In 2001 I went to a Natalie Goldberg writing retreat in Taos. It was one of those things. Her Writing Down the Bones had been on my bedstand for almost ten years. Finally in Nov 2000, I'd actually read it. And loved it. Looking into her a bit further online, I noticed her writing workshops. In fact one was coming up in January, at the Mabel Luhan Dodge House, the very place my best friend Susan had gotten married some years earlier. I checked my calendar, hmm, that week was surprisingly uneventful at home. John was in town and the kids' needs were manageable. I checked if I could use AAmiles for the planefare. I could. I signed up. It was a bold and uncharacteristic move for me. In my @ 14 years as a mother, I hadn't left my family to go off alone except when my father was dying and dead.
It was an amazing trip. I stopped in Santa Fe on the way to spend a night with a treasured friend, the artist Dana Chodzko. The next night was in Taos with Susan, now a single mother with two small children. Monday the workshop began. I remember feeling intense trepidation. I was embarrassed to be acknowledging a "wanna be" in my make-up. I knew enough from my film life that people that did, did, and that too many others just thought about it and attended workshops. But it was a gorgeous time to be away. The Taos winter air was crisp and clean, scented with delicious pinon. I was by myself for the first time in years. I would see what it was.
Natalie was amazing. Funny, sharp, vulnerable, immediately compelling. There were hundreds of people there and she had her system. The time would be about timed writing. Ten minutes. Sometimes on a theme or started with a phrase. No stopping, no crossing out. Then the work would be read out loud. Sometimes cacophonous as the entire room read their work aloud to one other person. Sometimes in smaller groups. Eventually to the whole room at once. The goal was writing as practice and learning how to silence the inner critic that said, "I can't do this. I suck at this." The goal was to write.
That first night, some people cried immediately. I was detached and skeptical until the next morning when we broke into our smaller groups. As Natalie sent us on our way she said, "You've been thinking about this a long time. It was incredibly hard to get here. Now you're a writer in a room full of writers. Be kind."
My own tears surprised me. "Be kind." And all these years later, I can still recall so clearly the lessons of that week. To be more open. To be less critical. To allow the process to happen rather than think it away from the outset. That week was a turning point that has had profound implications for everything that has transpired since.