Into the Fire, Year Six

Day 24, Sun Magazine Writers Retreat, Esalen

Someone’s alarm goes off in the meeting room I’m sleeping in. 6am, I’m up, stumbling down the long path to the baths. Soaking, cold plunge, soaking, cold plunge. The sun gradually comes up, though obscured by the mist and fog. The surf is running up against the rocky shore below the bathhouse.

I crawl back up the hill for breakfast. Chai spiced polenta, savory quinoa, hard boiled eggs. Yum! I’m sitting on the deck outside the lodge, the morning air is warming. I’m upbeat and happy talking with new writing friends. Time to trek over the campus the to the Leonard Pavilion. Frances Lefkowitz is offering a session on “Flash Fiction and Micro Memoir”. She reads examples, then prompts us to write short essays and stories, writing for 10 minutes then sharing in the group. I’m impressed with the diversity of stories, the some true, some fiction. Francis teaches fluently, open to discussion.

I walk back over the creek, up past the beautiful Esalen gardens. I see a few monarchs, hummingbirds, many bees. It’s still summer here on the Big Sur coast. The sun burns off the clouds and its another California blue sky day. Raining in Corvallis I think. I’m playing hooky from the Northwest. I think I ought to feel guilty or something like that. Nah.

Lunchtime I sit with Sy and more of the Sun staff, at the “cool kids” table. Except they are all nerds. Writers every one. I joke with Sy about his offer to reveal the meaning of life. He wonders if he might be sued, for false promises. Anything is possible. After lunch, I go down to the baths, lay in the afternoon sun. I fall asleep, tired from the short night. Luckily I wake up before I’m sunburned. The sun is forgivingly lower in the mid-October sky.

Back up the hill, I meet Sparrow who is walking with a couple other participants. We head way up the hill above the lodge to the Porters Yurt. Sparrow is leading a session on taking Journals to Essays. He offers several speeches and exercises, opening the creative process. His practice of meditation is clear in his approach. Then he asks us to write everything we wish to come from our writing, and for life in general. I’m busting it open, my heart brimming with possibility and positivity. The question digs deeper, to connect my bicycle tour, my newfound openness, my ease of beginning friendship, my love of life.

For his final exercise Sparrow asks us to find something out of place in the room, to write in depth about this. I write that I cannot. That somehow, everything seems to be as it should be. The people, the surroundings, the events. I am in a place of acceptance, of peace of mind. Is this Zen? Then I find what is now out of place: all my former skepticism, fears, nihilism, pretense. Any negative and depressing distractions and diversions. I vow to let go of these derailing influences, and to bring into my life the things, people, activities that feed my soul, create more connection, make me stronger. Bicycling a lot more, for instance.

The sun is close to setting as I walk down to dinner. Again sitting with Sy and a group of writers. He’s fielding questions about the Sun, getting published, then some rantings about politics. Lots of rantings. Don’t get him started. I prod some more. The overall state of the planets, people’s prejudices, the outlook for the future. Not always heading in the right direction. I tell him the Sun Magazine helps people connect, by conveying human experience a genuine way. That’s it. That’s way I’ve found this weekend, and in all the retreats prior.

After dinner I meet with Gianna to do some impromptu writing in the dining room instead of attending the evening sessions. We write for an hour, then read our works. I’m a little shy about sharing one on one, but the open spirit of the retreat has created enough trust between us. Intense writings, for both of us. I can see how these might become submissions to the sun.

After 10pm, and others begin showing from the late sessions. We head down to the baths with Judy, a friend from Corvallis. The stars are out as we soak into the hot waters above the gentle surf. Shooting stars over quiet conversations. A sense of opening, trust, belonging here, now. Getting sleepy. Just enough time left to blog before bed. Here I am.


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