working on their stories at the first writing weekend at Skenewood.

Writers working on their stories at the first writing weekend at Skenewood.

When Kelly and I started boot camp for writers almost two years ago (wow!), Felicity Fields, web developer and marketing guru, told us to watch this Start with Why, Ted Talk by Simon Sinek.

Sinek’s point was that you need to frame your business so that the why, or purpose, is clear to your customers. The purpose of Apple is not just to offer great computers, but to challenge the status quo. People dig that.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

What is the ‘why’ of boot camp for writers, our writers’ collective?

  • to build a writing community
  • to disrupt your life
  • to tell difficult stories
  • to make the story of your life a hero’s journey.

Since starting this biz, tbh, (to be honest), I’ve hardly made any money. Maybe because I’ve been offering free Meet Ups or the cost of the space sinks me or maybe it’s just that I’ve valued building creativity over building capital. They say it takes three years to be profitable in a new business venture. Most of my income’s come from my freelance writing, teaching and videography work since I left my day job,

I still believe in my biz. When I come home from offering a writing weekend or an evening workshop, I think, wow, that was great, this business is much-needed. I have a why.

So here’s your why — join boot camp for wrtiers: be a part of a community; disrupt your life; tell your story; and give your narrative a purpose. Know that you are the hero of your journey, not the victim of your circumstances.

We can talk more about this over coffee on an Adirondack chair in the morning watching the sun rise over Lake Champlain. Or over a glass of wine as the sun sets off of the patio. Come to the beautiful Adirondacks mountains. May 29 to June 1. There are still a few private rooms left in this 10-bedroom manor house.

house

The Adirondack retreat is held in this beautiful 100+ year old house in Westport on Lake Champlain, NY.

Full weekend including private room: $530, all meals, lodging and pick up from the Westport, NY Amtrak train station. Register at: Adirondack Writing Weekend.

Here’s a video from the first fall writing retreat for writers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYKWfbgd6nU And here are pictures of the historic manor house where we will write and dine. Visit: http://www.vrbo.com/382611.

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Artists’ and Writers’ Weekend

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I had an awesome weekend. I am writing this from the southbound Amtrak from Westport, NY to New York City. I am so high and grateful for the time to simply write and make art. I’m so happy about my (and Kelly Wallace’s) business, Boot Camp for Writers or Writers Boot Camp East and West, or whatever the hell we call it.

I’ve been offering writing workshops — sporadic, weekly, or weekend-long – since August ‘12. This weekend, May 16-19, the workshop was held at Skenewood, the Georgian manor house owned by my husband’s family on Lake Champlain, five hours north of New York City.

As in any adventure tale, this weekend had suspense, characters, details, and setting.

Suspense

Whether this weekend was going to go was a mystery. A week ago, after I came down from the high of being in the cast of Listen To Your Mother, a collective of New York city writers at Symphony Space, I wondered whether to offer the weekend retreat. The turn out was so small that I couldn’t foresee breaking even. But my passion for helping writers is bigger than my desire to make a buck (I know, I know. I have to work on this!).

My goal as a writing teacher is to make writers, skill writers up, and build their confidence.

So what if we were a smallish group? Fewer people meant fewer people to please and less dishes to do.

Characters

Every story needs some sympathetic characters. And my workshop crew — Rashida, Kathryn, Lena, Joanna —  was totally fantastic. They offered so much, so much artistry, integrity, skill.

We began on Thursday night with a candlit dinner in the dining room. On Friday we wrote in the morning, walked and made art in the afternoon. Late afternoon we hung out at Ted Cornell’s amazing art farm, populated by massive sculptures, oil paintings, Adirondack charm, intellect.

On Friday night, I invited a handful of local authors and folks to our evening salon. Several — Dan McCormick, Scott Gibbs, and Lindsay Pontius – joined us. The last two read some of their work. Brilliant. And we retreatants read some of our stuff or shared our book journals. Joanna Parson rocked us out with some guitar.

Details

On Friday and Saturday afternoons on the table in the children’s dining room, we spread images and words cut out from books, newspapers, or magazines. With Rashida Craddock’s and Kathryn Cramer’s guidance, we made collages and covers for our journals.

I got in the zone, getting lost in the details of visual art and print. Totally inspiring. I made a half dozen pages of my crazy art journal that I’ve been working on for a year.

Without diving too deeply into the waters of our writing, I can tell you we wrote about parents, grandparents, children, relationships, theater, and more. Some of our work was fiction and some non-fiction and some blurred the boundaries.

Setting

I slept so heavily over the weekend. Maybe it’s the fresh air or just the big house wrapping its arms around me.

I think the house likes it when a nice group settles in. Words fail me when I try to write about the feelings of being at Skenewood – because there are so many feelings, and so many smells and sounds.

Like the smell of the lilac bush.

Or the smell and feel of the earthy damp basement when I go barefooted for raspberry jam.

Or the crack of dry wood in the fireplace.

Thanks

The talent of my friends is not limited to words and music and art. Some of my friends are artisans with food. Thanks especially to Carolyn Ware of Ernie’s and David and Cynthia Johnston at DaCy Meadows Farm.

And Edward Cornell for the visit to the Art Farm. And Michelle Maron for the soothing, restorative morning yoga.

The thing about a literary journey is that the hero ends up in a different place than the one she set out for. But the journey makes her stronger or wiser. And that is the case with this weekend.

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Four of the five of us: Rashida, Lena, Joanna, Me

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A visit to Ted Cornell’s art farm

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We contemplated the beach.

