Are we writers or women who write? Ten of us gathered for the 2013 Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat (link to http://wp.me/p1v1Ek-3Aa) in Oaxaca, Mexico, last week and revisit this question repeatedly during the eight days we are together. Our instructors are published author/poet and university professor Robin Greene, and yoga teacher Beth Miller.
Each day we gather early for a cup of good, strong Oaxaca organic coffee or herbal tea and seven-thirty yoga. Some add sugar, others milk. After yoga, we meet for a traditional breakfast including just-off-the-comal handmade corn tortillas followed by a learning and workshop session. We are women who have something to say. Most of us are novices or out-of-habit practitioners in need of a tune-up – and this applies to both writing and yoga.
Robin Greene (link to www.robingreene-writer.com) is our writing guide. Her insights push us further into self-awareness, a requirement for good writing. She evokes the works of writers we admire: Cheryl Strayed, Philip Levine, Jane Hirschfield, Robert Haas, Jean Paul Sartre, Emily Dickinson, Leonard Cohen, Terry Tempest Williams, John Gardner, Eudora Welty, William Carlos Williams and others. By example, they are present at our learning sessions.
On the first day, Robin supplies a full basket of prompts to trigger creativity but we don’t need them! Here in the rural Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle sense of place is so powerful it became our inspiration to go deep into unknown territory.
And, we discover that Beth Miller’s approach to yoga is in perfect harmony with our writing goals. This yoga is reflective, gentle, and exploratory. We breathe deeply, stretch arms and legs, bend, and plant our feet and hands to ground us on earth. As the week goes on we add complexity, practice balance and the discipline to hold a posture. The yoga informs our writing, gives us dimension to write expansively.
In the workshop sessions, Robin urges us to be specific, to bring the abstract down to its smallest part, to fully describe the details. She uses illustration to pay careful attention to place, to create images that reflect feelings, to fully describe our relationship in and with our inhabited world. Robin challenges us to make writing constant in our lives as a way to be connected to self and others. She asks us to listen, to hear the contradictions, to make ourselves vulnerable. She encourages us to seek solitude and find time to allow our writing to materialize. We practice meditation to evoke quiet that brings up the stories within us.
We write. We bring and read the writing of a favorite author to introduce self. We unpack the difference between writing memoir, a journal, creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. We jump in and write. We talk about what we are here to write about. What we intend to write about and what we actually writes changes. Our writing surprises us.
We write about falsehoods and facades, mothers and grandmothers, violation and abuse, winter on a frozen lake, tree planting on a rugged Canada slope, running away from home, trust and loss, first and last loves, partners who betrayed us, a Say Yes to the Dress confessional. We write with wit, intelligence, heart and lengthiness. We are women connecting with other women and that enriches our experience.
We write. We share temescal, a women’s indigenous sweat lodge. We go to local markets and artisan workshops. We write more. We have options to hike, enjoy massage, take a cooking class, do nothing. This enriches us, gives us perspective, and helps us to be clear about the stakes and why our story matters.
“Your writing wants all of you. Everything you are is what your writing wants,” Robin declares. Women who write is a statement of action. We are not passive. We do not have to be published or even recently published. We can realize our writing dreams. We are in the present tense. We learn that Women who write begin now.
At the end of the workshop, we make commitments and pledge to honor them: dedicated time, a private space, the will and intention to keep going. Put writing first, someone says. Novels are written one word at a time, says another. We meditate on it.
“I want to know what you have inside you,” Robin says as we prepare to say goodbye. “Your writing wants all of you. Everything you are is what your writing wants.”
Summer 2013: July 12-18 – Memoir and Fiction Writing: Lives in Motion with Robin Greene and Michael Colonnese (link to http://oaxacaculture.com/2012/07/memoir-and-fiction-creative-writing-workshop-in-oaxaca-mexico-lives-in-motion/)
Winter 2014: February 28-March 8 – Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice (link to http://wp.me/p1v1Ek-3Aa
Contact: Norma Hawthorne, firstname.lastname@example.org
What Women Say …
I came hoping to pick up a few tips that would improve my writing. I leave with a reignited passion to write, improve physical goals, and unlimited gratitude for the competence and gifts of my instructors. Robin is flexible and responds to our varying needs. The balance of intensive writing workshops, cultural excursions, and yoga results in a powerful experience. This is the place to improve writing skills and explore the emotional elements that undergird them. –Jan Donaldson, North Carolina
The instruction was excellent and supportive. The personal coaching session offered me a chance to talk about my writing in a way I never had before. The workshops are especially valuable because the feedback is so thoughtful.
–Susan Lesser, New York
I discovered that my writing entertains people! Beth’s yoga is the best I have ever experienced. A perfect combo of the physical and spiritual. And I loved the cooking class. –LeeAnn Weigold, British Columbia, Canada
Focused learning. Beautiful setting. Talented participants. I was challenged and that was exactly what I needed. –Marta Light, New Mexico
Robin’s insights push us into self-awareness. I am fully capable of being the writer I dream of becoming. The temescal made me feel so powerful and helped me to further love my body for exactly what it is.
–Rebecca King, North Carolina
It was wonderful! Now I can write healing stories for my family because of the many suggestions about how to do that. – Janet Andrews, Arizona