Catamaran Writers Conference Gems

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Catamaran Attendees at the Tor House, Carmel, California, home of the renowned poet Robinson Jeffers

While at the 2015 Catamaran Writers Conference in Pebble Beach, I met so many talented writers, poets, editors, publishers, agents, aliens (just kidding) that I was overwhelmed, but in a good way!

Now I understand why people love going to these conferences. You become immersed in a creative energy field, plus you don’t have to cook, wash dishes or do laundry. Or deal with fighting siblings or a snotty partner!

I’d like to share these special people and resources with you. One of them may lead you to a great book, a conference, a poetry collection, landing your own book deal…who knows? 

From my Creative Nonfiction Class with Frances Lefkowitz:

  1. Frances Lefkowitz’s highly acclaimed memoir To Have Not about growing up poor in San Francisco is one of the best memoirs I’ve read. Meeting her in person, being her student and receiving her feedback and encouragement was almost better than chocolate. (Frances, chocolate is to me what a cute pair of shoes is to you! 😉  Visit her awesome website to learn about Frances’ upcoming workshops, writing/editing services & to read her blog.
  2. Rayne Wolfe, a fellow classmates, has an incredible resume. Her book Toxic Mom Toolkit is a bestseller and it has spurred a very active Facebook community. Rayne works as a journalist and has written for none other than the New York Times. She’s a writing coach, media source and guest speaker. Visit Rayne’s Facebook page (Toxic Mom Toolkit) to keep posted of her upcoming book (I can’t wait to buy it!) and her blog: http://toxicmomtoolkit.com 
  3. Annie Dawid is another talented classmate (hey, my class was 100% packed with talent! 😉 and a prolific author, artist, and writing teacher. Annie has had several books published, and her upcoming book Paradise Undone: A Novel of Jonestown is sure to be riveting. Learn more about Annie at http://www.anniedawid.com

During one of our yummy meals I met two fascinating women who teach in my hometown. 

Helene Simkin Jara of helenesimkinjara.com is an actor, director and author. Her book Because I Had To is a Kindle bestseller. Her upcoming book consists of 96 interviews from women and men about childhood experiences with dolls; some are funny, many are terrifying, some are poignant. Some experiences occure in orphanages in Switzerland and Korea; takes place during the Holocaust.  It’s a peek into people’s lives with dolls as the catalyst. Her book sounds extraordinary. Check out her website for the details.

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Dr. Adela Najarro of http://www.adelanajarro.com immediately set me at ease. She invited me to practice my publicity pitch with her about my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. Adela pretended that she was an independent bookseller and I “met” with her to promote my book. 🙂 Like everyone at the conference, she’s multitalented – she’s a poet, published author and creative writing instructor at Cabrillo College. I wish I had her as my teacher when I went to school!

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Our lecturers made a big impression upon me. Two of my faves were:

Michael Larsen, literary agent and co-founder of the famed San Francisco Writers Conference in 2016 and the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference coming up very soon on September 12, 2015. I seized the opportunity to meet with Michael for a half an hour. We discussed my book Birth of a New Brain and he inspired me, gave me a bunch of great ideas, and listened. It didn’t hurt that he had one of the best senses of humor around. To get to know Michael visit his blog http://sfwriters.org/blog/

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Development editor/publishing consultant Heather Lazare gave an illuminating presentation. She explained how the New York editing scene worked, and much more. Heather has a comprehensive website and if you’re a fiction writer I suggest checking out her Northern California Writer’s Retreat she co-founded with literary agent Chelsea Lindman. It’s coming up in 2016 – I wish Heather and Chelsea would offer a nonfiction version, hint hint!  

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Chicago Quarterly Review

(How cool & lovely is this collie on the cover? Doesn’t she look like Lucy?)

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I was honored to meet Syed Haider, the founder of this highly respected nonprofit literary journal and author of To Be With Her. Syed was so kind to me and we had some wonderful talks at mealtimes. If you’re a writer, I encourage you to look at the website’s submission guidelines and send the Chicago Quarterly Review your work – they consider virtually all forms of writing. If published, you can be tremendously proud to be a part of this literary tradition.

Finally, I must mention the beautifully produced

Catamaran Literary Reader

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Catamaran conference attendees were given swag bags upon check-in, which was a lovely way to start the conference. We received a copy of the latest issue of the Catamaran Literary Reader.

While at the dentist last Saturday for four hours (without WiFi or a smart phone) last week, I thank God that I brought my Catamaran issue. I leisurely enjoyed every page – I had the time! I was very impressed with this notable local publication founded by visual artist/writer/creative visionary Catherine Segurson.  

