Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Word Lover's Retreat in Lakeside

Word Lover’s Retreat participants felt right at home at the Idlewyld Bed and Breakfast, built in 1888 on Walnut Street in Lakeside. A private gated community founded as an independent Chautauqua on Lake Erie’s shores in 1873, Lakeside is one of the few remnants of the adult education movement popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Innkeepers Dan and Joan Barris ran the kitchen while cooking me, the weekend hostess, who used Joan’s tried-and-true recipes for the event.

True writers write, and many of us spent several hours writing on the front porch on Friday afternoon. After a walking tour of Lakeside and a soup and salad supper, Donna Wilson’s writing-prompt boxes came out and we wrote memories stirred by postcards, linked random words together in essays, and dug deeply by completing phrases like, “A secret dream of mine is to . . .” Surely the results were part of Julia Cameron’s goals when she wrote The Artist’s Way: those who wrote explored their potential for possibilities and what they have to share with the world.

Freelance Writer and Writing Coach John Ettorre shared tips from his book-in-progress during his “Flex Those Writing Muscles” session on Saturday morning. John focused on the craft of writing and the habits and disciplines that produce good writing. The weekend’s mantra became “less is more” as we talked about tight sentences, perfect word choices, listening for cadence and flow, editing, and rewriting. The other theme that emerged is how important it is for a writer to read widely.

John's session segued into the afternoon session entitled “The Book Loving Soul.” Gustave Flaubert said, “Read in order to live,” and that sums up how most writers feel about reading. Most of us became avid readers in childhood, stealing reading moments in the backseat of the family car or on a tree roost or in our beds at night with flashlights. We discussed keeping a writing journal, tracking the books we read, studying good writing to become better writers, listening to books on tape, and taking part in book discussion groups.

Journals, like Katherine Mansfield’s, are a writer’s notebook, a journal of inner life, a spiritual autobiography, and she said her journal was a way “to lose all that is superficial and acquired in me and to become a conscious, direct human being.” Our personal journals can be culled for memoir, stories, novels, personal essays, articles, or poetry, or can be worth reading on its own. A journal helps us make connections. The afternoon workshop “Leaving a Trace” was inspired by Alexandra Johnson’s book by the same name and the writing exercises delved into how to cull our life experiences for use in our writing.

Haiku, one breath poetry, is a form of poetry available to everyone. In the Haiku workshop we learned how experimenting with Haiku can teach us how to write succinctly. It also shows us how to show without telling, thereby enriching our writing by allowing the reader to bring his or her experience to the moment encapsulated in the poem. We vowed to write haiku on our own when we returned to the world.

As shadows lengthened in the afternoon, we rocked in bentwood rockers on the front porch of the Idlewyld and discussed Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun. Mayes and her husband embraced Italy when they bought Bramasole, an abandoned villa in the Tuscan countryside. Roman roads and wells, ancient vineyards, hidden frescoes, vibrant markets, simple food, and big hearts--the book’s a celebration of Italy. The memoir and armchair travel book presents poetic cadence and a lyrical quality worth study. Although we agreed that Mayes challenges us to “surprise” our own lives and not resist the impulse to live fully, the consensus of the group was that the book's language is rich, but meandering, and the author is too reserved and self-centered.

Following after-dinner sunset walks, we returned to the Idlewyld for storytelling and spent a good deal of time laughing before retiring to our Victorian sleeping quarters. Refreshed from a good night’s sleep, we spent Sunday morning in a circle around the big meeting room critiquing each other’s work. We were productive.

When we took leave of Lakeside with great hesitation, but basked in new friendships and refreshed spirits. The weekend encapsulated my image of what an Igniting Possibilities Event is meant to be.

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