Letter from the Director – October 2021

Why We Believe

I spent the morning digging holes for trail signs. Despite roots and plenty of rocks to dig around, the signs are now in place. One special “poem sign” (see photo above) contains a poem by East Tennessee poet/writer Linda Parsons. The name of the poem is “Believe.” Linda graciously gave permission for us to print her writing for use on one of the colony trails. 

Ever since we claimed the word “Believe” as our special RWC word, there’s been a sort of pixie-dust-sprinkled magic around the colony. Well, really the magic was always there, but it feels energized and magnified with the naming of it. Just like the power that comes from being named and known as writers, the strength that comes from naming our belief makes it even more real and relevant. Saying “We believe in the power of words” is different from simply saying “the power of words.” The belief makes all the difference because what you believe rises from the very core of who you are. It is your soul center. It is the gravity that commands every act, every choice, every thought. 

When I say I believe in writers, it’s not a flippant, easy quip. It’s a learned belief guided by 3 years of interacting with over 300 writers. Nearly every one of these writers has days of doubt and hesitation. That’s the truth of the human journey. Every one of these writers has something unique and important to write. That’s the truth of the individual brilliance and light that shines inside us all. I’m lucky enough to get to see it – weekly – with every new group of writers I welcome to Rockvale. 

I’m learning that when you believe in the abilities and passion of writers, the magic seems to ricochet from tree to fence to farmhouse until every blade of grass on our 65 acres is infused with it. Writers pick it up like a baton in a relay race and pass it back to us. They share their faith in the colony with writer friends and the web of belief expands. Some even leave us reminders and gifts (see the photo group below) – proof of just how powerful a single word can be. 

So, why do I believe? Because I trust in the universe to conspire for our good. I’ve seen reciprocity, serendipity, and synchronicity too many times over the last 3 years not to believe that there’s something magical here. It all rests on one word and that word is the colony’s gift to everyone who comes here. We don’t make it difficult to figure out what the word is. It’s written everywhere. And you can feel it – everywhere. Believe. 

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – September 2021

Serious Play

A couple of years ago, I was interviewed by the editor of a journal that published both creative writing and visual art. I had 2 pieces of abstract art in the journal and the questions related to my process and purpose for creating that art. I hesitated when answering a question about the “work” that went into the art’s production, because, in all honesty, I don’t think of my brand of visual art as work at all, but entirely play. 

The poetry I write, now that’s real work, but the other side of my creative mind, that which produces abstract and mixed media visual art, is solidly grounded in the “art” of play, of experimentation, of risk-taking, of seeing what comes from a new idea. I create with a sense of anticipation and freedom, based on random choices and a “fly by the seat of your pants” mindset. Art is my arena for serious play, which may be a sort of oxymoron, but seems to fit my vision for what I’m doing. 

I think art and play are good for me. Since I am a bit of a perfectionist, I tend to over-focus on making things “right.” In creativity, that’s a death knell, for it’s in the fluid motion of imperfection that the true and right come into focus. In art, I can mess up and not take myself so seriously. I can scrape the paint into the trashcan and give myself a do-over, something that would go against my work ethic in poetry. With paint on my hands (and often on my t-shirt too!), I can be more involved in the process and less concerned about the result. 

I want writers who stay at the colony to be passionately focused on their writing, but I also long for them to have fun. We’ve added a few touches to inspire a slow-down, a change of focus from intense concentration to a lighthearted smile. The pool, the trails, the benches, the rocking chairs – all of these invite writers to spend a little time away from “work.” I think that brief time in a new head space will result in renewed energy and better focus. Remember the old adage, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Here’s a better quote from Julia Cameron: “Serious art is born from serious play.”

Let’s play, friends!

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – August 2021

Perspective and Buoys

Some of you know that along with writing poetry and serving as the director of Rockvale Writers’ Colony, I race in the sport of triathlon. Races in this multisport are three-sectioned: swim, bike, and run. There’s a perspective I’ve noticed when swimming in open water (lakes, rivers, reservoirs) that ties into the writing life. I know it sounds far-fetched, but swim along with me for a minute. 

When I look at a swim course from the shore and note the buoys that are positioned in the water to mark the route, the distances between them seem short. I can clearly see buoy 1, buoy 2, etc., the orange turn buoys, and the buoys that lead you back to shore. The way is logical and completely doable. The racecourse from this distance doesn’t appear challenging at all, but when I’m in the water and my eyes are at water level, the perspective changes. The distances seem different. When I raise my head to sight, I can’t take in the whole course, but only the next buoy. I swim to the next buoy as if it’s the only buoy that matters because, at that moment, it is. 

