Monday, February 16, 2015

Finding the Universal in the small private details

     This weekend, I got to participate in the 20th annual South Coast Writer's Conference in Gold Beach, Oregon.  It was the Friday and Saturday of Valentine's Day and had a reoccurring theme that you have to go back, and dig deep in your roots before you find your own unique voice. I think it is true that everything you write eventually points the way back to who you are.  Even when I published my first fantasy novel, I kept hearing old friends and my Mother tell me, "I keep meeting you on every page."  And I had thought that, Duffy Barkley is Not a Dog,

was not my story at all - but it turned out to be almost autobiographical.  Not that I am a 9 year old boy with Cerebral Palsy who survives a school shooting because the shooter doesn't want to put him out of his misery, but yeah, I'm on every page nevertheless.

Gold Beach is only 50 miles north of my home, on a long stretch of sea cliff Hwy. 101 where all the towns are 25 miles apart.  Just far enough away to feel like a bit of an escape and close enough to feel like home.

for pictures and my other, more writerly based blog

     Back in 1984 when my husband and I moved to Ashland, Oregon we discovered this beauty of a sea coast town and a small motel with cabins on the beach where we came as newlyweds.  I made reservations tree, but my husband of 30 years, flew to Spokane, WA with his All Northwest Honor Choir Students for a Valentine's Day Festival.  That too is kind of tradition, the first date we had was a month beforeValentine's Day and that Valentine's he was out of town at a Jr. College Speech Tournament.  Funny thing (When he transferred from a Wyoming, Jr. College, to Southern Oregon, they gave him Biology credit for that Forensics Class.)

Twice I have posted about Ireland's on this Blog


     So anyway, this time I went alone to this lovely gem of a motel, on a Beach with NO MOSQUITOES on a Valentine's Weekend with 78* weather and gorgeous sunsets and a hot tub deck with 3 hot tubs I had all to myself on the beach surrounded by coastal pines and beach grass.

Then I got to participate in one of the best writer's workshops and it all cycled back to Ireland's again.

In a workshop by Mark Bennion, titled "Close Observation and Resonant Sources" I found a solution to those deadly sessions of Writer's Block and it is simple and worked for me.  He was the only instructor who started out by shaking everyone's hand and making eye contact and stating their name, and he repeatedly stated that in the tiniest local detail can be found the Universal truths that we can all resonate with.  He said, we have to become immune to wonder in order to function, so that eating a banana for the first time is nothing like eating a banana for the thousandth time, but if we want our writing to matter and connect on the universal level than we need to dig down deep in our personal past.

So the first thing that he had us do was make a long list of the things that make us smile, and everyone scribbled away for a few minutes.  Then three more times we had to pick one thing from that list and make a list of everything that one thing meant to us.  By the time we were on the 4th list everyone had more memories and stories flowing through that room than we could have shared in a lifetime, and they did all come back at the core, to things that we could all relate too universally.

His final item was a small red jacket.  A simple, easily forgotten item of childhood clothing, until he wrote a poem explaining in detail how this particular jacket was the one his younger brother played in, lived in, and was buried in.

My lists started with people and places I've loved and narrowed to Ireland's pay phone where I took the call telling us when we could come pick up my newly adopted baby boy who had only just been born, and where I stood and told my Dad about my healthy second son, a year later on the day we got him out of the Newborn intensive care unit a month before my Dad planned to visit.  It was also where I was the night my Mom tracked me down to tell me my Dad had lost the battle with esophageal cancer.  So I started writing, inspired again, and that small act quickly took me back into the novel I've been stuck on.  Nice to find a tool for getting unstuck.  Just start by remembering what makes you smile, then you will find all the things that make you feel, that make you human.

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