There should be a re-entry program for people who must go home and clean the house, take the dog for a walk or go to the grocery after the experience of a place like Antioch Writers Workshop. In the insular world of fostering creativity on the page I forgot about things back home. Yes, I'm married. Yes, I have adult children. Yes, I have a job, volunteer work, friends. But for a week I had writing and nothing more.
For the past two years I have been lucky to stay about 15 minutes outside of Yellow Springs, Ohio in a farm house built in 1826. At dusk, sipping wine on the front porch with an eye on the corn field, has become a tradition. For it is there that fireflies turn the field into a dancing light show reminiscent of flickering light on an ocean. After arriving at the farm I took some time to quiet myself this year, get back in touch with that part of me, uninterrupted by the whine of motorcycles, the ambulance sirens, the bomp, bomp of car sound systems that infiltrate my home environment. I grab my camera frequently when I want to get to the details of what is important. It is a mediation that brings me back to center.
By mid week, possibility abounded. Hanging snakes upon a wall before reading at the Open Mic Night seemed a perfectly normal thing to do. By then, we had learned about plot, point of view, character development. We'd listened to the perfect pitch of a smiling Nikki Giovanni and Herb Martin, wizened and wise. We discovered narrative non fiction with detail so crisp it's as if we were on the boat, or in the hospital room with those who wrote essays for the New York Times and Esquire.
At week's end I had morphed into a bedraggled and bleery-eyed girl, brimming with ideas. I often put my own expectations on things such as critiquing the work of others. I have preconceived ideas from reading the work of my colleagues before I meet them. By Friday afternoon Ann Weisgarber, our facilitator, had masterfully brought us all to a place of mutual respect. I don't know if I will ever see any of my compatriots again, but their characters stay with me. I want to journey to the west, Letcher County, through coal mines, on riverboats, in the back seat of a teenager's car, to a bench in a dusty Mexican town, and all the other places where my writing friends have gone. It is the gift of the word, to escape and yet be present. To put two words together and paint the picture of a sunset over a field of corn and Queen Anne's Lace.
Today would have been my dad's 101st birthday. In the picture above my grandmother is holding my aunt Nancy. My grandfather is holding my dad. Hard to imagine that this picture was taken in 1916 when the American West still was fraught with wildness.
I've studied this picture in detail in an effort to develop my dad's character for a project of historical fiction that I'm writing. They say my grandfather once fought a grizzly. My grandmother had a laundry service for the well-to-do women in town. People have told me that my dad sat atop a horse at the age of 2. That fact defined his character, and perhaps was one key point that drew my mother to him.
My dad died months before I was born. The practice of writing has breathed life into a man I've only seen in 2-dimensional pictures. In my mind now, he has a laugh that sounds like air escaping from a balloon filled with air, the neck taught to squeeze the sound out of it. He loves a good Chet Atkins guitar lick. My dad has a quiet, wry sense of humor. He thinks things through, and is a gentle, giving spirit.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
I write because I struggle to accept the things I cannot change.