If you scan the big picture of your writing dreams, it may not seem too hard. Say, for instance, you want to write a book. Speaking it aloud, “I want to write a book,” is easy. The perspective isn’t daunting from the shore of the desire to write a book, but the nitty-gritty, soul-challenging work of being face to face with the page is hard. That’s when you have the gut check moment of deciding just how important that book is to you. Will you swim, (excuse me, write) to the first buoy or not?

There are two important things about buoys. 1. They show you the way.  2. They float.

What buoys have you placed securely in your writing life? Do you have a stepwise plan for accomplishing those big goals and dreams? Perhaps you have submission goals or plan to take an online class or go to a writing conference. Maybe a writing residency is a goal you can set your sights on. Buoys also act as safety devices if you need to stop and rest. You can hold on to them if you have to, pause and gather your strength. Maybe you have a trusted writing friend who will read pages of your work and offer feedback. Maybe learning meditation and stress handling skills can be helpful or taking time each morning to journal as you sip coffee or tea. 

The buoys are there if you seek them. As your perspective changes from the big picture to detailed work, they can be invaluable aids. No matter the perceived distance and difficulty of the course, taking it one buoy at a time will get you to the goal.

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director, July 2021

Finding Your Place – Literally

Standing deep center beneath the old arbor, the leafy tendrils of the wisteria vine woven tight as fabric, I could convince myself I’m in a cave. It’s dark, perceptibly cooler, wetter, dense. Birds nest in the corners and I hear their wings brush leaves as they dart away. The thick wood of the vine leans on the burdened latticework. Some support pieces are already broken, others are splitting from the stress. The light that filters from the sky is sparse, barely able to pierce through, like pinpricks, tiny white stars against a multi-hued black. This is my place to daydream, read, and write. I sit on the purple bench in my hidden, hollowed-out heart of garden. Here, I am invisible as I write in my journal. Here, I wield the power of my pen like a magic sword.

I’m an advocate of special writing spaces because there is potency in the power of “place.” When I return to a favorite writing spot over and over, I feel a sense of belonging and anticipation. My body knows what I’m supposed to be doing here, and settles to the prescribed course. Confession: I’m easily distracted. A new place offers so much sensory input that I have to sort it all out before I can write. When I return to this particular spot, my busy mind doesn’t have to catalog new sights and sounds. I already know what I’ll find here and I can direct my energy to the page.

Do you have a favorite writing place? Maybe it’s your desk or your back porch. Maybe it’s the coffee shop around the corner from your office. Or maybe the table by the window in the library. Do you find the repetition of writing in this place to be comforting? It’s like coming home, isn’t it? It’s safe, it’s known. When you’re dealing with the delicate act of sharing your heart through your writing, a little mental comfort goes a long way. 

Shoot me a quick note and let me know about your favorite writing place. I’d like to compile a fun list to share on our social media. No specifics or names will be revealed – so your special place can remain yours alone! If you have more than one, let me know that too. When it’s raining, I have an open but covered porch I like to visit. When it’s too hot or too cold to be outside, I have a little table in a glass-enclosed porch overlooking the garden. I have to be able to see the outdoors, one way or another! What is your “must-have” ingredient for your perfect writing place? I’d love to know!

Blessings,
Sandy


 Photo Credit: EJ Bowman, RWC writer-in-residence

Letter from the Director, June 2021

The Power of Delight

I bought a new dress last week. This tidbit of information is not all that interesting but I tell you about it because I’ve been reading Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, and the dress, to me, was delightful. It was cheap; it only cost $22 and I saw it on Amazon.com while I was looking for something else. Its blue tie-dye pattern caught my eye, as Amazon’s algorithms for recommendations correctly predicted. I added it to my cart on a whim, and when it arrived and I took it out of the packaging, I smiled. It was even better than I thought it would be.

I’ve started to look, as Ross Gay did, for things that delight me: a sunrise, a wildflower, a new journal, a smooth fine-line pen for writing. When I made the decision to be intentional in seeking joy, it seemed my world opened to all things wonderful and pleasing. I looked for details, for surprises, paying attention to the space around me with an eye for wonder. And you know what? When you look for beauty and joy, you most certainly find them, even if you’re down or bored, even in times of stress. Turning your outlook to the positive doesn’t mean you forget your problems. It means you claim something good in the middle of them, despite them. 

