What a Difference a Week Makes

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Yes I recall bemoaning the end of Ragdale last Saturday. Yesterday and today, my first success story left her kids with us while she is a brides matron in a college girlfriend’s wedding. Six years old and six weeks old, what a lot of love surrounding me.

I remember being pregnant with my second greatest accomplishment–afraid I couldn’t possibly have any more love left! Silly, of course. But a wonderful way to learn of the infinite measure of love.

Daughters, grandchildren, healthy and happy. I don’t know much for sure. This,  tho, I do. I may be the luckiest person alive.

Time for re-entry, tough nonetheless

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After an 18-day writer-in-residence retreat at Ragdale, I got to spend an extra night to attend a workshop held there Saturday afternoon: “Finding Home―Writing & Publishing in the Global Community.” Those 5 hours flew by as fast as the previous 18 days. A panel with Heather Buchanan, publisher at Aquarius Press/Willow Books; Ralph Hamilton, senior editor at RHINO; Danny Parra, editorial director at 7Vientos was moderated by the Director of the Guild Literary Complex John Rich.

Fascinating to here about editorial decisions from “their” side, and lots of useful information about queries, multiple submissions, cover letters, all those concerns writers fret about once completing the words they want to send. The poetry workshop was moderated by Angela Narcisco Torres, prose by Angie Chuang, both winners of Aquarius Press’ first emerging writers’ contest.

Orchids waited to bloom.

My experiences at Ragdale couldn’t have ended better. I’m still not sure it wasn’t all a wonderful dream, like if Frank Baum had Dorothy navigate her greatest fantasy before waking up in The Wizard of Oz. 

But Dorothy didn’t have my family and the most adorable little pip-squeak in my granddaughter, who is the very best of her mother, my oldest, and who idolizes her aunt, my youngest and is as excited to see me and as I am to see her.

My husband can’t replicate the monastic quiet that stirs creativity for Ragdale’s residents, but somehow he managed to bribe one of my orchids to wait for me before blooming. And he didn’t have every horizontal plane covered with papers, nor did he screw pictures into the wall, willy nilly. In fact, the washer/dryer was repaired, and the corner where his desk allegedly sat at last reveals the desk―a project that must have taken every one of those 19 days I was gone.

Yep, I’m back in the real world again, no question. But I’m not the same person I was when I left. I’m a writer now. Thank you Ragdale for the time and confidence-building, and thanks to my family for their happiness for my opportunity.

Adjö´ så lä´nge to Ragdale

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Swedish for “see you soon,” or a similar informal goodbye. My goals: get to Sweden and get published by 2015. That’s a lot of words―to write and to learn. Not to mention the rejection letters, but we’re not talking about reading today!

When I first arrived at Ragdale, an artist- and writer-in-residence retreat, three weeks ago, deer tiptoed right up to the windows in the early morning, leaving silent tracks in the snow. I haven’t seen them in awhile. They are as soundless as they are poised, though, so they’ve probably been watching us slip and slosh about in the slush that welcomes in Spring. 
This final morning the birds woke me up. I’ve been writing about trees, both naked and fully decked out. The trees at Ragdale are beginning to bloom, but they’re still mostly bare-boned so if you look very carefully you can see the birds atop the tallest limbs, chirping away this morning for the first time since I’ve been here.
They must be catching up with each other. They sound so happy, they make me smile. Since they’ve only just arrived, they’re probably quieting down to begin frantically scanning the area for nest-building materials. I see they’ve got squirrels to compete with now, too. Every now and then I hear one chirping in a different tone―sounds like a mom telling the family to come where she is, she’s found a home and now she’s showing them where the twigs and sprigs and strings lie, waiting to be knit into their cozy nest before the cold rolls in tonight. I wonder if all species of moms sound the same? Aha— fodder for more words, something to round out my tree observations. Isn’t Ragdale amazing?
And, finally, here’s a path on the north side of the Ragdale grounds. The architect Shaw created it so his family could horseback ride and run out to the prairie lands at the end of the wood post fence. Can you see the beautiful golden prairie grass lighting up the back, just like a Spring promise? Soon it all will glisten with the greens and golds of springs and summers and all the secrets found at the end of paths.
A bittersweet goodbye. But I will see, hear, feel, touch and smell all that is Ragdale again soon, I hope.

