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!