I know I’m biased, but the colony offers daily delight if you choose to be open to it. Here are a few things that make me smile:

  1. We have a new Zero Turn Mower. After deciding to take on the task of lawn maintenance, I realized it couldn’t be done with the push mower. The zero-turn is a beast of a mower and can tackle nearly any grass or weed. Mowing the lawn is a delight. A freshly mowed, tidy lawn is delightful.
  2. We have a new John Deere Tractor and Bush Hog – I also realized 30 acres of field couldn’t be mowed with the Zero Turn, so it was time to invest in a real high-level machine. I’m still trying to get comfortable bush hogging. It’s intimidating, especially on the uneven, rocky terrain. But when I complete a field and look at the work I’ve done, I feel proud. A job well done is delightful. 
  3. We have 2 new baby horses. One is soft brown and is with his Mama in one of the stables in the barn. The other is spotted and is in the south field with his Mama. These 2 foals are certainly delightful.
  4. We have 2 new part-time employees for the summer. Emma and Makayla are strong and capable young women from College Grove and the surrounding community. They will assist me in housekeeping, gardening, lawn care, and random tasks. These two are delightful assistants and the fact that I have people to talk to after working by myself for 10 months is doubly delightful!
  5. The garden is bursting with color! Flowers, tomatoes, peppers, and berries are surging under the June sun. I love growing things, and the garden is one of my happy places of true delight.
  6. We have 3 complete hiking trails now and all of them are delightful. As we work on a trail guide, I’m reminded of the power of the forest, the serenity found among trees. 

With every labeled joy, I learn a little bit more about myself and my outlook on the world. Choosing to see and claim delight – just one tiny thing a day – creates a sense of calm and wellbeing. I need that. Maybe you do too. Looking around right now, I see an abundance of delightful things. If you tend to struggle to find positivity in your world, I offer you one last piece of advice: Practice! And maybe a blue tie-dyed dress, or something equally wonderful, will find you, too!

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director, May 2021

We’re Looking for a Few Good Writers . . .
with a few other skills, and hearts and hands for helping!

Spring is in full force and the road to summer is looking bright. At RWC, I’m busier than I’ve ever been. In fact, many residency weeks in May, June, and July are full. While it makes me happy and excited to welcome so many new creative people to the colony, it also feels a little daunting. There’s so much to do! 

That’s why I’m starting a Volunteer Program at the colony. I’m looking for writers, readers, dreamers, and creative souls who are interested in supporting RWC with their time and labor. How much time and what kind of labor, you ask? It depends on the availability, interest, and skill set of the volunteer! We have a wide variety of opportunities!

Obviously, volunteers will need to be middle TN residents with the ability to come to the colony since our needs are very hands-on. The time commitment could be a one-time, one hour kind of thing or a consistent, regular engagement. We’ll supply the instruction and tools. We just need willing hands. Work opportunities include: 

  • Garden Work – weeding, mulching, planting, trimming
  • Lawn Work – mowing, weed-eating/trimming
  • Office Work – filing, organizing, typing, research
  • House Work – cleaning, laundry (bedding and towels), sweeping, mopping, organizing
  • Trail Work – maintenance, trail marking, assessing hazards, placing signs, creating trail guide
  • Farm Work – fence repair, mowing the fence line 
  • Wood Work – building Believe benches, building signposts for trail signs
  • Creative Work – painting, spray painting, writing, taking photos, and more 
  • Handyman Work – minor fixes, but there’s always more if you’ve got the know-how!
  • Project Work – labyrinths, vegetable garden, herb garden, bridges
     

Are you interested in joining the community of volunteers who “believe” in Rockvale? I’d love to chat! Please fill out the document at this Google Forms link with your ideas, interests, or questions: https://forms.gle/1fk4ZwqFp5YKRski8

Thanks in advance for your help!Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director, April 2021

Believing in the Magic

As I watch April unfold in lovely shades of green, I feel hopeful and content. I’ve busted my “you know what” to start Rockvale Writers’ Colony. For me, it’s always been a heart-dream, a soul-cause, a gift to the universe of creativity from me. To be honest, I didn’t always know what I was doing. I learned as I went. I stepped onto the next stone in the path and kept going, sometimes in awe, a lot of times in tears.