I’m not the only one watching

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I’m alone today at Ragdale, or so I thought. This morning was a rush with everyone leaving. But I’d signed up for a workshop here tomorrow, so it made more sense for me to spend the night. I’m in the living room in the Barn, the building where my room is, and where I’d hoped to capture the last sunset. But it’s clouding over, so I doubt my phone camera can catch it.

I’ve sat in this spot on the couch nearly every day of the last 18, and only today saw that I’ve been watched all along. I’m not sure if this is a statue created by one of Howard Von Doren Shaw’s family or if it was commissioned or created by an artist-in-residence. Anything is possible here.

Shaw, an architect from the Arts and Crafts movement, built Ragdale in 1897 for his parents and his own young family. Many of them were creative. Bird Girl is a sculpture made in 1936 by Sylvia Shaw Judson that was featured on the cover of the 1994 novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Either side are bird feeders, and it won’t be long before they will be doing their job, as they have for nearly 80 years.

As I suspect, the clouds hid the sunset but they can’t hide how pretty it is as the geraniums and I peek out at all that the grounds reveal without the blanket of snow covering them. 

I’m going to miss this little peace of heaven that is Ragdale, all of the great artists I met and a staff and cook who couldn’t be kinder or more respectful of the creative process. And I’m even going to miss that quiet little plaster boy in the corner who’d been watching along with me all this time. But I miss my family and all the raucous joy and love they fill up my heart with all the rest of the year. I am one lucky person. And, to think, gratitude is only one thing I’ve learned here. If that were the only lesson anyone ever learned, how wonderful this world would be.

Yes, indeed, I am one lucky person.

Swag, Song, Images & Words

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Ragdale held a contest for its residents. We had to respond to “Ragdale is…. ” with words and/or images. Both the awesome visual artist Olivia Petrides and I won. Chances are this is the only time Olivia and I will ever be in the same sentence, she is an artist beyond words I can express.

We won some Ragdale swag―↗︎a coffee cup and t-shirt. My memories of the last three weeks won’t ever need prompts, but it’s cool stuff and I’ll use/wear it all the time, and therefore remind others that once upon a time….

Last night artist Jane Deschner and composer/pianist/songwriter/uke-strummer-extraordinaire Vanessa Vincent from the Old Town School of Folk Music both shared their work. And after dinner, writers read portions of ours.

 ⬆︎ Jane, and on the other side of the studio, Vanessa shared the hauntingly moving music she created to complete an album.

↙︎

My very first dorm-mate had never read her memoir’s word’s aloud before an audience, so we broke her in……………….➩

My mentor happened to be here. She just completed her first novel! She protested the chapter her editor chose, but read it anyway.  ⬇︎


The other fiction writer, and the last remaining representative of the Y-chromosone bunch (we gave the last one heart-problems), shared the first  ↖︎chapter of his second novel.

And what’s a retreat without a resident poet and playwright? Both shared their beautiful words.

 The poet:
⬅︎
               The playwright: ➡︎

Yes, I read, too. But I don’t possess a photogenic gene, and that was proven without doubt again last night so you’ll have to trust me on this one. I’ll be happy to read my personal essay to anyone who cares to listen. It’s not my words, it’s my images that pose a problem 🙂
Tonight we get a peek at Olivia’s work; I can hardly wait, and I’ll share it with you soon. Until then, back to the little remaining time to write. It is, after all, the first time since I’ve been writing my own words that they’ve earned me anything concrete. That’s heading in the right direction―I like black almost as much as green!

The last Sunday Sunset at Ragdale

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Sunday Sunset at Ragdale.

As this three-week artist- and writer-in residence program at the Ragdale Retreat settles into the final stretch, I at last captured a sunset.

It happened on cue, just as I completed re-editing the first essay I wrote on arrival. And, just as I used up the last of the woodpile for the fireplace in this beautiful room.

Sunsets, fireplaces, scenes just like this are now on the list of my favorite things. If one can’t draw inspiration here, I’m not sure where it might be.

I’m honored to be part of this community, and that it’s the last week is bittersweet. I have new friends, and we share the common awe and appreciation of art. Words, music, images―they offer beauty to a world that’s often hard and unpredictable. That’s magic.

Next Sunday’s sunset will look different, but I hope it occurs surrounded by family. Distance and time to reflect are reminders of how precious family is. Each one miraculous in his and her unique way.

What I know now: we all can create magic and miracles. What gifts. But like the sunset and the fire, these moments are fleeting. Take time to revel in them.