Pandemic Road: Week 16

Has it really been two years? Just over two years ago in May of 2018 I retired from my long long time career as a Social Worker and set off to become a full‐time writer and artist. One of the first things I did was to take a road trip with Melanie to Boulder, Colorado to attend Max Regan’s Writing Intensive. It was magical. Pearl street mall, Boulder Bookstore, the Flat Irons. I attended classes with Max at the Boulder Bookstore and then we met at the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House for one‐on‐one meetings. No matter where I was in Boulder, I could look out and see the Flat Irons. I was happy. I was writing. My future and my next career were in front of me.

This is how our blog, RoadBroads was born.

Two years later I wanted to go back to Boulder. I wanted to revisit the Boulder Bookstore and the Pearl Street Mall. I had made reservations for living arrangements and paid a deposit for my space at the Max Regan June Writing Intensive. Then Covid‐19 happened. Travel cancelled. The Writing Intensive moved to an on‐line class. There are still approximately 20 of us who want to engage in this writing exercise. Those of us who want to develop our writing craft skills are willing to meet online and share our collective wisdom. Share our stories, exchange ideas, and listen to one another. But it won’t take place in Boulder. Instead of looking out at the Flat Irons, I will look out at my living room. I will see all of the wonderful writing companions via Zoom. Little boxes with heads inside of them.

Online is not as good as being there; however, it’s what I can do for now. I love my writing community. I value their input. I will enjoy spending time with them for the next 10 days even if I’m not in Boulder. This promises to be a new adventure in my writing life.

Until next week.….

RoadBroad Review: Journals

Ex‐journalists don’t die. They shop for journals.

So am I now a journal‐ist?

Groan now, but it’s true. I crave journals. The storyteller in me loves a well‐crafted, story‐keeper. Yes, that’s another term for where RoadBroads capture the memorable parts of their journeys.

On our recent Boulder/Portland adventure, I picked up three journals, two worthy of future storykeeping. The other requires a publisher overhaul.

At the incomparable Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, this journal leaped out.

First eyeball matched Powell’s nirvana (a three‐story bookstore that covers one entire city block).

I opened the journal. And groaned.

Out loud. In the store. Drawing stares.

Do we always have to color inside the lines?

Every right‐side page demands a laundry list of dry factoids. Money spent on gas, routes taken, sights/memorable events, highlights (differs from “memorable events”?), sleepover/dining experiences (sleeping & eating combined into one line?).

On. It. Goes.

No buzz? No joy? No agony? No heart?

Answering who‐what‐where‐when involves only one skill. Taking dictation.

Narrative juice flows only in answering two questions: how? why?

For example: how did you feel when the tire blew? Why did you stop at that run‐down cafe? 

Answers to these types of questions — and not the vanilla fill‐in‐the‐blank queries above — provide both a context and a story for what we experience. Especially road trips. It’s how we sort them out. Hopefully, we gain understanding. And an honest hearing.

It’s flavor and feelings we need. Every journey offers both. Even simple trips like a quick jaunt to the grocery store offer stories. If we look. 

Diaries record minutiae like “favorite sight.” Travel books log odometer readings and miles per gallon. Journals add the sensory spice of emotions and feelings. It’s juice, if you will. Ready for the drinking if we’re willing to dive deep and write/talk about those along with the neutral flavors of wind direction and highway speed.

I digress. Bigly. Whoa! Sorry…

This journal’s lines are too narrow. Nobody can write hyper‐tiny like this. The book is too thick at 200‐plus pages. Not switching backpacks.

I do like the blanks offered on every left‐facing page. However, the empty lines are crammed together. For more tightly‐written text?

To every negative, there’s a positive. This journal offers a great backside:

Asphalt makes a perfect ending for a journal. It’s the surface that grounds every trip. Flying is your main route? Eventually, you’ll return to asphalt.

The better Powell’s journal was this one.

Each time I pick it up, I find something new. Today, “wanderlust” screams. Time for another road trip? 

I open this journal and smile. Writer‐friendly lines talk, beckoning with “one quick page, come on, scribble details, that Boulder moment when…”

Why this rising wanderlust? Home two weeks, hungering for the road? Again? Cough, cough. Last trip not yet paid off. Reality Ah, reality.

My fingers flip back to the cover and my eyes scan it a second time.

The journey matters 

I thank the Muse for that future blog post idea. In Colorado, I met my favorite new journal at a favorite place, the Boulder Bookstore, holder of special memories and favorite friends.

This journal captures truth, with my clarification: it’s always about the story.

Why readers read, writers write. It’s why: the journey matters. 

