Treasure Hunt

Periodically, a writers’ group I belong to has a writers’ retreat. This weekend we stayed at The Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota.

The Anderson House in February 2015

It’s an inspiring place—a stately old home set on acres of land with a sculpture garden on the grounds. There’s a sunny library filled with novels, volumes of poetry, memoirs, histories, and art books. Many were written and contributed by the Center’s guests. In each of the bedrooms, there are journals in which previous visitors (including some well-known writers) commented on their stay. Often they mentioned a breakthrough and expressed gratitude for the Great Things they accomplished . . . which was a bit intimidating.

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Contemplative view from my window, minus the other treasure hunter

On Saturday morning, I sat at my desk and stared out the window.

Outside, a young guy in a hoodie and camo pants moved among the trees, sweeping a metal detector across the lawn. He squatted, dug up something with a trowel, then repacked the dirt, and smoothed it out.

What could he possibly have found—a bottle cap? A quarter? The Anderson House is nearly 100 years old. Maybe a long buried artifact had worked its way to the surface.

Inside, I too was treasure hunting. I sifted through files, piles of words, scraps of images, mining my mind for a memory or a line to spark inspiration.

We both worked doggedly at our tasks.

I hoped to uncover an idea that would justify my presence there, so I’d feel worthy of the gift of time.

Quickly I covered up that wasps’ nest of self-doubt and tamped down my frustration. Smoothed over my prickly worries. Don’t be so driven. That’s not how inspiration works.

I reminded myself: Just spend the time. Do the work.

It will come.

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Come for the job. Stay for the walk.

Today it is 71 degrees in Hastings, MN. Over my lunch hour, I can head in any direction for an uplifting three mile walk with a good chance of spotting an eagle.

The Mississippi River and the Vermillion River run parallel to one another and are separated by a 17-by-2.5-mile tract of floodplain forest.

I’m within walking distance of Vermillion Falls. A paved walking/biking trail follows the river in both directions.

Last fall during one walk I found myself at Mill Ruins at Old Mill Park and felt just like I had when I used to skip high school. Happy. The path to Old Mill Park also leads to Adams Park and Bullfrog Pond and to the rest of the 15 mile trail system that loops around town.

Mill Ruins

Mill Ruins

If I head behind the manufacturing plant where I’m a Human Resources Manager, I am in Veterans Athletic Complex and can take a right to follow a paved trail past a plowed field down a hill overlooking a valley.

Walking south takes me to Hastings Sand Coulee identified as one of the most biologically important sites in Dakota County. I came upon it all of a sudden. The 2.5 mile long coulee is a former

Hastings Sand Coulee

Hastings Sand Coulee

glacial stream valley. It is registered as a Scientific Natural Area. I walked a grass path that ended at an old cemetery that sits on top of the western bluff. 69 bird species have been recorded at this site.

 

Recently I started using Runkeeper during my walks. Runkeeper is a free app for your iphone that 28 million people are already using. Track your runs, walks, bike rides, hikes and more using the GPS in your iPhone.

I like the Runkeeper so much – It’s so EASY, so I’ve been using that instead of the pedometer I’m in charge of introducing to our employees next Monday.

Whatever your activity is today – Get Out and Enjoy.

Afraid of the Writing Workshop. Did It Anyway. Glad That I Did.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMadeline Island Writing Workshop, “How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book: Taking You Book to Publication” Mary Carroll Moore.

I had first met Mary Carroll Moore in November of 2012 for a 1 1/2 day writing workshop at the Loft Literary Center. A classroom full of writers of all genres explored their books and put together storyboards in pictures and writing. A storyboard is a graphic organizer displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing your manuscript.

After attending the 2012 workshop, I signed up for Mary’s week-long writing retreat on Madeline Island, September 2013.

What sold me were the unexpected breakthroughs in how I viewed my book. I rearranged chapters, saw reoccurring images, and for the first time, realized what my manuscript wanted to say.

Madeline Island School of Arts

Madeline Island School of Arts

I’m not an easy student. I approach learning in the classroom tentatively and cynically. I’m reluctant to try different styles, and at the same time, I’m also open to new ideas and feedback. Yes, competing principles. Drives me crazy, too, and I have to sit there and make myself focus on what is being taught.

I was even opposed to attending Mary’s November 2012 workshop, but a writing friend said “No, it wouldn’t be right for you. You probably wouldn’t get anything out of the workshop. If she was me, she wouldn’t go.” So, I signed up. Don’t tell me that I can’t do something.

