"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


This first year of retirement is almost over. The school year for Walt is being counted down in weeks. Summer plans are bubbling on the back burner. And for more moments than could be considered random, I've begun to feel a gentle pressure. I am happier than I've ever been. Life is full of choices and travel and love. The one thing I haven't honored in the way I expected is my writing, and my writer self has begun to nudge against my heart with ever increasing impatience.

Finally, almost too late to complete the application process, I decided to pursue a training that would make not-writing impossible, and open new doors for guiding other writers. Ready to take a step, but without commitment to any need beyond my own.

On paper the week looked loaded with potential for powerful magic, great learning, and adventure. A Franciscan retreat center in the Malibu hills overlooking the Pacific sounded like an ideal place for learning how to lead others in a method of writing based on gentleness, kindness and a firm belief that everyone has value. Practices rooted in the belief that everyone is creative and has a voice that deserves to be heard.

The weather forecast offered brisk beach weather, with mostly sun. The list of participants, seven of us in all, included women from Ireland, the east coast and all over California. The instructors came with a strong list of credentials. I was ready for this new challenge after months of take-it-easy retirement.

I arrived at Serra Retreat in a flurry of stress and anxiety. Issues with the shuttle bringing me from the airport and L.A. traffic and a surly guard at the gate conspired to deliver me at the top of the hill 15 minutes after the training was supposed to start. I don't do late, especially for something that felt as important as this. Once I set foot on the grounds, however, everything heavy and pointy fell away. I was greeted by our lead teacher with all the warmth and ease of a friend not seen for much too long.

In another flurry, this time getting a key, settling into my room, and finding my way to the space that would be home for the next five days, I released my fear and the events of the morning, and settled in.

Our classroom was originally a garage for the family who owned the place before the Franciscans bought it decades ago. A garage covered inside with gorgeous tiles worth a small fortune and imbuing the space with an earthy warmth that held us all as we opened our minds and hearts and souls to the learning we were there to receive. When I walked into the space for the first time, other women were seated in the circle that very quickly became sacred space. We greeted each other as though we'd known each other for a very long time. There was never a moment of unease or uncertainty or posturing for position. Our love of AWA, and our desire to be messengers of the method, were enough foundation for easily granted trust and a willingness to be vulnerable quickly.

During the next few days, the on-paper potential was realized and exceeded beyond all expectation.  The method of writing that had brought us together was applied to life with incredible success. Kindness, clarity, common sense, creativity, communication - all took on much deeper meaning as I watched them modeled again and again.The inevitable problems and challenges (a snoring roommate, a participant with an alternate agenda, fatigue) were solved in ways that only added to the learning and the laughter and the bonding.

And oh how we laughed. Great swooping belly laughs. Soft girly giggles. Bursts of joy and delight that left us all feeling lighter.

We talked and listened and wrote. We shared and read and listened some more. We asked questions and brainstormed and shared some more. We wrote and shared and offered feedback, marveling that our writing was so powerful, so clearly from our deepest places. We took turns leading groups and writing and receiving feedback. We learned from each other. We held safe space for each other as we took our first tentative steps into new territory. We fell in love with each other.

There were so many bits of miracle throughout the week, I was left with no doubt that this time was a gift of extraordinary value.

Serra Retreat can host more than a hundred people at a time. We were the only group there for most of the week, and never had to share with more than a half dozen others at a time. That meant we had the beautiful grounds to ourselves for morning strolls to the point overlooking the Pacific, or walking the labyrinth in the shade of giant eucalyptus trees, or sitting quietly on a bench surrounded by the fragrance of pink roses and the multi-versed song of a mockingbird. My first mockingbird experience. The complex and joyous music coming from the throat of that simple gray bird was a wonder to behold. A perfect soundtrack for the week.

The weather got more beautiful as the week progressed. While cool, our wanderings were sun-kissed. By Wednesday, we would pour from the building during breaks and find places to bask like the many lizards we shared the grounds with.

Because our group was small and our teachers wise, we had time two afternoons for trips to the beach. We walked the warm California sand in bare feet, marveled at pelicans diving pell mell into the waves, admired the skill and sleek seal bodies of surfers. There were long spaces of comfortable silence, and long girl conversations about everything and nothing.

The parting at the end of the week was bittersweet. I was full to overflowing, ready to be home and sleep in my own bed. I also didn't want to leave ever, and missed my new friends even as I was saying goodbye to them. I traveled home with a pretty piece of paper that certifies me to lead writing groups in the AWA method. I can call myself an affiliate. And as is always the case with an intense experience like this, I am changed in ways that I expect will continue to reveal themselves in the months to come.

In these first days back I continue to feel the Southern California sun on my skin, to smell the roses and the ocean. I hear the voices and see the faces of each of the women who became my sisters for that week. Ideas fill the air around me like the squawking and tropical flashes of green that the parrots of Malibu punctuated our days with. The mockingbird's song echoes still, a reminder of joy and full-throated expression of the voice he was born to share. A reminder that my voice matters. A reminder that no one is ever served when any voice is silenced.

I am ready. For exactly what, I'm not sure yet. But I'm ready.


yaya said...

Your writing is always so thoughtful and wonderful here on your blog and I'm sure you will inspire many to write or learn how to express what's in their hearts. Sounds like an amazing experience and what a location to be taught! I enjoyed writing when I was young and I had to take an English course when I was studying in my surgical field. I chose a creative writing course and really enjoy it. The instructor wanted me to continue with his classes but there was no way to fit it in my schedule. Perhaps when I retire that will be something to pursue. Life is full of possibilities!

DJan said...

Oh, how absolutely wonderful, dearest Deb. I suspect that I will benefit from this retreat when I see you next in the golden living room of Lavender Hill Farms. Your description of your experience sent chills up and down my spine. Really wonderful. :-)

Barb said...

I hope what you experienced at the retreat will stay with you, Deb. I've missed reading your writing in this first retirement year. It's good to hear that you're happy and looking forward to the future. It's also good to hear that the future will contain more of your writing. When I read about the AWA method, I was interested to learn that all writing is considered fiction to minimize personal vulnerability. That seems like a wise concept to me. Hope you're enjoying spring in the PNW!

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I hear in your words what an intensely happy experience you had and that changed you forever. What a blessing it is that no matter what season of life that we are in, we continue to grow.

Meryl Baer said...

What a wonderful experience. Now you are ready to commit to your writing. Good luck.

Linda Reeder said...

It sounds like a beautiful experience, beautifully shared.

Linda Myers said...

Sounds like you're standing in a field with your gifts. Wonderful!

Riley said...

I am so happy to read this, as we didn't get to talk about it yesterday. Sounds absolutely heavenly. I am glad to know you were blessed and your writing spirit revived!

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

What a wonderful experience! I'm guessing it will be great fun to figure out how to use your new skills and readiness.

writing and living by Richard P Hughes said...

What a terrific experience. I'm sure you'll write more of the beautiful kinds of articles you've written in the past, and maybe try some new genres.

Tabitha Bird said...

I wish i could have been there friend :)

Gammary said...

My heart purrs. Sweet sweet words.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I loved to be privy to what you've learned. Sounds like a great way to get going again.

I know that I have spent my first year off not as dedicated to my writing process as I hoped. But I think it has taken that time to get through some things to arrive at a place where I'm ready to begin anew. So happy this was a good experience for you.

Sandi said...

What a magical experience you've had Deb! Watching the short video of the retreat center made me long for a similar space, and time. Perhaps one day.

Looking forward to being a willing recipient, and student - of your learning, grace and wisdom.