Italy

The why and why not

Group2015Trip.JPG

There’s a reason you searched “writing retreats” or clicked on something that led you here. Something that said Italy or Morocco or Mexico or Maine and yoga and wine and yes, okay, writing. Maybe it’s a bit of escapism — you’re sitting in your cubicle or at your kitchen table, wondering trying not to think of the dozens of “to do” list items you have that day and that evening and tomorrow and the day after that. Maybe the idea of scribbling in a journal overlooking the fields of Tuscan grapevines sounds like a great idea for a daydream. Maybe it’s crossed your mind that you’d love to be a writer but it’s too hard or it takes too much time or someone else must be way better than you. Maybe you don’t speak the language of whatever country you’re dreaming about and couldn’t imagine trying to navigate such a sea change.

Maybe it’s exactly what you need.

Something happens on our retreats. Not to everyone and not every time but frequently enough that we know we have something special going on. We’ve conjured the right combination of distance, time and beauty, and we call to the people who are ready to take a big step of faith into possibility, of believing that their light and passion exist somewhere inside even if they can’t quite feel it right then. We become each other’s magic.

We wanted this to be a different kind of retreat — there are places that offer in-depth critiques and there is a place for that. But we just want you to write, and to write without the pressure of it being “good.” We offer encouragement, positivity, and the cameraderie of creation. It can be a beginning point for a new piece of writing, a new direction for a current project, or just that — a beginning point, period. We write, yes, but we take the time to just be. Usually with yoga and probably wine and definitely good food and sometimes horses and other fun stuff.

We have space for you in Mexico, Maine, and oh, yes, we can still make room for you in Morocco. Come unlock your magic with us.

thumb_DSCF5091_1024.jpg

Water/ by Laurin Bellg

IMG_9073.JPG

This prose poem is from the prompt Water we received on the second day of the retreat on Pantelleria. I brought a struggle with me to the gathering, a pivotal decision to be made about my future. And there on that sparse, volcanic island – closer to Tunisia than Italy – I was able to see more clearly through Water than I was ever able to do with the charts and statistics I’d laid out neatly and collated logically to help me decide. The logical charts hadn’t helped me at all and kept bringing me back to the same thought that to follow my heart makes no sense at all. I had to go halfway around the world to understand my dilemma and sort it out. The WOW retreats do that – take you to places where you have no choice but to unplug, and thus unfettered, allows you to look at things differently and see what’s really there. I am not a poet at all. Far from! But, even having words come out of me in a different way in a different place with different people was useful to render clarity.

Laurin Bellg

Appleton, Wisconsin

 

Water

I’m in control until I’m not. And when I’m not I struggle,

fighting the water; gasping when it rushes right into me.

I’m reminded I forgot to breath before it hit. Damn.

I drown. I go down. Now thoroughly and completely down,

I find out – what’s down there. What’s down here,

where I am now. Down in the layers of muck and sediment,

among fossils of the non-living, who once lived but now

they just don’t because they can’t.

 

Their choice of fuel was always going to be self-depleting,

and once it’s gone, well – it’s gone. That’s it then.

There’s nothing left to do in that fuel-less place but die

and become shells of ourselves. And I do that.

I die, but I will not be committed to fossil and shell.

I decide. There is nothing left to do but sever bindings.

So, I grab them. Rip them. Leave them there and float up.

And it’s easy. I’m surprised that it’s actually – easy.

 

I’m amused that it took that long to realize, to know I had that –

that shell. A shell, it turns out I don’t even need. I thought I did,

but now I know. I don’t. Funny, I did not even see it –

did not realize, until I lost it, that I ever had it in the first place.

That’s how the sheer weight of the thing – that confining,

limiting shell – can go unnoticed, or if I do notice, how I

convince myself of its usefulness to me. How maddening.

What a stupid construct, really, that somehow

I thought I needed it, but now that it’s gone I am so light –

Light and light – a self-illuminating, auto-renewing

IMG_9159.JPG

luminescence in water floating up

 

from deep and pressing water to something I can actually tread.

Once I know that, I can move in any direction I choose. And I do.

I choose – to move. Away. Away from the safe shore I’ve sold myself

as logical to that one – the one I feel is out there, just beyond sight.

I am certain it’s there because, having dwelt in water for so long,

I’m an expert. I know water – how it moves, how I fight it, how it

flows around me when I let it. So, I find the path, that synchronous current

that I don’t have to fight to navigate. It moves me forward with ease,

with a hum and a flow. A flow that I know

would move away from me if I tried to control it.

 

So, now that I have died, escaped the shell, left it there and floated up,

It’s clear that I’m not really moving away from but going toward.

