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Archive for November, 2010

writers at the 2010 Aurora Project Fall Writers Retreat

Writers at the 2010 Aurora Project Fall Writers' Retreat

I think it was about this time of year in 2007 when I first got to know Michele MourĂ©-Reeves, whom I consider the guiding goddess of the Aurora Project, soon to be West Virginia’s first and only full-time artists’ residency program. Earlier that year, I had been blessed with a three-month stay at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico; for the first time, I really appreciated the value of the gift of time and space to work on one’s own art or refresh one’s own spirit.

Hard to believe, but Michele and I have collaborated on spring and fall writers’ retreats ever since, in the process becoming friends and learning to write grants together, among other things. The most recent retreat, in early November, featured a special guest, poet Maggie Anderson. Maggie’s public reading, on the Saturday evening of the four-day retreat, inspired me. So did her encouragement for the Aurora Project board and friends. As the founding director of the Wick Poetry Program and chapbook series, Maggie had valuable advice to share, but it was her enthusiasm, more than anything, that will keep me going.

It’s no small project to start a residency program. It’s even more challenging when there’s not a big endowment, when the funding must be raised bit by bit, and when the economy takes a nose-dive halfway through the process. It has been ten years since Michele and her board launched the Aurora Project, and the progress toward renovating the cottages that will eventually house artists and studios has been slow. But it has continued. Each time I visit, something new has been accomplished: a roof repaired, porch railings added, furniture acquired.

And I have to believe that the writing retreats play a role. I have to believe that each of the writers who come, spring and fall, to enjoy a restorative weekend at Aurora go home inspired, refreshed, and ready to spread the word about this wonderful vision.

The next Aurora Project Writers’ Retreat is planned for May 5-8, 2011. Writers, put it on your calendars.

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I recently spent a week with ten Road Scholars (formerly known as Elderhostel participants) who had come to Cedar Lakes Craft Center in Ripley, WV to work on memoir writing in a class I titled: Your Own Story, Your Own Words. It was a wonderful week for me because of their stories. I particularly enjoy Road Scholar groups because they have lived long enough to gather interesting life experiences and because they were young during an era when young people actually learned how sentences work. (Remember diagramming? It really was a useful exercise.)

This picture of Cedar Lakes, which I snapped one morning just as the sun was rising, seemed to illustrate an experience several of my students described. Thanks to my friend Kathryn, whose skills include leading meditation and yoga sessions, each day’s writing prompt was actually a short period of relaxation, cleansing breaths, and a guided “entry meditation” that allowed the students to proceed quietly and gently from remembering to picking up the pen (or going to the keyboard) to put their own history into words.

More than once, a writer who claimed to remember almost nothing from a particular time would find, as he or she let the guided “movie” play out behind their eyelids, that images, textures, sounds, tastes, and smells began to come to them in clear detail, like objects emerging from a foggy landscape.

And, by staying attached to their senses, the writers managed to convey the living essence of their experiences to the rest of us. Some stories made us laugh, and others made us cry. By the end of the week, the shared stories had made us into friends.

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