When you go on a weekend retreat, waking up Sunday morning everyone has one foot out the door already. Packing papers, books, pens and notes away. Stripping the sheets off the bed. Taking home any leftover chocolate or half-open bottles of wine that didn’t quite get finished.
Pausing a minute, I turned the knob on the prompt-and-fortune teller for one last word.
Nothing is lost. Not the car keys. Not even paradise.
The next day, Monday, fellow participant Lisa Vihos wrote a brief essay about our time together and published it over at the Best American Poetry blog, titling it “To Heaven and Back Again.”
So there’s a theme here.
I love Brigit Rest. But the idea of finding heaven on earth is larger than one spot on a map. It has to do with what I have come to think of as five crucial components everyone needs to do their most creative work, and, for that matter, live their most creative lives: Time, Space, Community, Courage, and finally, Permission.
These are the five keys I am turning over in my head, post-retreat, this week. Because these are the gifts six of us gave each other for one brief weekend. And it felt, in the days immediately after the Republican convention, not only deeply restorative but like a small and important political statement to make: ordinary people coming together, supporting and encouraging each other to raise their voices, craft and own their stories, and be not afraid to move into their own unique visions and convictions, with a goal to communicating and sharing those—this is important. This is the seedwork that will see us through troubling times.
Over the next couple of months, we’ll be publishing a series of statements by poets who are community activists, asking what role poetry plays. Many of the women gathered this past weekend have done social justice and community organizing work of various kinds. Interestingly, the casual conversations we entered into did not drift too deeply into that territory, instead focusing on issues more centrally related to art and craft. And yet, never really separate from the political:
Can we envision a story that does not embrace conflict as its central plot device? How do we understand our own feelings of failure when others see us as successful? How do we navigate the business of creative writing without being exhausted by it? How do we understand the desire to move beyond language, to image, to made object? What do we do with the material we inherit from our grandmothers, what do we do with the challenge other artists pose to us? When and how do we turn misfortune to opportunity?
These are questions that have no final answer, but by gifting ourselves the time to ask and open into conversation, we all come away richer and more deeply grounded in our works.
This week I carry a deep gratitude with me, and a renewed commitment to building the vision of Potlick Junction: helping provide opportunities for more artists of all kinds to gather together, in community and working solo, to dare the big questions and do the deep work.
Maybe I’ll see you there soon.