As someone who has lived on the West Coast of California for forty-five years, I particularly love Catamaran’s tagline: “West Coast Themes – Writers and Artists from Everywhere”.

Thanks for reading!  Please share if you dare! 😉

with love,

Dyane

 

 

 

 

Too Tired to Write…Here’s A Video Check-In!

My Catamaran Writers Conference creative nonfiction class. We were taught by Frances Lefkowitz, an extraordinary instructor/author. Her memoir To Have Not, about growing up poor in San Francisco, is amazing. I’ll be sharing some of my talented classmates’ websites with you next week.

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Dyane’s book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2016.

The Catarmaran Chronicles: Killing Chickens & More!

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Dyane (looking rather porcine but happy!) with her creative nonfiction teacher Frances Lefkowitz. Frances is author of the stunning memoir To Have Not about growing up poor in San Francisco

Here’s the cover: one of my all-time favorite book covers!

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The 2nd annual Catamaran Writers Conference brought me back twenty-four years ago to my days working at Labadie Productions. That was my first “grown-up” job. I helped plan and produce large-scale festivals in Silicon Valley such as the San Jose America Festival, the San Jose Jazz Festival, the San Pedro Square Brew Ha Ha, Villa Montalvo Concert Series, Music in the Park and many more. special events.

Those music/arts & crafts festivals drew several hundred thousand attendees over a weekend, and I often worked twenty-hour days. I was able to do that since I was young, although it was (cough, cough) unhealthy, especially when a dormant genetic code for bipolar disorder was in my brain.

I became hypomanic with the lack of sleep, although no one recognized it back then including me. Barely sleeping at those events was crazy, and it kinda made me crazy. But I got a kick out of being a staff member. I enjoyed interacting with musicians and artists, and I really loved getting lots of free food and drinks from my 75 food vendors at each festival!

My boss founded the renowned Paul Masson Mountain Winery Concert Series before starting his own company. He and his wife, co-owner of Labadie Productions, taught me so many things. They became my second family and had very high standards on how I did my job. Event production is not for the weak!

Working a festival is very similar to working a conference. As I observed and interacted with the amazing Catamaran staff I couldn’t help but wish I had been able to work at this kind of event when I was at Labadie. It’s absolutely exhausting to do event production, but so fulfilling, which is why I lasted for almost four years at Labadie.

Apart from reminiscing here, I’ll sum up my Catamaran experience by explaining more about why I loved it so much. I had no idea that a bunch of writers and poets would be so cool, fascinating, and most important: friendly. I thought I’d show up there, keep to myself and feel lonely. I didn’t think I would make a single friend. 

I was wrong on all counts, thank God. I connected with the students in my (albeit small) creative nonfiction class. I thought each writer was fantastic, and while I wasn’t going to be able to be BFF’s with them all, I knew that I’d like to keep in touch with them and promote their work, and for some of them, their books and websites.

As for my teacher Frances Lefkowitz…there are no words for how “packed with awesome” she was. Plus, I didn’t have the chance to tell you what a trouper this remarkable writer is. The night before the conference Frances was washing dishes, broke a glass and she came close to cutting the tendon in her right (writing) hand. She had to drive by herself to the ER at midnight. Yikes!

99% of people would have bailed on driving to the conference in that condition (I think she had to drive 3 or 4 hours to Pebble Beach) to teach a demanding class, but she stuck to her commitment and made the trip. Poor Frances’ hand was bandaged up and it looked like a big white lobster claw, but she was able to write.

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Frances didn’t complain about her injury – not one word. Now that’s dedication and true guts. That’s my Teacher. I cannot WAIT for her next book (about learning how to surf later in life and breaking her neck) to be published and become a bestseller – she’s one to watch! 

And now I’d like to share a few highlights from the conference…

 

Chicken Killing Poems #1 & #2

If you told me that I’d listen to not one but two lengthy, extremely detailed, disturbing poems about the mechanics involved and emotions triggered when killing a chicken, I would have said, “No way!”

Well.

On Friday night, the renowned poet Ellen Bass recited a poem “What Did I Love” about her first time killing a chicken accompanied by her wife Janet.  It was extremely well written and I could never pull something like that off, but the subject matter wasn’t what I’d choose to listen to in a chapel on a balmy August evening. Guess what? 

You can listen to it too via The New Yorker – Bass fan Phillip Levine reads it!

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On Saturday it was our big night. The evening was designated for a reception and the opportunity for most of the teachers to read their latest work. Twenty students were invited to sign up so they could read their work too. I wasn’t going to do this as I thought I’d probably pass out if I did it, but I wound up caving and taking part. (More on that later.)