I drafted this blog post then rested. Returning later, the three journals beckoned. I opened one to its very last page.

Second leap. Two thoughts.

Synchronicity rules.

And — why did this company bury the lead?

Take a closer look. That journal on the second row, third from the left.

Christmas. The Holiday Journal.

Maybe I could write it.

Fighting Altitude with Attitude

The Rev. Pat Clark

NOTE: Today’s guest blog post comes from fellow writer, The Rev. Pat Clark. She’s had 10 days to review her 10‐day writing retreat in Boulder. 

A Presbyterian minister and spiritual director, Rev. Clark is currently writing a book about surviving stage 4 cancer through faith and kindergarten art.

We’re particularly grateful for Pat. Every week, she graciously hosts the Wednesday Writers in her home. Her brave struggle with cancer and her creative determination to fight back with art and words inspires us all. Thank you, dear friend! — Melanie & Ellen


Fighting Altitude with Attitude

It was no easy task to get to Boulder for Max’s writing retreat. First off there was a luggage factor – CPAP machine, computer, printer, art supplies, journals, a notebook with source material and another that had been green‐lined. That means decorated with a LOT of things I had to change for the next step in getting it published. Add to that clothes and toiletries. I felt triumphant that I made it on the airplane in one big bag with a backpack.

We were all excited to meet one another at the Dunshanbe Teahouse on opening night. We tried exotic foods, sat outside beside a rushing river and smelled the fragrance of a million roses that lined the path to the entrance. Oh, the anticipation of writing!

The climate was a wonderful gift for the seven of us from Texas, or so I thought. The problem came when I tried to walk very far. In only a few minutes I was huffing and puffing and having to stop on nearby benches sprinkled all over town.

Things worsened when I tried to sleep. I didn’t get much. Altitude! Those beautiful mountains have a downside. Finally I tried a tincture of CBD that helped me relax but not sleep. The retreat became a test of endurance more than a retreat. I can do this! became my mantra.

Ready for another small group session at the Boulder Bookstore.

Nonetheless I finished editing my book, wrote the final chapter, and launched a new endeavor to write about travel. There were amazing moments – insights during a Max Regan lecture, the beauty of peony bushes, the funkiness of Pearl Street with its flame throwers and musicians, the Hotel Boulderado, meals with other writers, solid help with my work, and the amazing writing that was shared in our salons every other night. I loved it!

I decided after the first day or two that I could lie around and whine about my sleep issues, or I could just do what I came to do–learn, write and have a good time. That is exactly what I did!

Things are rarely perfect in life, but I do have a choice in how to respond to them. Now that I am safely home in Houston, I am profoundly grateful for the writers’ retreat and everything I learned and experienced in Boulder.

I am also grateful for a good night’s sleep in my own bed.

Privilege Writing for Ten Days

NOTE: This is the second in a series of guest blog posts. Today’s guest blogger is Diana Galindo, who we lovingly dubbed our newest RoadBroad. She shared our Boulder house after riding with us from Denver. Together, we three journeyed all over Boulder, traveling by car, bus, or foot depending on the road crisis du jour (and yes, there were several). 

RoadBroads @ Ozo’s: (from left to right) Melanie Ormand, Ellen Seaton, and Diana Galindo.

Diana Galindo was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia. She divides her time between her beloved Cochabamba and the home she shares in Houston with her daughter and husband. Diana is writing a historical fiction novel inspired by her Bolivian family. She also blogs about food and health, sharing recipes and menus as a path to wellness at www.colormyfood.com. 

Thank you, Diana, for joining our RoadBroads blog today!

- Melanie and Ellen


Privilege Writing for Ten Days

Effusive red, pink, yellow and white roses led up to the Dushanbe Teahouse. The beautiful ceramic tile exterior and hand‐carved columns, the workmanship of more than 40 Tajik artists, make it a perfect setting for creative energy. Presented to Boulder’s by its sister city Dushanbe (capital of Tajikistan), it upholds the ancient tradition of Central Asian teahouses as gathering places. Just as travelers of the Silk Road met in teahouses across Tajikistan, to our table this summer evening arrived travelers from the east and west coasts, from Texas and Colorado. The exotic cuisine with flavorprints from around the globe was a sensory feast and invited our imagination. The stage was set. For the next ten days this Writer’s Retreat put our identity as writers in the center of our lives.

