Monday, January 08, 2007

Santa Barbara Writer's Workshop

My brain is on fire. Fueled by Nora Gallagher, Barbara Brown Taylor and the hospitality of Mt. Calvary Monastery. Six days of uninterrupted writing. Seminars conducted by two gifted women who have earned the right to critique and mentor. Daily bathed in the rhythmic prayers of the Brothers of the Mt. Calvary Monastery. If this is heaven then I’m pitching a tent.

The Louisville Institute selected twenty writers. Each writer has published. All came with a hunger for spiritual writing. The group was ecumenical, Baptist, Catholic, Congregational, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed. The occupations varied, non-profit, consultant, professor, professional writer, and clergy. The group was eclectic. However not ethnically diverse; this is puzzling and troubling.

Nora Gallagher has authored Things Seen and Unseen and Practicing Resurrection. She has a first novel arriving in bookstores Changing Light. Barbara Brown Taylor has authored several books her latest being Leaving Church. Having read all but Nora’s new novel I find their work models of how to question the church while still loving it. Their writing inspires readers both those in and out of the church.

We were challenged to approach writing with the same reverence and discipline of a spiritual practice. The daily exercise of writing expects its own attention. Told to forget everything we learned in school about writing, we were liberated to begin to think creatively. I was surprised how exhausted I was at the end of each day.

Gallagher is edgy, direct, precise and thorough. She listens with piercing eyes. She speaks with long fingers. Her cautious smile is tempered by the turns in life’s labyrinth.

Religious clichés are screens against reality, Nora warned us. They are dangerous because of their use by the powerful to maintain the status quo. Reality, she said, lies behind the cliché. Writing must come out of an experience generated through the body. Provoked, writers must continually ask themselves, “What is this story really about.” Understanding the difference between circumstance and story will bring life to words.

Taylor’s twenty years of priestly ministry can be seen in her gaze. She laughs at herself easily. Her subtle accent softens provocative words. Her gentle southern manner lowers defenses long enough for stories to find their exact mark.

Among Barbara’s offering were four steps and four tools for the scientific act of creativity. Preparation, incubation, illumination and translation comprise the process. Some of the tools include being aware of creativity already possessed, binding the internal critic, attending to detail and releasing of the inexhaustible curiosity.

Both presenters had the focused scope of memoir. Each has experience with other genre, however, little time was set aside for those discussions.

The participants brought a 2500 word piece. Our work was shared, reviewed, and critiqued. We each had the opportunity for a private consult with our teachers. The two made themselves regularly available for questions and counsel. Their energy and love for their craft is contagious.

I left the seminar with new confidence in my writing. Gaining an understanding of my weaknesses and now feeling I have the tools to improve. I now have a colony of compadres who will encourage and question. This allows me to venture into unexplored areas of interest. Most importantly, I am in better touch with my writing. The new found relationship has released the inner self onto the page.

Humbled by the breaking of bread with the community. Nourished by sharing communion with new friends. Pushed to move outside of comfort zones. My prayer is that the fire in my brain will burn continually. Burning incense that will rise into the images of the reader.

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