Artists’ and Writers’ Weekend

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
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Writing Prompt

At our lunchtime Wednesday Writers group, Rashida Craddock led us on a hilarious exercise. She passed out a list of 26 strange words like cabotage, quire, tittynope, and xertz. And she told us to write a story of one person explaining how to use the word correctly to a child. Even though we didn’t know what the words meant, we were to write as if we did. She gave us 10 minutes.

Here’s a little story I wrote with my word, winklepicker.

“Oh, little one, a winklepicker is not for you. That’s a grown-up word for what grown-ups eat when they’re having their cocktails on the terrace. They have pickles, cheese, crackers, stuffed mushrooms, winklepickers!”

“But Grammy! I saw a mermaid on the terrace when you were having cocktails.”

“Oh, little one, cocktail time is magical. I have seen my share of mermaids during cocktail time too.”

Yes, little one, also known as Juliet, had seen the mermaid. And Brownie, the mermaid, had seen Juliet many times. She’d seen her on the rope swinging in the Elm tree, kicking her legs and climbing high.

Brownie was lost and had to get back to her school. And she believed that the girl could help her return to her school of fish.

I’ve been telling these girls bedtime stories about Juliet and Brownie their whole lives. Made up bedtime stories are the best.

“Now, you run along. Go find your mermaids, your leprechauns, your fairies,” said Granny. “I’m in need of a sleep fairy myself. I’ve been so busy writing invitations to our next cocktail party. And by sleep fairy, I mean a frighteningly delicious mix of champagne, cranberry, and a splash of Kir.”

Juliet slunk away while Grammy tinkled with the ice. Juliet sat on the window seat in the library and looked out the window…. (there’s more but I’ll stop there with my bedtime story.)

I was so happy to be with my lunchtime writing community. I hadn’t been there in two months, since I left the day job. We are such an amazing group of creative women. Don’t believe me? Check out Rashida’s art blog.