Back on November 15th of last year, I took a deep breath as I clicked the "Complete Transaction" button to send in my initial deposit on the last day of early bird pricing for the first ever Wild Mountain Memoir Writer's Retreat in Leavenworth, Washington. I told myself it would be okay as I exhaled slowly. I didn't exactly know how I'd pay for the entire trip, but I did have a part-time job that provided a steady stream of additional income, so I figured we would make it work. Somehow. Besides, I had asked for my husband's blessing before going ahead to book my ticket. He was 100% supportive, as always.
Little did I know just how much of an impact this writer's retreat would have on my work, let alone on who I am as a person in general. It's a little unreal how much a beautiful resort, jaw-dropping scenery, incredibly brilliant and inspiring published authors as instructors and presenters, fresh organic gourmet food, and vivacious, supportive, funny and highly social attendee writers can impact one's sense of purpose in the world. But, man, I can honestly say that I came home a more empowered writer and person in general.
In January I booked my flight using frequent flier miles we had been saving up for a rainy day. (The retreat was in Seattle, I take that as a sign from up above for many reasons, rain being one.) I decided to take an early flight out on Thursday before the retreat, in order to give myself an entire day and a half to settle in and adjust somewhat to the 3-hour time change before the retreat officially started on Friday evening. That proved to be one of the best decisions I made in booking the trip. I had a great flight out to Seattle from DC, and enjoyed the next 24 hours relaxing, exploring the resort, and writing while listening to Ed Sheeran's new album on repeat before the rest of the retreat-goers arrived on Friday night at 5:30pm.
Then it got wild.
Here are my Ten Reason's I'm Thankful I Went to Wild Mountain:
10. A mountain resort set withing the picturesque and uber-relaxing Cascades Mountains. I seriously was in complete awe of the beauty that surrounded us the entire weekend. From the snow-capped mountains to the bubbling waterfall with it's soothing melody. It was the perfect setting for writing, reading, and learning.
9. The food was simply incredible. Top-of-the-line gourmet, organic, fresh and delicious. I fed my body just as well as I fed my writer's soul last weekend.
8. A break from the reality and stress of everyday life. I packed for an adventure, and it was one heck of a ride from start to finish. I'm still glowing from the whole of it all.
7. Community. From the moment I met my roommate, Natalie, to the last hug goodbye at the airport, for forty-eight hours I was wrapped in a sense of comfort knowing that I was surrounded by my people. My tribe, as I like to call them. Writers who write and who truthfully share their stories for the greater good of people who read them.
6. Hands-on instruction from rock-star authors who so generously and passionately offered up their best knowledge on the craft of memoir writing. Techniques, tips, and tidbits of advice were wrapped with gorgeous bows for us. I am so very grateful to Ariel Gore, Candace Walsh, Suzanne Finnamore, and Theo Pauline Nestor (and Scott, for encouraging her to just go for it and host the retreat) for making the magic happen. Sitting next to Cheryl Strayed after her keynote address (written specifically for us) was a dream come true. She took her time in signing my three books and gave me a hug at the end. She is so amazing. My favorite piece of wisdom from her talk was to write until you find the bigger picture. I learned that I need to find a universal thread for my memoir in order to make it a book which many people will want to read. I'm happy to report that I think I found that universal thread during Theo's two classes and I can't wait to start sewing my story together with it.
5. Meeting a blogger who I deeply admire and respect. The witty and beautiful Ann Imig won the Writer.ly 6-word memoir contest and received a scholarship to attend the conference. Ann is the brainchild behind Listen To Your Mother, "a national of live readings by local writers in celebration of Mother's Day," which was born in her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, and has grown to 24 cities this year. I was so honored to have met and gotten to know her over the weekend and am now privileged to call her a friend.
4. Feeling like I was back in college again. The resort had a cabin set-up, and each cabin had between one to four beds, so we were grouped based on the package we selected. I chose a room with one roommate and was so perfectly matched with Nat, who ended up becoming my best friend at the retreat solely based on the fact that she and I just "clicked". On Saturday afternoon, she wrote in our free time, and ended up reading me what she wrote, to which I promptly replied, "Nat, that's your first blog post right there." We spent the rest of the break before dinner creating her very own blog, It Will Never Happen 2 Me, and then went to the bar for a celebratory drink. So fun to be a blog instructor for a few hours.
3. Cheaper than an MFA. I think I heard this phrase mentioned more than once during the retreat. I'm pretty happy about that right there, given my love of a good deal and my admitted regret to having wished I studied Creative Writing as an undergrad.
2. I left the retreat emotionally and physically exhausted, and yet, I was more energized and inspired than ever before. I couldn't wait to get home to start writing again, to apply all of the incredible things I learned. I even wrote on the red-eye home because I was so uncomfortable in that damn window seat. Some of it is actually usable material, which is surprisingly fantastic.
1. New friends. I gained an unbelievable community of like-minded, highly intelligent, encouraging, fun-loving people. We're blowing up Facebook these days, if you haven't noticed. And I'm sure it'll continue. We're serious writers and we're keeping in touch. I can't wait until we all get published and get to have a Wild Mountain reunion to celebrate all of our accomplishments.
What a weekend. I changed. My book changed.
And this is only the beginning, folks.