 

Laurin is a critical care physician living and working in Appleton, Wisconsin since 2002. Medicine is her heart, but writing is her soul. She is married to a poet (not his day job), who is looking forward to attending his own WOW retreat in the near future, since Laurin – the test case – made it back alive. He noticed she was changed after WOW, but decided it was for the better. They have two daughters, a rescue dog, a feral cat, a hamster too pedigreed for its own good and a few fish. Laurin is an award-winning author of the medical memoir Near Death in the ICU and continues to throw short stories and essays at contests, because, well, you know – deadlines. That’s the trick she plays on herself to hoodwink a regular writing schedule. Occasionally, they win – the contest entries and the hoodwinking. Next goal is to try her hand at journal submissions. She went to Pantelleria fighting the urge to peruse an MFA in creative writing for the pure pleasure of it (as the answer to a long-time dream and a gift to herself so her writing soul won’t rot), but it’s never made sense on paper. She came back from Pantelleria thinking – we live, we work, we die, so get an MFA and see what happens. Could it be that simple? The WOW writing retreat was pure magic for her and felt like home. She can’t wait until the next retreat, thinking she may have found her writing tribe among these fine, creative folks – many of whom seemed to be the same kind of creative crazy that she is.

Laurin is a critical care physician living and working in Appleton, Wisconsin since 2002. Medicine is her heart, but writing is her soul. She is married to a poet (not his day job), who is looking forward to attending his own WOW retreat in the near future, since Laurin – the test case – made it back alive. He noticed she was changed after WOW, but decided it was for the better. They have two daughters, a rescue dog, a feral cat, a hamster too pedigreed for its own good and a few fish. Laurin is an award-winning author of the medical memoir Near Death in the ICU and continues to throw short stories and essays at contests, because, well, you know – deadlines. That’s the trick she plays on herself to hoodwink a regular writing schedule. Occasionally, they win – the contest entries and the hoodwinking. Next goal is to try her hand at journal submissions. She went to Pantelleria fighting the urge to peruse an MFA in creative writing for the pure pleasure of it (as the answer to a long-time dream and a gift to herself so her writing soul won’t rot), but it’s never made sense on paper. She came back from Pantelleria thinking – we live, we work, we die, so get an MFA and see what happens. Could it be that simple? The WOW writing retreat was pure magic for her and felt like home. She can’t wait until the next retreat, thinking she may have found her writing tribe among these fine, creative folks – many of whom seemed to be the same kind of creative crazy that she is.

Tea, Tuscany & a Birthday/ by Justine Gilbert

sunriseVoltronaJPG.JPG

Early morning, there is a softness to the sky that will later give way to storm or fluffy cloud or perhaps that intense azure ring from edge to edge that is so famous here.  I sit with a cup of tea (most un-Italian) and survey the vista in front of me. Somewhere in my soul, I smile because I am home.

My affinity with Italy started with my mother, Fiorentina born, a maternal thread that spooled out to my childhood and beyond. It stretched across Italy from Rome to Milan on many journeys, but in recent years, my life settled for a short span of time in this region.  I have learned so much here: the annual cycle of the contadini, the growling of the tractors as they plant and harvest crops, the cacciatore, with their khaki uniforms and loud pops of the shotguns as they fell the pheasant and wild boar, the agriturismo, with their fields that change colour from green spring to beige blanched summer broken by yellow sunflowers and violent red tomatoes, on to the purple of autumn spotted with pumpkins, and sometimes - if we are lucky -  the white coating of a short snowfall in winter that decorates every ancient roof with a magical dusting. 

I have learned it is hard to find work here, and even harder to make that work pay, so that one can live, eat and survive.  If you are not Toscana, you can never be truly one of them, and yet you will be accepted into the community provided you have the economic means to do for others, either by spending or barter or by being a good inquilino. I admire the Tuscan people, they have had few handouts, survived wars and bombing - still they plough on, paying their way and developing ‘un modo da vivere’ that is envied the world over.

birthdaydinner.JPG

This land, and all the people I met, became my fourth child.  I helped to plant oliveand fruit trees here, my legacy after my death. I helped to restore vegetable plots, I put in a wood burning stove and learned to use a chain saw so that I could slice the dense wood required into manageable chunks to ease the winter cold with a piping hot stufa.  I endured the zanzare - the ever present mosquitoes, the papatachi, the voracious midges, and I watched with fascination as a myriad of lizards moved rapidly, seamlessly from rock to rock, shedding their tails when predators lurked, so that one did not notice their disappearance into the crevices, whilst the ejected limb wriggled in the dust. 

I walked dogs here, down dry river beds and across the beaches at Cecina.  I have laughed and shared a love of Italy and all things Tuscan with new friends under a silk black sky with diamonds, whilst fire flies blinked across the fields. 

writingtime.JPG

I have loved watching the birds of prey who settle on the telephone poles and then swoop with unerring accuracy to pick out the field mice.  With fascination, I acknowledged small black scorpions standing their ground on the terra cotta tiles, unafraid of a large human foot approaching.  I have seen the deer, turn and bound away in the pine woods, chased by dogs that had no chance of keeping pace and occasionally the ‘irskine’ or ‘porcospino’ that rattled away hurriedly to hide - illegal to hunt, yet they are prized for their meat. They are a remnant of Ancient Rome and its African connections.  I have seen the many migrants, their ebony faces staring into mine, hawking any trinkets they could find to make their way north to Belgium or Germany.