On Saturday night a student named Marek from Warsaw, Poland recited his chicken killing poem in his heavy Polish accent. Marek read with such feeling; it turned out he was quite talented. Boy, it was a grim poem – even gorier than Ellen’s masterpiece. Marek had me in tears at the end. 

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Back to my decision to read- on Saturday afternoon during my meeting with agent/San Franciso Writers conference founder Michael Larsen, he advised me to do as much public speaking as possible. When we finished our session, Michael had me so pumped up that I sprinted over to the sign-up sheet. With a fleeting sense of confidence, I scrawled my name in the #18 slot. That wasn’t the greatest placement since by then everyone would be totally pooped out, but I did it anyway. Whatever, I thought, throwing caution to the wind.

I decided to read a four-minute-long piece that I wrote in class about a significant place. I chose the loony bin literally (ironically) down the road from the conference called CHOMP where I stayed five times. I titled it “PTSD Highway”.

However, by the time I was set to speak (11:15 p.m. – a late time for someone who usually goes to bed around 8p.m.) I decided to wimp out on my choice. I recited my poem “Enough” instead. I didn’t care if everyone else read for much longer periods of time. What mattered was my getting up in front of the crowd and doing it. Fortunately, I had my beloved Kindle with me so I could access “Enough” via my blog.

There were so many fabulous readings. In a deadpan voice, a nonfiction teacher named Robin Hemley read about an Air Supply reunion concert that was absolutely hysterical. Frances’ micro-memoir about breaking her neck while surfing was so brilliantly written and intense that you could hear a pin drop in the theater.

When I was called up to the stage, I stood in the wings and started to freak out. I whispered to the seasoned co-MC Kevin (our poetry slam master/owner of the Art Bar & Cafe @ The Tannery in Santa Cruz) for advice. Kevin whispered two bits of wisdom:

1) Breathe in, breathe out, and…

2) Keep my feet in the same place.

The other MC named George, also a terrific speaker, announced my name. On shaky legs I hobbled onstage in front of the podium.  I had been warned about the extremely bright spotlight which nearly blinded me. I looked out at a sea of blackness. I couldn’t see one face. It sounds kind of good, right? It wasn’t – it was really weird. My legs kept shaking but I remained glued to my spot, following Kevin’s dictum.

As an icebreaker/stalling device, I told the audience that I was nervous and explained how I asked Kevin for the last-minute public speaking advice. Some of them may have thought that was a bit funny. I certainly hoped so. Then I commanded them to give Kevin a round of applause for all his hard work, which they were happy to do as he had been a great MC/teacher throughout the weekend.  

I explained my switcheroo from a 4 minute-long piece to my forty-second poem, and I know they were glad about my decision. I could feel it in the air. Everyone was ready to call it a night!

Since I was saving everyone so much tine, I gave a brief introduction to my piece. I leaned in toward the big, black microphone, making sure I looked at the audience even though I couldn’t see anyone. They could have been a bunch of aliens for all I knew. I said,

“I made a last-minute change from a four-page-long freewrite to a very short piece I wrote for a wonderful, cutting-edge website called Stigmama, which is on hiatus. It was founded by Dr. Walker Karraa, a mentor of mine who has believed in me as a writer. She’s the author of the book Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth. Walker is also a trauma expert so she really knows what she’s talking about. Stigmama’s purpose is to break apart the stigma that our society places upon mentally ill women. It’s called Enough.”

I proceeded to recite my poem with as much emotion as possible despite feeling like a zombie. I tried to keep looking up, not down at the podium, although all I saw each time I glanced out at the audience I saw that unnerving black.

Enough

Enough of feeling obligated to you even though I don’t owe you anything

Enough of supporting you as much as I can, yet you never throw me a bone

Enough of worrying if others like me – that went out with the 70’s

Enough of comparing myself to Photoshopped fourteen-year-olds with professional makeup artists

Enough of comparing myself to others’ social media: likes, comments, pages, blogs & followers

Enough of trying endlessly to accomplish what our society deems respectable

Enough of bipolar depression kicking my ass

Enough of putting pressure on myself to be enough

Now I’m strong enough to say…

Enough

—-

As I reached the second-to-last line about strength, I emerged from the podium & busted this move!fly

It was well-received – people even clapped! 🙂

 

Elated after facing my fear of public speaking, I made a deep curtsy as if I was in front of Princess Kate or starring on Downton Abbey. It was hilarious! The audience was so kind, probably due to the heady combo. of exhaustion, the sea air, inspiring writing, gifted minds, and lots of high-end drinks imbibed at the reception.

It didn’t matter why they were nice – I think they meant it. I even had one writer named Barbara hop out of her seat to come hug me, and she thanked me for speaking about mental illness. Several other attendees thanked me later on, mentioning they had experience with bipolar in one way or another – talk about awesome.

