I signed up for a Food-Writing-101 class on a whim back in late February thinking it would help me become a better food writer – I mean, that’s what the title says, yes? And while I understand I am capable of putting two sentences together, I’ve never considered myself a ‘real’ writer much less someone who has studied food professionally in any form. But a funny thing happened on my way through eight weeks of class . . . thoughts, words and memories eased themselves into my consciousness . . . and I began to write them down.
Writing was, and is, exhilarating – the single flip of my childhood tummy as I peddled my bicycle to the top of a steep hill only to sail to the bottom, red-haired ponytail flying behind me, blue eyes squinted nearly shut, mouth closed to keep the bugs out – that rush, that feeling of free-falling into nothingness. Fragments of stories, moments, tastes and smells – all part of my life-quilt, begin to appear and as I stitch them together with words, my picture becomes more focused, as if being processed in an old-fashioned dark room photo tray.
A writing retreat in Santa Fe was the culmination of that first eight weeks and as the date approached, I began to feel anxious and apprehensive: ‘Everyone else knows more than I do, they are real writers, these people are working on books or have already been published,’ I would say. ‘What if they find me out? What if they discover that I’m not a real writer?’ I asked The Professor. ‘What then?’ ‘I’m not good enough, I’m a newbie, what if I can’t do this?’ And the kicker? I was to bring a piece I’d written and share with the group – as in, read it out loud – to a room full of people I didn’t know. What in the heck was I thinking? Why did I sign up for this? I’m not ready. Well ready or not, there I went.
And the experience was glorious – better than anything I could have ever imagined for myself. The retreat provided me with a daily schedule, a routine, writing peers and mentors. I was like a brand new orange-colored sponge, ripped from its cellophane packaging and plopped into a bucket of life-giving water, absorbing every crumb of knowledge within my reach – yes, life-changing.
Part of our daily routine started with a 10-minute write each morning; ‘Pen-to-paper’ Molly would say, ‘No looking backwards, just keep your pen moving forward writing down any thought or word that comes to your mind.’ And at first, it was extremely difficult to get even a paragraph written during those agonizing 10 minutes but by day four, my last morning in Santa Fe, my words began to find a rhythm, a cadence, a flow:
‘My husband is here and I find myself grateful, grateful, grateful; amazing journey, amazing people, talented writers. I have so many memories swirling around in my head. Grab a pen, gather some paper and write it all down. Will I remember this space? The laughing blue eyes, the smell of coffee in this room? Will I remember the daily fashion show of mismatched socks worn by the gentleman from Washington DC? Will I remember the creamy green guacamole, the taste of cattail hearts, the knife gliding along the cold dead trout, bright, empty eyes staring back at me as I snapped its photo? Will I remember the king-sized bed, lumpy with sheets that popped out of their restraints sometime in the middle of each night?
Fear, laughter, joy, pain that is shared, dispersed to greedy arms, open wide, willing to receive, to absorb and ease the sting of sadness, of struggle.
Four days, four glorious days of newness, of awakening, of being picked up and placed on a new path of freshly poured asphalt not too far from the uphill, bumpy dirt road filled with twists, turns, brambles, sinkholes, thorns and stickers. You’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy.’
Much of what I’m writing about these days won’t make its way here to this blog; I don’t really know where those words will find their home. But this journey is new and it’s exciting and I’m ready for the challenge – maybe someday I’ll be ready to share but until then, I just want to thank you for coming here.
This is not a sponsored post, no one asked me to write about my experience and in fact, The Professor and I paid to attend the retreat; but if you’re interested in honing your own writing skills, Molly O’Neill and team have already scheduled their next retreat in the gorgeous setting of Homer, Alaska – highly recommend!