2nd floor area of the Boulder Bookstore

The next morning I arrived at the Boulder Bookstore. Where Dushanbe Teahouse had delighted my senses and teased my imagination, the Boulder Bookstore gave me a sense of homecoming. My soul stirred as I entered the old building lined with bookshelves, Books beckoned; I couldn’t resist stepping closer to the shelves and noticed that dozens of books had “Staff Recommends” notes. Fascinated I quickly skimmed a few, but conscious that the first writing session was beginning, I headed upstairs scanning bookshelves that surrounded me every step of the way to the far end of the second floor. In an enclave to the right was a long table. Max Regan, our writing coach, greeted each of us with his characteristic enthusiasm.

Max invited us to practice active deep listening, to put presence before productivity, to consider mastery as a curved line of constant pursuit and continuation as accomplishment. He had us list things we’ve accomplished as writers thus fueling the positive from the onset.

Capturing writing wisdom from the one‐and‐only Max Regan.

Oh the joy and gratitude for the next 10 days! We explored cartography, mapping out our writing projects, from utopian maps where “here be dragons”, to navigational maps with intentional waypoints for a readers’ journey. “Sometimes we need to explore vast territories before we can draw our map. The exploration is what changes us as writers. The journey is what changes the reader,“ said Max.

Our days had a rhythm – Small Group sessions, extensive chunks of personal writing time, one‐on‐one coaching with Max.

In Small Group we worked on dialogue, character and setting.

What is the moment that matters in each chapter?

What experience do we want our reader to have?

How do we use dialogue in this scene?

How is the protagonist transformed?

We practiced experiential techniques and tapped into the braintrust of the group to strengthen a story, solve a problem, flush out a character.

Evenings we shared dinner and participated in a time‐honored salon. Beginning in the Enlightenment, salons were artistic and intellectual gatherings. The sense of community and trust made our current salons a highlight of the retreat. Writers would read from their text, ask an author question and receive feedback to help shape and strengthen their work.

As our Writer’s Retreat came to an end, Max asked us to reflect on how we spent the week. “ What did you learn about yourself as a writer? What works? What doesn’t?”

He invited us to integrate the next steps of our project with a calendar and reminds us, “Breathe into the idea that not everything is a book.” In closing, Max said, “Do not lose what you found here in Boulder. If you lose it, it’s a choice,” then left us with a quote from Mark Nepo: Effort only readies us for grace as grace can never be planned or willed only entered.

I entered grace these past ten days and I stay focused on continuation as accomplishment, profoundly grateful for the benefit of Max’s teaching.

If this amazing opportunity sounds tempting, registration for the 2019 Boulder Writer’s Retreat opens July 1st. Please find details here:

http://www.hollowdeckpress.com/writing-classes/writing-retreats/

New Scenes and Memories

This morning I sat in the room on the upper floor of the Boulder Bookstore gazing out of the window. From where I was sitting I could see the tip of the flatirons. While that may not make for historic news in this town, for someone who lives in Houston where the landscape is quite flat, this is magnificent. The picture below was taken when I was just standing on Pearl Street Mall. Everywhere I look I see these wonderful mountains.

I

And then I am reminded why I am here and that is to write. I look away from the mountains and back into myself to see where my mind and creativity are headed.

My thoughts move to the serious arena today as I am reminded that this is the anniversary of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy when he was running for President back in 1968. I was 11 years old at the time and remember being awakened by my mother with the sad announcement. We watched the television news reports. We were saddened. Since I was living in Memphis, Tennessee at the time, we were still recovering from the assassination of Martin Luther King earlier in the year. So many memories of sadness that year.

As a current resident of Houston, Texas, I am also reminded that this is the anniversary of Tropical Storm Allison back in 2001. So much of the Houston area flooded, people were killed in the flood waters, so much property destroyed. Up until Hurricane Harvey last year, this had been the worst local flooding in recent history. It was the first time as a local government employee that I was assigned to help with recovery activities.

These are definitely part of the tapestry that make up my life. They have both helped shape who I am today and what I feel drawn to write about.

Then as I left my writing class and head back for home, I learn of the suicide of Kate Spade. Don’t get me wrong, I am no expert on fashion and do not think I ever owned one of her namesake purses. However, she was a creative and successful woman. She was a mother. She was only 55 years old. There is so much need for good mental health services in this country. Sadly, sometimes even those who can afford good quality health care, cannot escape the hellish depths of depression.

Back at the townhouse, I refocus on my writing. I am preparing to read some of my work at the salon that will take place Thursday evening. I hope I can do justice to the world I see around me and try to make it a better place. Having dinner prepared by two wonderful roommates definitely helps.

As I reflect at the end of this day, I am reminded of a quote by George Bernard Shaw that was borrowed by John, Robert and Edward Kennedy:

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why.….I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Off for a good night’s sleep and more writing tomorrow.