There were more adventures, but I’m beyond tired tonight so I’ll save them for tomorrow. I’m lifting my rule to blog 1x/week just for this week. I want to capture a few more memories and share them with you.

In my next post I’d like to share some websites of some very special writers I met at Catamaran.

In the meantime take care, hope your Monday wasn’t too Mondayish, and I send you my love.

Dyane

Catamaran Saturday Part One – Wish You Were Here!


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Evidently Lucy had a puppy named “Joey” at Lake Tahoe while I’ve been down here at the glorious Catamaran Writers Conference.

I continued having fun, feeling excited, exhausted, anxious, scared, embarrassed and exhilarated yesterday at the Catamaran Writers Conference in Pebble Beach.

At least I woke up Saturday morning having slept much better than the previous night. That was a total miracle – 25 mg of Seroquel had something to do with it (a PRN) and I’m glad I had it with me. 

Upon waking up there was no lollygagging. At 7:00 a.m. I made my pilgrimage to the dining hall – that’s when they started serving Peet’s coffee. I didn’t put on a stitch of makeup, my hair looked like a bird’s nest, and I smelled like one who has sweated a great deal and really needs a shower. Keep in mind that at this conference I’m mingling with bestselling authors. But no matter – I let my vanity fall to the wayside and put on my favorite T-shirt perfect for this conference + jeans & flip flops:

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I plunked myself down at a table with two mugs of brew with a dash of almond milk. All for me. (The mugs here are pathetically lilliputian.) Another attendee joined me named Emily, a poet. She was one of the first people I chatted with on Day One at breakfast so she was a familiar face. After we ate, I noticed she was knitting a scarf with pretty, autumn-hued, multicolored scraps. When I commented on how cool it was and I inquired who she was making it for, she said, “I’ll make it for you!” I was floored. Here it is – sorry for the blurry photo: 

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Meanwhile, my girls and their best friends were at Lake Tahoe and along with a bunch of joke texts about poo, they texted me a photo of what they call The Lip. They use The Lip when begging me and Craig for candy and toys. It actually doesn’t pull at my heartstrings at all – I’m tough to manipulate…unless they threaten to do a public temper tantrum, but The Lip makes me laugh:

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I need to go shower now, so I’ll be writing Part Two (which will describe the reading I gave last night at the Stevenson School’s Big Theater in front of conference attendees and instructors/authors) later on, but I’ll close with a couple things:

One of my most spectacular cases of diarrhea mouth/sycophantism took place with my new favorite author,  Jane Vandenburgh. Check out her Wiki bio. When I looked at it I was a little impressed. Maybe you don’t know who she is either, but one of her closest friends (who she affectionately refers to as Annie) is Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird etc. For those of you who don’t know “Annie” – well, she’s ginormously famous in the book world and Bird by Bird is one of the most renowned writing books ever. She wrote the introduction to Jane’s new book Architecture of the Novel – A Writer’s Handbook.

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So yes, while I haven’t read Jane’s books yet (despite her being my new favorite author) take a look at the cover of her book The Wrong Dog Dream – a true romance. She had me at the cover. I bought it at the book faire.51L8kGRDNVL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Stay tuned on how I behaved in front of her when she signed this book for me. I’m glad it’s not on YouTube.

I can’t wait to tell you more about the day, but a shower/Peet’s coffee is more important right now. Excuse my typos – I’m not going to re-read this but just post it with all the boo boo’s intact. Forgive me.

Please know that I miss you & your reecnt posts, my beloved blogger pals. I still haven’t read any blogs you’ve written lately, very few tweets (right, V.?) and hardly any emails while here. This is shocking.

Your comments over the past few days have made me feel so good. A number of Catamaran attendees don’t blog, although in the p.r./marketing seminars the teachers are saying “You must have a platform for your book! You MUST blog! Blog, dammit, blog!”

I’ve shared with other attendees about how wonderful it is to have this blog because of YOU – your posts, your encouragement, the camaraderie between us all in the blogosphere. So thanks for reading, and I’ll “see” you soon. 

Wish you were here with me, maybe next year?

XOXO Dyane

Someone is having fun in Tahoe….

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Catamaran Writers Conference Friday: Amazeballs!

 

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Good morning everyone!

Yesterday it was another fog-free, gorgeous day at the Catamaran Writers Conference in Pebble Beach where I learned a ton and had some major writing breakthroughs. Plus I had a blast.

Yours truly, who usually goes to bed around 8:00 p.m., morphed into a poetry slam party animal and I didn’t return to my dorm room until 11:00 p.m. I wasn’t even this freaky when I attended U.C. Santa Cruz over twenty-five years ago.

