The location was idyllic. I arrived shortly after three o’clock last Monday and since dinner and the welcoming reception weren’t until six, I took advantage of the free time to sit on the deck overlooking the river so I could relax with a book. The roar of the water rushing by was punctuated by the sound of birds. Soon, thunderheads gathered over the lake and I could hear distant booming and see the grey trails of rain pouring from the clouds over the water. No road sounds. No dogs barking. No sirens. No click of a compressor signaling the impending blast of an AC unit.
I’d been nervous about attending the retreat. People began trickling in and we all exchanged the same questions. What are you writing? Where do you live? Have you been on retreats with Lighthouse before? In all, there were twenty four of us signed up and assigned to live on two floors of a three story wooden lodge. There were seven Lighthouse instructors. That first night after dinner, we all gathered together and the faculty members read to us from pieces they’d published or were working on. They were amazing. One read from his fourth novel, another from a short story work in progress, an essay, poems; they were all published authors.
My new roommate Sarah and I sat in the day room on the third floor of the Cliffside Lodge and talked until midnight. It was the beginning of a week long slumber party.
That night when I looked up at the sky, it was a deep, black expanse, illuminated by brilliant white, fiery stars that I can’t remember seeing in the same way since the summers of my childhood.
The following morning I went to my first workshop. This kicked off four days packed with writing exercises and discussions about books and writing that far exceeded anything I could have ever anticipated. I attended nine workshops and four book discussions and every single one of them was interesting, sparked my creativity and taught me a great deal. Every one. I'd never gone to a writing workshop before. A writer from Boulder told me that the sessions we were attending were every bit as good as those she attended in her MFA program.
The first student readings were on Wednesday night. I really did not want to do it and initially was sure I would not. I’d never read my work in public; had rarely let anyone read it at all. Anxiety mounted after I was added to the batting order. I’d be reader eight of thirteen. It was difficult for me to understand why this struck such a primitive terror in me. I’m in sales. I stand up routinely in front of groups of people and speak all the time, sometimes to hostile audiences and my palms don’t even sweat. Of course – I didn’t build the product I’m pitching, so I don’t have an emotional investment in it. If my audience isn’t in love with what I'm selling, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. Wednesday after dinner, the nervousness really kicked in. I remembered that the beta blockers I take every day to prevent migraines are supposed to help with performance anxiety, so I washed one down with a beer before we all gathered for the readings. When my turn came, I apologized in advance for reading too fast – I knew I’d never be able to slow it down to the cadence I’d been hearing – and I did it. I didn’t look up while I was reading, as the more relaxed, experienced readers did, but as I got going, they laughed when I came to a section that I thought was a little amusing and I settled down. When I finished, they clapped – I think I even heard a whoop. I don't know who the whoop came from, whether it was for the work or just because that person knew how nervous I was. It doesn't matter. I crossed a plateau.
I have to say something about the people I spent six days with. There were over thirty of us in a constant state of togetherness and every person was interesting, bright, supportive and generous. Never in my life have I been in such a large group where I literally enjoyed the company of every person. We got to know each other pretty well in such a short time. The age range was from twenty-something to eighty. People came from all over
In previous posts, I’ve mentioned the solitude and the isolation I’ve experienced in the often lonely vocation of writing. Friends in cyber space have provided the kind of support that led me to seek out Lighthouse Writers Workshop. I can scarcely describe the joy I feel in finding other writers in the
Before I left for the retreat, I believed the experience would signify a turning point and it did. It truly changed my life.
What experiences have you had that marked a milestone for you in your writing?