I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sunday at Vashon

Potting shed at Lavender Farm
I arrived here on Wednesday afternoon, after a harrowing trip from Bellingham south through Seattle's awful traffic, with Siri as my only companion in the rented car I was driving. I couldn't have made it more than a few miles past Everett without my trusty phone talking to me. If only she knew how to make me calm down and stop gripping the steering wheel tightly every time a huge monster truck roared past. Eventually I made it to the ferry that would take me to Vashon Island and the others who were waiting for me to arrive on the island. And then the ordeal was over: I joined my familiar fellow writers for the beginning of our five-day writing retreat.

And already it's almost over. Our last full day before heading back to our respective homes, and I've been filled with many new avenues to pursue with my writing, although I've also been here before: ready to tackle whatever seems to be calling me, and then... nothing. Just falling back into the comfortable routine I've created for myself in Bellingham. Writing on my blogs, taking pictures, hiking with the Trailblazers on Thursdays, riding the bus to the Y for my daily workouts. And before long, only a slight sense of guilt remains about all those plans I had made to change things up.

This is our last year, in this format at least. We have shrunk over the five years from six to four, and although last year we resisted adding another person to our group, now it seems that we have accomplished all we set out to do as a group. We didn't start as a writing circle that first year, but met as fellow bloggers, who were approached by Linda, the person responsible for this happening. She researched online and found a place with six bedrooms that we could afford. And on Vashon Island, at that! Sally lives in Colorado, with a necessary plane trip to get here, and she was the first to drop out. Then this year Linda decided that she needed to make a change in her life, so she opted not to come either. For one thing, that meant I would have to drive myself here, as I had always carpooled with Linda from her home in Brier. Sandi and Deb live near each other (although in different towns) and have traveled here together every year. Jann lives in a small town in Oregon and has made the five-hour journey herself, except for the initial first year when she, Linda, and I carpooled together and picked up Sally at the airport on our way to the ferry.

As the years have passed, many of us have changed our ideas of what we want to do with our time here. We changed from three days to five, and instead of just gathering for the fun of it, we decided three years ago to have Deb, a facilitator trained in the Amherst Writers and Artists Method, direct our time together doing creative writing. One year, we invited Linda Reeder, who lives in Seattle, to spend an evening with us, and for that one time we were seven. It's been an interesting and rewarding journey.

I had never before experienced such a way of writing. All of it in longhand and not on our laptops, and being given a prompt by Deb, which we could use in whatever way we chose, for a set period of time, varying from five minutes to twenty. Then we shared our writing with the others and received positive feedback, what we liked, what worked for us, how we felt about the piece, always positive. It's a magical way to learn how to stretch one's writing muscles, I've found. Everything written is treated as though it is fiction, although many times we are writing about ourselves and our lives. I highly recommend this method and will, if nothing else, look for other ways to grow in my writing life.

That's what I've learned, but the most important lesson of all: who these wonderful women are, having laughed and cried together, and explored some of the most vulnerable corridors in our hearts and minds with one another. I will miss these October gatherings.

Learning to let go and let change come into my life, that's one of the hardest things I must allow myself to experience at this crossroad. I'm five years older now, but I see that the essence of who we are has not changed. Some of us have grown stronger in writing, and others have continued to develop already strong writing skills, but we have all grown closer to each other.

I'm the only one of us who continues to blog on a regular basis, and I have learned from them that there are plenty of other avenues for writing that I might explore. The desire to write fiction has emerged even stronger this year, and together we explored some avenues I might use to develop that desire further. I hope I do it, but I'm also learning that I cannot continue to "push the river" and must learn to allow life to shape me in its own way. We'll see where this all goes.

So, on this dark morning, without my partner, without my familiar surroundings, I feel happy to be here, but also happy to think about going home to my love and to my own life. I hope that this week will find you also happy to be carried along with the universal forces that guide us in ways we cannot even begin to understand. Be well until we meet again next week, dear readers.
Deb, Linda, me, Sally, Sandi, Jann
Five years ago


Deb Shucka said...

A beautiful reflection on what has been a magical time in a magical place. I hope you'll continue to stretch beyond the confines of your comforts. You are a gifted writer.

Marie Smith said...