I remember with pity the many caged dogs that reside in the woods, who sit, barking and howling, waiting for a chance to be released into the hunt by their hunter masters. The chickens in coops, the swallows that circle, the rise and fold of the hills making their nest in the barns, the daily chatter of friends in the piazza, the richness of the local wine, oil and food.

I am sixty years old and I am grateful to have had my birthday here, grateful for the friends who travelled an hour from Montecatini Val di Cecina to share it with me.

And last but certainly not least, the warmth and friendship of Wide Open Writing, an adventure in authorship never to be forgotten and hopefully to continue and follow for years to come.

Grateful for having experienced all of this.  Thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.

This post originally appeared on https://teawithjustine.wordpress.com.

 

Born in New York to a mother who was a ballet dancer and a father who was a journalist, I moved to Long Island and then to London at the age of six. I spent many summers in Italy for reasons of my father’s work, and we all lived in Rome for a year.  My family has had an ongoing love affair with Italy. I began writing as soon as I could write and have had a lifelong passion for literature, poetry and the written word. I would call myself a Scribbler. I write because I must. My thoughts come to me in words I press to the page. I became an English teacher and my writing was focussed on school plays, short stories and poetry much of which I shared with my pupils. I have a B.Ed (Hons) from Leeds University (Yorkshire, UK) - the part of the world where the Bronte sisters grew up. I also have an M.Ed in Literacy Difficulties and Dyslexia assessment. There is nothing more rewarding that seeing a child blossom as they find their creative writing potential, and it has been very fulfilling to be a part of that. I created websites for reading reviews, ran creative writing workshops and competitions, and spent a life encouraging pupils of all ages to write and read.  Three children, two husbands and three dogs filled my personal life (not all at the same time!).  When I wrote my first full length novel at age 54 - set in Tuscany - I opted to upload it on the Kindle site, rather than go the traditional publishing route. My aim being to create a virtual shelf of books to share with friends and family. Indie publishing gives people an outlet for their creativity and I think it’s the best thing about today’s world of literature.   I took early retirement, and moved to Tuscany, where photographing and writing blogs began my focus for annotating an amazing part of the world. I began with  serendipityinitaly.co.uk  and went on to write  hugsfromitaly.wordpress.com , followed by  usachronicles.wordpress.com  when I spent six weeks with family, and subsequently, having left Italy to go back to London, I am currently writing  teawithjustine.wordpress.com   My second novel has been inspired by people I have met, but its completion will be due entirely to WOW, without whose help and guidance, I might have given up. Now I know, in my sixtieth year: Every good book takes the reader on a journey. If you feel you have a book in you, never give up, if a tale is worth telling, it is worth the time to see it through, no matter how long it takes you.  Two Sides of the Coin is due to be uploaded on Amazon Kindle in December under the name of J P Chan Gilbert.

Born in New York to a mother who was a ballet dancer and a father who was a journalist, I moved to Long Island and then to London at the age of six. I spent many summers in Italy for reasons of my father’s work, and we all lived in Rome for a year.  My family has had an ongoing love affair with Italy. I began writing as soon as I could write and have had a lifelong passion for literature, poetry and the written word. I would call myself a Scribbler. I write because I must. My thoughts come to me in words I press to the page. I became an English teacher and my writing was focussed on school plays, short stories and poetry much of which I shared with my pupils. I have a B.Ed (Hons) from Leeds University (Yorkshire, UK) - the part of the world where the Bronte sisters grew up. I also have an M.Ed in Literacy Difficulties and Dyslexia assessment. There is nothing more rewarding that seeing a child blossom as they find their creative writing potential, and it has been very fulfilling to be a part of that. I created websites for reading reviews, ran creative writing workshops and competitions, and spent a life encouraging pupils of all ages to write and read.

Three children, two husbands and three dogs filled my personal life (not all at the same time!).  When I wrote my first full length novel at age 54 - set in Tuscany - I opted to upload it on the Kindle site, rather than go the traditional publishing route. My aim being to create a virtual shelf of books to share with friends and family. Indie publishing gives people an outlet for their creativity and I think it’s the best thing about today’s world of literature. 

I took early retirement, and moved to Tuscany, where photographing and writing blogs began my focus for annotating an amazing part of the world. I began with serendipityinitaly.co.uk and went on to write hugsfromitaly.wordpress.com, followed by usachronicles.wordpress.com when I spent six weeks with family, and subsequently, having left Italy to go back to London, I am currently writing teawithjustine.wordpress.com  My second novel has been inspired by people I have met, but its completion will be due entirely to WOW, without whose help and guidance, I might have given up. Now I know, in my sixtieth year: Every good book takes the reader on a journey. If you feel you have a book in you, never give up, if a tale is worth telling, it is worth the time to see it through, no matter how long it takes you.

Two Sides of the Coin is due to be uploaded on Amazon Kindle in December under the name of J P Chan Gilbert.