Reflection on The A-Z Challenge

For two years in a row now I’ve completed the challenge. I had a blast. This year at least. Not so much last year. Halfway through the alphabet I was on holiday in England where I reconnected with old pals from Zambia, madly scribbling entries in between trips down Cumbrian country lanes, hugging sheep (love the little beasties), poob-crawling (that’s how they say “pub” and it was just two of them), visiting me dad’s old primary school in Ayr, Scotland–read about it here–laughing my head off, and trying desperately to remember the names of the people we knew.

This year I realized just how much I’ve learned through blogging. My writing experience, nigh these twenty years, has been the long form: books, three of them. (Yes. It took me twenty years, hey, I had a full time job and kids to raise.) I’ve written a few essays, but I’ve never had to wing it every day, or at least a couple of times a week.  It’s been tough. The A-Z Challenge was a godsend. It gave me a target. Through doing the challenge I gained confidence and honed my writing chops. I also made connections.

Cheers to the A-Z Challenge creators! Thank you.

Beginnings, Endings and Crackling Grass

If you’ll remember I attended an essay workshop up at Lake Tahoe.  Turns out it was actually at a house in Squaw Valley, site of the 1960s Olympics, the entrance complete with Olympic rings and the famous flame:  six women, a massive stone fireplace, hammered iron balconies, and a dining room table that belonged in King Arthur’s court.  This was where we dined, but mostly where we wrote.  I’m not going to tell you about how I stalled time and again on the page in response to the writing prompts.

Instead, I’ll tell you about the desperation run I took in 25-degree weather that second day to clear my head.  Dressed in my winter clothes—Laguna Beach style—blue jeans, a sweatshirt and gloves, I tried to ignore the cold as I charged down the road and into the meadow that is Squaw Valley proper, evergreen trees not yet dressed in their winter white.  It was only at a point where the trees converged into a dark narrow path, lowering the temperature by a couple more degrees that I finally turned around.  By now, my nose was dripping, my toes about to snap off and I was shivering so hard I veered drunkenly off the path.

There’s a soft crackle and I stop.  Around my feet, a carpet of tiny frozen spears of grass pokes up this way and that.  I drop to my haunches and press down on an untouched area with my gloved hand, feeling the resistance there.  Another satisfying crunch.  Feeling a sense of wonder, I grin.  Moving around, I press down on another spot, then another and another.  I finally have to stop; the cold has become unbearable.

I run back to the house, feeling some kind of reintegration beginning to take place inside of me, something I vaguely recognize.  I’ve undergone this experience before when beguiled by nature, whether it’s here in my adopted country or my native Africa.  I’m reminded that as in nature everything in its own time and that I have to trust myself.  The words will come.

I wish I could tell you I aced the rest of the writing prompts.  I didn’t.  But I did come up with a killer ending to an essay I’d been working on.

Ah, the writing life.


Essay Workshop

I leave tomorrow for a four-day essay workshop up at Lake Tahoe with six other women, which includes our leader, the brilliant writer and teacher, Ana Maria Spagna.

Yess!  That ought to get my butt in gear, ay?  With this weird mode I’ve been in I’m just a teensy bit worried that I’m going to freeze up, you know, like what on earth am I going to write about, why aren’t the words streaming onto the page?  As to the latter, who am I kidding, the words have never streamed onto the page, especially, not when I’m on the spot to perform.  Just as long as I don’t come up completely empty.

But hey, at least I’ll have fun.  This is about the seventh workshop I’ve taken with Ana Maria, mostly on memoir while I was writing Loveyoubye, in different places from the tiny community of Stehekin, gateway to the North Cascades National Park where she lives to Cannon Beach, Oregon, to Molokai, always under one roof.  Other than the very serious, illuminating learning that goes on, it’s truly fun.  I make new friends and reconnect with old.

We start out by buying groceries together–one time, we overbought and ended up stocking Northern Washington’s food bank for a good long time; we’ve gotten better at it.  Then there’s the drawing straws for rooms, communal cooking, sharing our writing, wine drinking, hot tub soaking (Stehekin), jogging on the beach (Cannon Beach, Molokai) and delicious late night discussions about writing.

It’s all good.


Another Take on Writer’s Block

I had another realization about being blog blocked.  I’m afraid of writing crap.  Not that everything before this in my books and essays wasn’t first crap–might still be–but I had a chance to revise, revise and revise before it hit the light of day.  Blogs aren’t quite like that, there’s a time element, it’s pretty much writing on the fly.

But here’s the thing, this is the task I set myself and as Dennis Palumbo, in his fabulous book on writing says, “Every hour you spend writing is an hour not spent fretting about your writing.  Every day you produce pages is a day you didn’t spend sitting at a coffee shop, bitching about not producing any pages.

. . .Writing begets writing.

Not writing begets . . . well, not writing.

You do the math.”