Isn't it amazing how a group of women can nurture each other. Enjoy your last day!

Linda Reeder said...

That one afternoon/evening spent with the six of you was lovely, something I remember well, and cherish. It gave me an opportunity to meet special women with whom I continue to have a blogging relationship.
I have always enjoyed your Vashonista reports from Lavender Hill. It's always a bit sad to see good things come to an end, but I know your friendships will last. The bond is strong.

Sally Wessely said...

I'm crying. As Deb said, the farmhouse and all of the island is a magical place, but the real magic was the dynamic that was created when we all came together. I write this on my computer. Near me are little souvenirs and reminders of our times together: a card from the owners of Lavender Hill Farm that is framed as a reminder of that much loved place, a rock in the shape of a heart that Deb found and gave me, another heart that was a gift from a Vashionista, and yet another large stone heart that I purchased at the Giraffe Store on the island. They are touchstones for me. The represent times spent with dear women with whom my heart connected through writing and sharing on the internet. They represent stepping out of my comfort zone and flying to meet women I only knew through the internet. They represent one of the deepest connections I've ever felt with a group of women.

I never could have made it through the loss of my daughter without you, dear DJan. You have been my mentor, my guide, my dearest friend. Yes, the bond is strong. Hugs. Much love. Until we meet again.

Arkansas Patti said...

So sorry that this is coming to an end but is it? Your friendships are tight and the skills and prompts you developed are permanent. Have you thought of joining or starting a writing club in your area when you get back? I did when I first came here and found those evenings to be both mentally stimulating and fun.
Not so sure about that writing in longhand though?:)) I can barely read my shopping lists.

Elephant's Child said...

This is truly beautiful. I am so grateful to have found you here in the blogosphere and love these ruminations you share with us. Thoughts which frequently follow me through the week.
Enjoy your final day - and your homecoming.

Gigi said...

I'm sad that this tradition is coming to a close too. But the friendships you have forged are deep and cannot be broken by distance.

Red said...

I went to a similar writing workshop long ago. It was a good exercise. It's a bit stressful at first and then when you see what you get out of it it goes well.

Rian said...

Well I've enjoyed sharing your visits to Vashon Island (virtually). And I'm sure you are all taking away wonderful memories of your times together.

Rita said...

You all will keep in touch, regardless. What wonderful memories for all of you to treasure. Bittersweet drive home, I'm sure.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

While I was never in your group, just reading your individual accounts made me feel like a visitor to something special. I struggle to see now but I still love to drop by and discover what's up. It is an invisible bond on blogger I chose for myself. Since Buddy takesa fair bit of my time reading and sharing with you becomes something magical for me. It is a sense of feeling a value amongst understanding,intelligent, caring women. It is very precious. I try to keep in touch for it matters a lot in my little world. Thanks DJan and the whole group too.

Tabor said...

They do look like a loving and happy group and I can see why you would be motivated to stretch yourself. It is harder bringing back that energy when you get back home and into your regular habits. My writing desire is there, my muse left a while back. I have had personal struggles that distract and exhaust. Maybe this winter ...

Far Side of Fifty said...

I am glad you had the experience and I do hope your write something...at least enough to say you did it! I bet it was a bittersweet feeling as you boarded the ferry back :)

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I sure hear you in your first paragraph talking about the Seattle traffic. People are moving into this city like crazy. Glad you made it to Vashon safe and sound. It is kind of sad to hear that this will be the last year for the Vashonistas to get together to converse about writing. :-) This much is for sure: You are an excellent writer, your blog is great, and I hope you will continue to publish! Bet you are back in Bellingham by now and hope you are having a good week. Take care and thank you for all your kind comments on my blog. John

Stella Jones said...

...and I thought I was the only one who got frightened when driving?! I feel sadness in your post this morning and that isn't unusual in our lives as we get older. Whilst we must explore new avenues and new pursuits, it is the old and familiar that give us the most comfort. It is always sad to move on, give up on certain journeys, but behind every door is a new beginning, a new room to explore, new friends... Have a safe trip home. x Star

troutbirder said...

Sweet memories and dear friends indeed. You got my attention right away when you mentioned a atom bomb loaded plane crashing close by. I think I was practicing "duck and cover" at about that time in elementary school. And you were sound asleep....