Thursday, August 27, 2009

After the Retreat: A Guest Post by Chloé Yelena Miller

AROHO Retreat: Digestion
Second of two guest posts by Chloé Yelena Miller

AROHO, pronounced as one word, is the acronym for A Room of Her Own.

Oneness was the unofficial theme of this year’s retreat. A group of 80 or so women gathered in the red desert to share ideas, challenge each other, and form one community.

I wanted to write this blog post at the weeklong retreat. In my creaky bed, I tried to summarize what was happening. But even at the airport returning home, I was overwhelmed.

So I asked AROHO friends on Facebook what their favorite moments were:
Barb Johnson, Gift of Freedom Award Winner and author of More of This World or Maybe Another, wrote, “Rita Dove. Transcendent readings. Wonderful conversations. Dancing. Discovering that hummingbirds chitter.”

Jennifer Mattson, NPR contributor and instructor, added, “Rita Dove, twice. Conversations with Barb Johson, hiking and the Georgia O'Keeffe tours.... and of course late nights with the roomie.”

“Two moments: The first evening, one of the women explained the perseids (she goes somewhere each year to see them), which was a first clue this would be an interesting, informed group. Also, Meredith [Hall]'s exercises for memoir writing” were oral historian Abbie Reese’s favorite memories.

Summer Wood, Gift of Freedom Award Winner and author of Arroyo, shared: “Ellen [McLaughlin]'s phenomenal monologue following Rita [Dove]'s lovely, generous reading. I thought I was going to explode out of my skin.”
I filled up a notebook. I wanted to remember Mary Rose Betton teaching us about reading our work aloud, starting with our natural voice (which can be found by simply saying, “uh huh”). I wanted to remember Rita Dove saying: “After a project, I promise myself to do something completely different. Something that scares me.” On writing for public radio said, Jennifer Mattson said: “Always mumble when you write. Read and write at the same time.” I keep thumbing through the notebook.

Many women arrived planning to write throughout the days. Since I work alone from home, I wanted to meet people and attend classes. I tried not to sit in my room, but rather talk with other writers who were up for conversation.

I mentioned in the previous post that I attended Smith College, an all-women’s school. Perhaps because I'd already experienced being part of a supportive, all-women’s network, I was particularly interested in finding honest critiques of my writing.

Luckily, author Laura Fraser’s workshop on creative nonfiction did just that. She was firm and clear. I’d read her book An Italian Affair before leaving. I knew she was successful in her freelance career. She was candid in class, shared tips with us and encouraged us to be precise. She noted the “one rule.” Every piece, paragraph, and even sentence should have one point. She recommended On Writing Well by William Zinsser, and as I reread the book on the plane, it reverberated with Laura's points and her writing. She helped the students in the class trust each other, ourselves and our writing enough to want it to be as good as possible.

There were moments the setting distracted me from the writing. It turns out that I am as afraid of coyotes’ howling as I am of sleeping in a room with an unlocked door that opens up to the outside. This retreat caught me a little off guard with how rural it was. This Jersey girl needs a tougher skin.

That said, I’ve never been anywhere where the stars shone as brightly as they did at night. I’d also never felt as safe and as challenged as I did there.

As soon as I got back home, I took a long, hot shower and then logged into Facebook to find my new friends. I trust that some of us will be sharing writing for years to come and prompting each other not only to write, but to write well.

Thank you to everyone who worked to organize this wonderful retreat.


Jessie Carty said...

wow! this sounds fantastic! i keep meaning to pick up "on writing well" perhaps i should finally just do it :)

Summer Wood said...

Your post brings me back. Thanks for collecting the moments, Chloe. It was wonderful.

Erika D. said...

Thanks for the comments. (Your blog looks wonderful, Summer!)