Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Guest Post: Chloé Yelena Miller on Preparing for a Writing Retreat

Please extend a warm welcome to our guest blogger, Chloé Yelena Miller, whom you may remember from a previous post. Today, Chloé shares some thoughts as she approaches a writing retreat. She'll be back with another post once she has returned home. Chloé has poems published or forthcoming in Alimentum Journal, Lumina, Privatephotoreview.com, South Mountain Poets Chapbook, Sink Review and The Cortland Review. Her manuscript, Permission to Stay, was a finalist for the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. She teaches writing online for Fairleigh Dickinson University and edits Portal Del Sol. She received an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and a B.A. from Smith College.

A Women’s Writing Retreat: One Woman’s Treat and Necessity
Chloé Yelena Miller

I have never seen a desert, and I am obsessed with Georgia O’Keeffe. The Writers’ Retreat, hosted by A Room of her Own, adds writing to the mix of a desert landscape and O’Keeffe’s home. What could be better?

I have been in love with O’Keeffe’s work since I first saw an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as a child. The landscape that helped to form her art was so different from my own setting: urban New Jersey. I remember sitting cross-legged on the carpet in my parents’ living room looking through her oversized book One Hundred Flowers. This upcoming retreat feels like a homecoming as visual art brings me to a writing space.

A black and white portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe has been pinned over my desk since high school. It has traveled with me from New Jersey to Massachusetts to Italy to New York and finally to Michigan. This year’s retreat’s theme is “My Country is the Whole World” (Virginia Woolf.) Perfect.

We all need more time and space to write. While I am working part time and have been dedicating much of my time to my writing this last year, being surrounded by other writers and attending classes (far from laundry, bills to pay, and other time-
consuming tasks) can only spur my writing, editing of past work, and contemplation of ideas. I truly can’t wait. (On the other hand, there is a pile of procrastination that must get done before I can leave.)

I enjoy the company of forward-thinking, creative women. There are always potential risks to gathering folks around one aspect of themselves, but since we will have two - writing and our gender - in common, we shouldn’t have any problems. I imagine this will be similar to my experience at Smith College. I chose Smith College not because it was an all-women’s school, but because of the type of motivated students it attracted. There is indeed something special about being surrounded by women.

I look forward to attending classes, writing and hopefully talking at length to the other writers. I will be in a workshop led by Laura Fraser, whose book An Italian Affair I recently gobbled up in three evenings. From the memoir, I think she is a woman after my own heart. I have been doing some freelance writing and hope to improve my hand at not only being honest, but including facts in my writing (a puddle-jump from my poetry.) I promise you the same in a blog post when I return.

I hope to return rejuvenated and with a long list of books to read, craft challenges, ideas for future pieces and if I’m lucky, the start to a few new pieces.

Aside from small festivals and short workshops, I haven’t returned to the humble state of student for some time. As a writing teacher, I know how important this is. I was a poetry writing graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College and attended the Western Michigan State University’s program in Prague (where I met our lovely, creative and energized Erika) and was a resident at the Vermont Studio Center. I learned something new in each program.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, as perhaps it might keep me honest), I will be finishing teaching an online course during the retreat. I hope I will have some time every day to log into the class and grade papers as they come in. I’m a wee bit nervous about combining the two activities and doing both well simultaneously. I will also admit that while I can’t wait to see the desert, I am not someone who loves the heat. I will report back about how hot “dry heat” really is.

Writing students must expect as much from the program itself as from the other students. We all have a lot to do to prepare. I’ve been reading works by the authors who will be there, listening to interviews online, and tweaking my own writing for workshops. I’m ready.

4 comments:

deonne kahler said...

I'll be there, too, studying memoir with Meredith Hall. I think you'll really like Laura, I took a class with her through Berkeley extension, and you're right, the retreat setting alone should give you plenty of inspiration. I look forward to meeting you!

Chloe Yelena Miller said...

Thanks, Deonne! I look forward to meeting you, too.

Katie said...

I just got back from Western Michigan's Prague program! It was amazing!

Erika D. said...

That's wonderful to hear, Katie.