As our retreat slid into Day 4, on Thursday, I decided I’d done enough instructing. I decided that having presented four principles of writing, a deeper look at leniency, and thoughts on copia that the workshop’s focus should be on what members of the workshop had written in response to the copia/ “The Table” prompt. The pieces workshop members wrote were superb and opened the way for me to do a little reading out loud myself.
I wish I could provide a link to Brenda Peterson’s evocative essay, “Living by Water”. It’s wonderful essay detailing how Peterson came to understand, as she grew into adulthood, that she had to live in the company of water and that water is what nourishes her spirit, imagination, and soul. Peterson moved to the Puget Sound and her essay details not only her love for northwestern Washington, but is a lovely reverie upon the qualities of water, drawing upon science, biology, and the Tao de Ching to deepen her personal observations and meditations.
I read this essay to the workshop for two reasons. First, Peterson’s essay roams from one dimension of the meaning of water to another so that by the time its six or so pages are complete, we, as readers, have experienced water in multiple ways. I hoped that Peterson’s essay might inspire all of us to see the beauty of multi-dimensional writing, to more fully understand how such wandering deepens, broadens, and lengthens the reader’s understanding of a subject, whether in an essay, poem, story, or memoir.
My second reason for reading this essay was to take us back to where our writing had begun. On Monday night, everyone wrote a piece prompted by the words, “I Am From”. I suggested that we return to those pieces and look at it a different way. How about looking at “I Am From” in terms of one of the four elements: water, earth, fire, or air. How about if each person wrote a piece examining what s/he lives by in relation to where each person is from.
On Day 5, several members of the workshop read what they had written. Rachel wrote a Dr. Seuss like piece;Duane examined the water that cannot be seen east of the Cascades, especially in the area around Odessa, his home; Christy wrote about Lake Roosevelt; I presented an unfinished piece called “Making a Living by Earth” and explored the ubiquity of earth and minerals in the lives of those of us who grew up and made our living by earth in the Silver Valley.
There. I don’t know if anyone will read these recaps, but now I have a record of what happened over the course of July 13-17 at Camp N-Sid-Sen on Lake Cd’A. If, in the middle of winter, I think back to this week and my aging, busy, often preoccupied mind can’t remember what happened at the retreat, I know have a record of it.
I’m proud of this record. I left this retreat invigorated and inspired. Such concentrated good writing, good people, and good will made it difficult to leave. I know we can’t be on retreat fifty-two weeks out of the year, but it’s enriching to be able to spend one week this way.