Last night I was too exhausted to write, hence this morning post. 

Here’s what I did yesterday:

7:00 a.m. Inhale gallons of Peets Coffee and stare at this Nutella jar:

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8:00 a.m. Chatted with the friendly Food Services Director who told me that during the school year, the boys chow down hard on that Nutella. Ate breakfast of scrambled eggs, salsa, a slice of banana bread, fresh raspberries. Drank lots of Peets coffee. Yum yum yum. I love food.

9:30 – 12:30 p.m. Creative Nonfiction class with our teacher, the acclaimed author Frances Lefkowitz. She gave us writing prompts and our class wrote up a storm. (My writing was all bipolar-related, & I’ll share in a future post.) Next, each student silently re-read one brief section of our writing (in my case, it was Chapter Two of Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder). We then wrote three sentences explaining:

1) The plot arc of the chapter (Sounds easy, but it was HARD!)

2) What is the driving question found within the chapter?

3) How would that question be answered; in other words, what is the change that occurs from start to finish in Chapter Two?

We discussed each writer’s sentences, and before I knew it, it was time to skedaddle for lunch. I was too nervous to eat because I signed up for a thirty-minute, one-on-one consultation with the renowned Michael Larsen. Larsen is a literary agent who co-founded Michael-Larsen-Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agents in 1972. (I was two-years-old back then.) He and his wife Elizabeth Pomada also co-founded The San Francisco Writers Conference. (These two have “found” a lot!) I wanted to meet Michael to get to know him and pick his highly experienced brain about book promotion.

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It was an absolute joy talking with Michael, dapper in his white linen suit. He was encouraging, insightful, and hilarious. Michael put me at ease by telling writing-related jokes, but his advice wasn’t a joke whatsoever. He listened to me closely, and that thirty-minute session was worth its weight in gold…or chocolate. When it was time for me to go, Michael invited me to email him with any questions.

3:00 p.m. It was time for Heather Lazare‘s presentation “How A Book Editor Works”, which was uber-cool  – I learned quite a bit from the former New York editor, who now lives in Pacific Grove, California (a few minutes away from this conference) working as a developmental editor. For those of you writers out there, Heather recommended joining the online, subscription-only Publishers Marketplace ($25/month, you can sign up even for just one month) which offers all kinds of  groovy benefits such as see each deal what book deals are made, agent profiles, etc.

4:00 p.m. Nina Amir, a Bay Area writer/writing coach, spoke about her book The Author Training Manual. Nina is also quite pro-blogging – so much so that she wrote How to Blog A Book.  

4:45 p.m. Michael Larsen gave his presentation Thriving in the Golden Age for Writers, telling us that he truly believed that this is the best time to be a writer and explaining why. He’s a natural entertainer so it was like watching a gifted comedian from another time, like Jack Benny. Before I knew it, it was time to inhale more food at dinner. 

I was bummed I didn’t get a chance to go for a walk, especially since this is such a stunning setting, but I didn’t want to miss anything. These conferences have so much going on that if you’re a newbie like me, you need to learn how to pace yourself.

At least I wasn’t the only one feeling overwhelmed and tired – I kept hearing that other attendees felt the same way. What would have helped me get through the day less pooped-out was having better sleep the previous night (you all know the sleep hygiene rules) and forcing myself to skip an afternoon lecture for a nap.

After dinner (stir-fried shrimp, green beans, sauteed mushrooms and of course chocolate; in this case a chocolate-dipped vanilla cookie) there was a reception. I schmoozed my little heart out with more total strangers – it was fun!

An author named Thomas Christensen spoke to us about how book publishing and printing works – he’s the Catamaran nonfiction editor and has thirty years of experience in publishing.

Christenson also led the evening’s Publishing Panel that included Michael Larsen, Heather Lazare, Joe Shoemaker of Counterpoint Press and Mark Allen Cunningham of Atelier 26 Books. Each person explained his/her job and we had a general discussion + Q&A.

That’s a lot for one day. And there was more.

I should follow one of my favorite musician’s advice. The one & only Howard Jones advises us to “don’t try to live your life in one day” and he’s right.

Make sure to check out his 80’s hair-do’s! (Hair-don’t, really!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7Eo1IHajGQ

I was ready for bed but couldn’t resist stopping by the fire pit to learn more about poetry slamming taught the AWESOME, enigmatic Kevin Delaney, owner of the Art Bar & Cafe in Santa Cruz.

This is no ordinary bar/cafe – they host Santa Cruz’s only weekly Open Mic Poetry and have this noble mission: 

The Art Bar & Cafe is meant to empower artists to create sustainable arts communities, education and arts practice, and outreach, specifically in the fields of youth outreach, community-building and arts administration.  

