Today someone asked why I post so much about Ossabaw Island and the writer's retreat. I work for them is a short answer. The less short answer is why I work there. The longest explanation involves an alligator, a near death experience over bacon (not my own), a trip to Prague, a divorce, and a publishing deal in 2016. Today you get the less short answer.
In 2014 I went to the writer's retreat, as a cover to study the pigs on the island to grow better, more humane pork on my own farm in Iowa. I had given up writing, other than blogging, nearly two decades before that. But? The poetry was dormant in me, just beneath the surface. The workshops and the discussions over meals, the gentle guidance of the faculty and the friendships made that year were priceless. I returned home to Iowa with poetry bleeding out of me.
I wrote. I revised. I hid it still. Then a fellow writer, Emily, from the island emailed me a list of websites to send my work to, a link to duotrope, and some kind words. I took the leap, sent out work. It felt like opening a wrong healed wound. Not long after, actually 48 hours, I got my first acceptance.
Later that summer, Tony Morris, the director of the retreat, called me and encouraged me to return for the 2015 retreat. He offered more words of encouragement. I took on extra work, in our busiest harvest season on the farm, to pay for it and a plane ticket.
Going back was more transformative than the first time. I dug in to the workshops, relaxed at the social gatherings, laughed hard and wrote furiously. 15 other writers gathered on the island as cohort. This second retreat was where I fell in love with words again, the experience of writing, of baring my soul and story. I was dizzy head over heels in love with writing. My writing changed from dry technically narrative poems, to line by line heart wrenching, my technical craft became more refined. Confidence made writing sexy. I wanted to write all the time, infatuated, a rekindled love I had forgotten and estranged for too long.
Writers need experiences like this. I needed this. Best investment I have ever made in myself, personally. Better than a spa day, or therapy, or college classes.
And my passion continues, as many of you know. To give back, I volunteer my time to the retreat. I want to bring more people to the island but also to that point in their writing life too. You don't need an MFA to write your life. You don't need to be a professor. What matters more, at least to me, is community. Many of our writers come to the island with a story and leave with the tools to tell it well. Some come with notebooks full of poems that they've never shown anyone (like me). How brave.
I am grateful everyday for the friendships (looking at you Tracy May Fuad,Holly Peterson, Jennifer Johnston, Patty Evans Jordan Tamra Higgins,Lenore Hart Poyer, Victoria Mitchell, to name a few) that I made there, that have carried me through the worst year of my life (divorce after 18 years of marriage) and into the best one (my own house and book deal and WARM WEATHER and poetry!).
To sum up? You know a writer like me, like I was two years ago. You do. Encourage them, help them get there (wherever there is for them). Fundraise tuition, drive them cross country, give them your air miles for a plane ticket. Pass on the blessings we have had to get us where we are. If you are that writer and no one knows? Tell someone. Say it aloud. Tell yourself, I am poet/novelist/memoirist. I am writer. Then write.