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At the apple orchard near Kathryn’s house

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Making art journals in the children’s dining room

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with Ted on his art farm

Small Cup of Kindness

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My eyes were a little red. I felt sad. It felt odd to be alone on a five-hour train ride back to the city. I had been juggling fast and furious — with the kids, getting them to camp and Spanish language school; encouraging the chronically ill husband; maintaining my cool with difficult and sad issues around my husband’s family; starting my own small business; finishing a job I love and need to leave.

The peaks looked insurmountable. Seemed there was nothing but trudging uphill ahead of me.

Just keep it together, girl, I told myself. That’s all you can do. Although another side of me said, Go ahead, indulge in your self-pity. No one would blame you.

And so I asked for a cup to tea to join me in my quick sand of brewing self-doubt.

But this woman and Amtrak worker, Veronica, gave me more than a cup of tea — she gave me her smile. And I felt restored by the kindness of a stranger, another woman on the train.

I felt, Oh screw the sadness. Because I’ve got my cup of tea, a laptop, and a smile on this train. I’ll make it just fine. And we chugged along.

Here’s another post on why I like trains better than planes.

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Watch the Eagle Soar

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The Hudson River narrows up north.

Out the window of the Amtrak train, I just saw an eagle soar above the Hudson.

But I do not see the soaring eagle as a symbol of our country. We are too divided, rancorous, and the eagle is too beautiful, wild.

The bird soars. It is so elegant and at-peace. Yes, I hate when people anthropomorphize animals (especially dogs!) but I can’t help this metaphor. It just came to me and I have to go with it.

This current US political and economic scene is way too vitriolic and fluctuating to be found in nature. While the stock markets jump, the politicians pounce, the eagle soars.

In soaring there are lessons or rules for living. Worried about your portfolio? Retirement? Millionaires getting a free pass? Get out! Get into nature!

  1. Watch a squirrel or a fluffy cloud.
  2. Sit on a park bench.
  3. Drink some cold water.
  4. Smile at a stranger.
  5. Pet a neighbor’s dog (but don’t anthropomorphize it.)
  6. Breathe fresh air.

Find yourself in nature and you will get a breather, a respite, a grounding. It’s why prophets trekked to the desert, corporate execs went on Outward Bound, (although money for corporate bonding has probably dried up.)

Looking for epiphanies? Looking for meaning? Try looking for real life eagles.

the view from my Amtrak seat

Or go somewhere on a train. I just finished writing this and looked out the Amtrak window again.

I saw a hawk up high and a heron down low.

God, nature is amazing! New York State still has a lot of wildlife, and I’m not talkin’ bout City Hall or Wall Street.

The Engine of the Train

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Big metal bumps into big metal. There is a satisfying clink. Almost as good as the dink of cold beer bottles as we toast each other after a hot work day.

Every time I take the train from New York City to Westport, NY, the train stops in Albany to get a new engine. And so I hurry from my seat to the platform with the other train enthusiasts (12-year old boys, pot-bellied men, tourists from Japan) to watch the new engine back in and clink against the train.

Why is this moment of impact such a thrill? Because the engine is small and the train is heavy. Because the elegance and engineering of rail travel still amazes me. Because there is a satisfying clink. Cheers!

Trains Are Better Than Planes

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This board is from the Museum of Modern Art exhibit on typography.

Here’s why I prefer train travel to plane travel with kids.

No security line.

The conductors’ uniforms. The Amtrak conductors just look official and yet like normal people.

I like that you don’t have to wear a seat belt.

I like that you can see the terrain you’re traversing.

I like that there are smart older folks, volunteers from the National Parks Department, giving juicy lectures in the food car about the history of the Hudson River and the region. (Can you imagine anyone getting in the food galley of a plane for a lecture on the region’s history by plane?) Here are some facts from today’s lecture:

  • Did you know that National Geographic called this Northeast Corridor rail line from NYC to Montreal one of the Top 10 Most Scenic Train Rides in the country?
  • Did you know Bald Eagles are no longer endangered?
  • Did you know that this rail line was created in 1851?
  • Did you know Franklin Roosevelt had a secret ramp in Grand Central Station to board the train and presidents still use that secret passage today?

I like that you can move around the car (not the cabin).

I like that there’s never a time when you are forbidden from using electronic devices.

I like that you can plug your computer in.

Leg room.

I like that just before you reach your station, you’re encouraged to stand up and move towards the exit. (Unlike on a plane, where you’re told to stay seated until the plane has come to a complete halt.)

I am thinking about this because this week I flew to and from Chicago with the kids. I would not want to take a train with them to Chicago.

I’m writing this as we travel on Amtrak to the Adirondacks for summer camp. Six hours on the train is perfect.

What do you prefer? Train? Car? Plane?

I love Amtrak

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The train conductors are service people who do not check their personalities at the door. You get to know them when you take that seven-hour train up or down between NYC and the Adirondacks.

One conductor had a plate of homemade cookies from a station mistress.

I was ogling them, smiling.

“Do you want one?”

“I’m on a diet,” I said. “I shouldn’t.”

I got up to use bathroom.

When I returned to my seat, there were two cookies beside my computer.

They were seriously the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever eaten.

I love the Amtrak conductors. The guy then railed (!) at me about how some people spread out too much on their seats when new passengers need those seats, then he started spouting how too many people are politically correct and he’s a huge fan of Rush Limbaugh’s. Okay, I tuned out on this last part of his diatribe.

I am a huge fan of political correctness and common courtesy. And you’d think the conductor would be too, especially if he wanted passengers to share their space well.

But I didn’t get into it with him. Not with the sweet taste of chocolate chip cookies still melting in my mouth.