Each of us was given a selection of poems to choose from and had to perform it in front of the group following Kevin’s 4 rules:

  1. Pause.  Take one three-second (at least 3 secs) pause between words.
  2. Eye: contact: Memorize one line and don’t look at the paper; make eye contact with someone instead as you say the line.
  3. Diction/volume: Increase your voice’s volume to be over 80 decibels for at least one word.
  4. Choreography: at some point raise one of your arms higher than your shoulder in some way!

 

Although I was completely freaked out, I decided to participate in the evening’s poetry exercise. Kevin is the kind of teacher (like Frances) who genuinely wants to help you face your fear and do it anyway, whether it be improving your writing or getting up in front of a group of strangers in the starlight to not merely read a poem, but perform it! I chose Rainier Maria Rilke’s The Panther and I incorporated all four requirements, but there was plenty of room for improvement! 

It was scary and embarrassing, but super-fun! I admired the other students who took part, especially the ones who chose long poems.

You can imagine how my experience at Catamaran contrasts with the years I spent devastated (sometimes bedridden) with bipolar depression. If you told me I’d have as much fun as this by meeting incredible writers, making new friends who I’d like to keep in my life (!)  and chatting with talented strangers without feeling like a bipolar mess, I would have been VERY skeptical.

I love having my expectations kicked to the curb and replaced with thoughts such as, “I’m so, so glad I came here!” and “I feel like my old self again, but with the added wisdom that comes through getting through Bipolar Hell University”.  (Note I didn’t write overcoming bipolar; I’ll always feel like relapse could occur, but that’s being pragmatic, right?)

Now it’s Saturday morning, pre-coffee, and there’s another full day before us. I’ll take it easier than yesterday, and let you know how it goes tomorrow.

have a wonderful day, my friends!

Dyane

p.s. guess who’s having a jolly good time in Lake Tahoe?IMG_20150814_133839125

 

 

 

 

Sending Flames of Love for a Great Catamaran Getway for Dyane

 

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When I noticed that my talented, radiant friend/author Marie Abanga sent me “flames of love” via her fragrant candles, I was blown away. Marie’s act of love set the stage for my first writing conference to be one of the most exciting, challenging and fulfilling experiences of my life. I feel in my gut that it’s going to continue to be incredible.

I’m at my desk at the end of the second day at the Catamaran Writers Conference, utterly exhausted but proud of myself. I faced one of my biggest fears this morning, which was reciting my writing  to a group of talented writers and our teacher/memoirist Frances Lefkowitz. My voice shook like the leaves of a quaking aspen, but at least I didn’t pass out. I’m not thrilled about my nervous delivery, especially because I know I could do much better, but what matters is that I did it. I got encouraging feedback from Frances and that was better than chocolate, I kid you not.

I was astounded by the high quality of my classmates’ writing and when my pesky insecurity welled up I reminded myself that I was there to learn from each of them. It’s not a competition has become my mantra.

The rest of the day felt like I was at a writing-themed party. I had several spontaneous, inspiring conversations with other attendees. Each chat gave me the chance to practice my spiel about my book.

Lunch was delicious – it’s a luxury to choose from delicious entrees and sides at every meal. I had a turkey burger, housemade salsa, fresh raspberries, fresh pineapple and guava juice. (I forgot to mention that breakfast was amazeballs: Peets coffee – woo hoo!, scrambled eggs, and blueberry muffins. There were a ton of other options but if I indulged then I would’ve rolled out the door. One example is the giant vat of Nutella which beckoned to me, but I walked away from it knowing that it would still be there for us over the next few days.) 

After lunch between 2:00-4:30 there were lots of things going on: four lectures and a field trip to John Steinbeck’s residence in Pacific Grove with a reading by Wallace J. Nichols at the historically preserved Ricketts Lab on Cannery Row where Ed Ricketts and Steinbeck met to create The Log of the Sea of Cortez. The lab isn’t open to the public. While that excursion sounded really cool (especially because over twenty years ago I took an entire UC Santa Cruz course on Steinbeck by the renowned Steinbeck scholar Louis Owens), I was drawn to two campus lectures. Those were Sarah Michas-Martin’s The Lyric Lab: How to Mean More Than You Say, and journalist Peggy Townsend’s The Art of the Interview. Both speakers were fascinating . I was familiar with Peggy Townsend as she wrote for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, my local newspaper, for thirty-five years. It turns out that she interviewed Craig about his book at our very messy home when I was out of the house! How mortifying! Small world. I loved her talk and I took notes that might be of interest to some of you, so I’ll share those later when I’m not so wiped out.