Taking the road less traveled on the Island

Taking the road less traveled on the Island

A hunch, a notion, a feeling.  That becomes my next step or goal. The Universe speaks to me through repeated musings and I pay attention. I sent in my deposit to Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISA) for Mary’s September workshop without knowing how it was going to come about.

Winning The Next Step Grant generated the funds, and a new job spawned the vacation week.

When it came time to go Jody planned a family weekend for us at Edgewater Hotel in Duluth for my sendoff. Saturday the “What am I getting myself into?” thoughts started making an entrance. On Sunday, I admitted them to Jody.

I was scared. I didn’t know Mary that well. I didn’t know if my writing would be as good as others. And, it would be dark at night.

MISA

MISA

Even so, Jody and I drove in opposite directions on Sunday.

My classmates on Madeline Island consisted of six other writers. The first evening we introduced ourselves and our manuscripts. I hate this part. My book has to come out of the closet, and state what it’s about.

Classroom learning started the next day. I sat next to my nemesis. I learned that word in Tae Kwon Do because I have a few of them there, too. I always seem to find one no matter where I go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis guy had an answer for everything. Since I sat next to him, I could literally feel his restraint as he stopped himself from monopolizing the discussion. I didn’t think he would get anything out of Mary’s class but it only took him a day or two to come around to Mary’s way of thinking. That was impressive, I thought, and it added cred to Mary’s teaching. If he found her teaching meaningful …. Good thing for him because he flew in from New Hampshire to take her class. Maybe it was because he was from tiny New Hampshire that he didn’t like all the space I took.

Think of it, 9, 350 sq miles compared to 86, 943 sq miles. Move over Big Boy. Us Minnesotans need SPACE.

In-between sparring with my rival, I did a lot of learning. The aha moments came fast and often. I worked to make them stick so I’d be able to recall them after I returned home.

When Mary teaches, material makes sense, concepts fizz with possibility.

Her balance of classroom time to personal writing time is excellent. Having a solid week to work with a storyboard that constantly changes is refreshing.

Writing Prompts

Writing Prompts

It could have been the ferry ride, the remoteness, or the magic of Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISA), that allowed my manuscript to become my essence for one week.

And when darkness came, as it did every night, I picked up the phone and called home.

At weeks end, before I even drove my car on the ferry, I began to imagine my return in 2014 and taking my seat next to know-it-all guy, and fashioning a border with my writing prompts.

Writing is a vocation that picks a person

Each week, you’ll hear from one of the WordSisters. This time, it’s Ellen.

One sunny autumn day, my husband and I lunched on our porch and planned the classes we might like to take during the lo n n n g Minnesota winter.

“Music is my hobby and writing is yours, so…” he started to say.

“Hobby!?!” my voice veered into a screech. I heard the vehemence but was unable to stop.

“Writing is not my hobby. For me, gardening is a hobby. Making jewelry is a hobby. Writing is NOT a hobby.”

I caught my breath, then resumed, “I have been a writer as for long as I can remember. Even as a girl, I searched for the words to describe what I saw and how I felt. I kept journals and wrote stories.” John put his soup spoon down and listened, eyebrows raised.

“I just meant that we don’t make a living at playing music or writing essays . . . .”

His reasonable comment frustrated me even more. I wasn’t getting through. He had to understand. I tried again, “I was a writer long before I met you or became a mother. And God forbid, if I were no longer your wife or the boys’ mother, I’d still be a writer. I can’t stop being a writer—and believe me, I’ve tried.” Long a manager, he had learned not to let his face betray his emotions in front of troubled or troublesome employees, but I could see he was listening intently.

Calmer and almost resigned, I said, “There have been so many times when I felt like a talentless wonder and tried to swear off writing as a pointless pursuit. The last time I wanted to give it up, a very wise writer named Emily Meier told me, ‘Writing is a vocation that picks a person. No practical person would pick it!’ And she’s right. I can’t stop being a writer—even though I want to sometimes. Whether I like it or not, I’m a writer.”

I ended my fierce soliloquy, sat back, and assessed his reaction. Now that my rant was over, he allowed emotion to flow back into his features. He looked taken aback and frustrated.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I guess I didn’t choose the best word.”

I felt bad for jumping down his throat. But after 25 years of marriage, it would take more than this to rock our boat. I squeezed his hand, then leaned across the table to kiss him.

“I’m sorry, too.”

“So, as I was saying,” he said, “Music is my hobby and writing is your passion . . . ”

“Yes, it is.” Our eyes met and we smiled.