There were two other lectures I could’ve attended (Environmental Writing and Speculative Fiction) but I wanted to work out. I opted for a walk around the campus since it was a gorgeous warm day for a stroll. My walk bordered the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Course and the air smelled so good; it even cleared up my overstimulated brain a little.

After changing clothes and feasting on a finger-licking dinner (carnitas – I know they aren’t very healthy and I’m trying to eat less meat, but I caved…plus there was homemade guacamole!) it was time for a reception and Karen Joy Fowler, the keynote speaker of the evening. 

A New York Times bestselling author, she has won a ton of ginormous book awards. She wrote The Jane Austen Book Club and five other novels, so I wasn’t sure if we were going to meet someone with a big ego. Luckily, she was hilarious, witty and offered great advice. She reminded me a bit of Anne Lamott, another memorable author whose talk I attended years ago in San Francisco.

At the end of Fowler’s talk it was time for a few questions. I thought of one to ask and I forced myself to do it so I could practice more speaking in front of a group of writers. My question was a two-parter. I knew she lived in Santa Cruz and belonged to a local writer’s group because I briefly checked out her blog. I told her (and I’m paraphrasing) “I live in the Santa Cruz area and I noticed on your blog you mentioned you’re in a writer’s group. Does there happen to be a space in it? (Nudge nudge, wink wink!) I’m curious what you get out of a writer’s group since you’re an established writer?” I said all that without a shaky voice and I had to project well because I sat at the back of the chapel. I was able to belt out my question and I was thrilled to elicit a wonderful answer from Fowler that made the audience laugh quite a bit. 

Fowler went OFF about how awesome writers groups are, and mentioned she was in a Davis, CA group that met for 35 years, but she added they can be terrible. She said her group is full but there might be a space opening, so she suggested that I leave my contact info. with her. (I wasn’t sure if she was joking, but it turns out she was serious.)

I bought one of her books for my Mom (surprise, Mom!) and had her sign it. As my Vistaprint business card order didn’t arrive in time for the conference, I gave Fowler a hastily mocked-up business card with this photo of me and Miss Lucy on it! 😉 

After meeting Fowler, there was one more activity to consider: the Nightly Spoken Word Workshop and Poetry Slam Discussion that meets nightly. Not my usual cup of tea AT ALL, but my classmate and I wound up going after hearing a testimonial by someone who participated last night. 

It was a blast! I’d love to provide some information and links for you, and I will do that when I’m not a zombie. I think some of you would really get a kick out of these extraordinary three-minute-long slam performances we watched in the classroom.

For our discussion we moved outside to sit around an open fire under the stars. It was my ideal classroom.  One of my fellow classmates was the gifted poet/conference instructor/professor Jericho Brown who is co-teaching a class with Ellen Bass. (Mom, he said he’d be happy to sign one of his books for you. He’ll be in L.A. next year at the AWP Conference, so maybe you could go meet him!) 

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Thanks so much for reading this – words don’t do any of this experience justice and I wish you could all be here with me for a blogger’s conference! How cool would that be? If any of you know any rich people who would want to sponsor a mental health blogger/advocacy conference, tell him/her to call me, okay? I’d love to organize that and I have experience in special event production so I could pull it off with some of your help.

take care, my friends!
love, Dy

p.s. Marie, I’m sending extra hugs and blissful dreams-come-true to you, my friend

MAG's Blog

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If wishes were horses, I’ll gallop all the way to my Lady Dyane’s Catamaran Retreat just to stay by her side for 3 days.

Now that I can’t be there, I have lit 3 candles for her and I hope the scent from the Strawberry Flavoured one, or even the Vanilla stud, warm her mind throughout those days.

My fair Lady Dyane, you know how much loads of us root for you, all plus Lucy right? You can and you’ll do just fantastic. Loads of Love all the way from Cameroon 🙂

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A Writing Paradise – My 1st Day at Catamaran

Unknown-2The Stevenson School, Pebble Beach – what a gorgeous setting for the 2015 Catamaran Writers Conference

 

I wasn’t planning on blogging at the Catamaran Writers Conference taking place at the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach.

But I can’t help it! I feel compelled to share with you today’s highlights as well as let you know that I didn’t melt into a puddle due to my extreme social anxiety.

Ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007, I’ve battled terrible social anxiety merely going to the coffee shop or market, so imagine what I felt when I showed up at a conference of 100 writers, all perfect strangers. Yikes!

After Craig, the girls & Miss Lucy dropped me off, I was scared. Ten minutes before our arrival, we drove past Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). I stayed at CHOMP five horrendous times, and today my PTSD from those experiences was triggered.  I drove on that road so many times to admit myself for suicide-related reasons and also for a ton of outpatient ECT.

At the Stevenson School entrance, I busied myself with the logistics of checking in and finding my room. The weather was my favorite kind: clear, warm and sunny. Thankfully my thoughts moved away from CHOMP as I got caught up with how incredibly beautiful this campus is. The school is sa-weet! It reminded me of my alma mater UC Santa Cruz, but it’s fancier.

Here’s a picture of my dorm:

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At 4:00 p.m. the day’s events began with an orientation. That was fine because I didn’t have to schmooze and I only needed to pay attention to the speakers. But after that introduction, the schmoozing began in full force. I took a few drops of the homeopathic anxiety reducer Rescue Remedy; it does help (at the very least on a placebo level) but it’s subtle. 

The first reception began. (Yes, the first one.) It was fine and I had some good talks getting to know a few of my classmates. The next agenda item was meeting with our teacher Frances Lefkowitz, but unfortunately she was running late and couldn’t make it. Luckily for us, one of my classmates, Rayne Wolfe, was Lefkowitz’s self-proclaimed “biggest fan” but she wasn’t a mere groupie. She knows Lefkowitz and conference staff assigned her the task of filling in. She gave a fabulous testimonial about her teacher and was hilarious, so she won me over in about 10 seconds. I was already impressed with her submission and intimidating background. (Wolfe’s book, Toxic Mom Toolkit, has garnered the kinds of 5-star reviews writers yearn for and has sold like hotcakes around the world.) Oh, and she worked as a longtime journalist for the New York Times and more! Check out Rayne’s blog – she’s also giving her take on this conference and I love it.  Then our six-member class did a brief round of introductions. It was so cool to meet such passionate writers whose heartfelt submissions I’ve analyzed over the past month.  

Dinner followed and it was all good – portobello mushrooms, broccoli, rice, baked tomatoes – so healthy, yes?  (But thank God, they had chocolate cake, people!)  Then came another reception, also enjoyable, another shot of Rescue Remedy and finally a poetry reading by the two acclaimed instructors Ellen Bass and Jericho Brown.

Yesterday I wondered how the hell I’d get through Day One, let alone the rest of the conference. I was so freaked out knowing I’d have to make small talk with a variety of strangers – it had been a long time since I was in this kind of situation. To add to the fun, as a person who sweats like an Olympic Athlete when anxious, I oooozed wide circles on either side of my tank top and at the breastbone area. It was almost funny, except for that it wasn’t!

It’s difficult to make a seamless transition from sweating to poetry, but here goes: some of you know I’m not a poetry fan. Wow – after I typed that sentence, a bolt of lightning tried to strike me.

I’ve published a couple poems but I didn’t consider them to be Real Poems, if that makes any sense. I wrote them just to give it a try. I was going to pass on tonight’s poetry readings, but at the last minute I decided to give them a chance.

The building used for this reading was a stunning chapel. It had an enormous window overlooking the trees and sky, and unique architecture. It was an uber-cool chapel.

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Jericho Brown gave the first reading, and his delivery alone was absolutely incredible. His poems had palpable power, although it was hard for me to follow them because I was exhausted and I have a “poetry block”. I also had a full bladder and I was too lazy to leave the room, which I don’t suggest if you’re going to a poetry reading. He’s a brilliant scholar/teacher/author and has all kinds of impressive credentials you can read on his website

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Ellen Bass followed Jericho, and she remarked that he was a hard act to follow. Now, she lives in my town and she’s famous there. She has sold millions of books and co-wrote the international bestseller/classic The Courage to Heal. 

I had never seen her in person nor read any of her poems. To my surprise, I really enjoyed her poems as most of them (but definitely not all) were quite funny and easy for me to follow. She was charming and had a great rapport with Jericho, who told us that he considered her to be his “Aunt Ellen” and that one of her poems helped him “believe in God”. (He didn’t say which one – I need to find that out.)

After the intense reading, I walked back to my dorm wiped out but I was happy. Then I realized something icky. Ellen Bass was the contest judge who rejected my poem that I entered for the Felton Friends of the Library Contest!

I wrote this rather scathing blog post about Ellen Bass. While it was quite a let-down to have a muckety muck writer reject my writing, I’ve come to terms with it. I won’t pull her chair out from under her at dinner or anything mean and immature like that. She won me over tonight. 

So that was my day. I’ll be writing about the next huge challenge I face here: getting my writing critiqued by seven writers. I’ll probably sweat a small pool around my feet when that happens, but it’s for the greater good of my book. 

Thanks for reading this!

lots of love,

Dyane

p.s. I wouldn’t be here if not for the encouragement of bestselling author, friend, and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) of Santa Cruz County’s Vice President, my fellow Board Member Wendy K. Williamson!