2020 was the second full year of existence for the colony. The utter devastation of that year nearly crushed us. We were going down, but in that torment, I built trails, I made “Believe” benches, I transplanted blackberries, and I wrote every dream I had for the future of this place on a whiteboard in my office. I don’t know how we’re still here, but we are. I think the land had something to do with it. Way back in the deep sacred spaces among the trees, I poured out my fears and listened to the wisdom of the ancient oaks. Sometimes I cried and sometimes I cursed all the broken parts of circumstance and timing and the miserable pandemic. And then I’d get up and keep going. 

I applied for a SERG grant (Supplemental Employer Recovery Grant) from the state of Tennessee. I spent over a hundred hours (maybe 200!) applying for this grant, uploading documents, researching, reading about accounting and taxes, gathering “proof” for every “loss.” I had many email conversations with the SERG grant program coordinator. I messed up a few times, fixed my mistakes, as I worked through the very complicated system. It was frustrating and tiring and I pulled my hair out a lot. But I kept going. 

Last month, I got a check in the mail. It’s not a huge amount but it will make a difference. In all the struggle and loss of the past year, today feels bright. Finally, joy. 

I’m grateful for the SERG program. I’m thankful to the writers who dared to believe in this place with me and to several who listened to my woes of the past year with tender hearts. I still believe that it is in creativity that we find ourselves, that our words matter and have power, that “believing” is the most important part of the journey to do anything. I’ve held on to that word tightly for a long time now, even when it was so heavy I wanted to throw it down. Believe. Now it comes back to me with wonder.

So, come on writers! Rockvale Writers’ Colony is open and taking applications for residencies through the rest of the year. I’m eager to share the magic of this place with you. We’ve got a lot of writing left to do!

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director, March 2021

Equinox Energy

Just a couple of hours before I started writing this letter, something interesting happened to me. I was texting with a friend, telling her I felt a little down and draggy. My friend, a long-time yogi and meditation leader, had recently started studying Reiki. She asked me to sit still, clear my mind and close my eyes while she sent Reiki energy to me. I did what she asked. After a few minutes, I felt warmth around my eyes, a brightening, a feeling of renewal. My friend texted me again, saying, “I have no idea if you felt that, but I sent it as a warmth to your eyes and ears, as a hug around your shoulders, and love to your heart.”

“Wait a minute,” I texted back. “I felt the warmth in my eyes before you said anything about the specifics of what you did. That’s very cool!”

I don’t know much about Reiki, nor do I know how far such energy can travel – but I do know I felt something. Perhaps it was the thought that my friend, whom I love dearly, was thinking of me at that moment and sending me positivity and love. Whatever the cause, I felt an energy that I lacked previously. I checked a few things off my to-do list and hey, I wrote this letter, too!

Energy. Renewal. Warmth. These things are synonymous with spring. Just when you think winter will never end, March materializes in green shoots and pale blooms. Suddenly, you believe you can hold on. Spring is coming, and with it, everything glorious and bright.

The vernal equinox, March 20th on this year’s calendar, marks the turning point when daylight begins to take over the darkness, arching towards the summer solstice in June. With more light and warmth, creative energy begins to stir. Imagination and wonder begin to bubble inside us until we have to move, maybe even dance, to release some of the excitement. Spring is a time to build, a time to move outside our winter cave, and lean into the sun.

It’s the same with our writing. If you’ve been holding back, perhaps feeling down and draggy with a lack of creativity, take heart. The days are getting longer and soon will match, then exceed the dark night. Spring is coming! Renewed energy is coming! It may be time to move outside your regular routine and lean into a new light. (We’ve given you some ideas below!) If you need energy to take that first step, know that RWC is here for you, sending you warmth and love – no matter how far away you may be. Can you feel it? I hope so! It just might be that positive energy, sent in kindness and friendship, travels farther than we think!

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director, February 2021

A Love Letter to the Colony for the Month of Love

I’m lucky. I don’t deny it. Though directing this place is, at times, a little like juggling crystal goblets filled with water, I’m fully aware of my bounty. This month, the month we show appreciation for the blessings of love, allow me to share a director’s view of some of the most beloved and lovely things about Rockvale. This is what I love:

  1. I love the skies – from the flaming orange and pink sunrises to deep starlit midnights to cerulean blue afternoons, the sky at the colony is always a delight. Look up!
  2. I love the quiet – Our rural corner of Williamson County is tucked away from the rush and noise of the city. It’s a different world out here – one that doesn’t demand anything but offers tranquility to all who visit.
  3. I love writers – I love the conversations I get to have with writers. I’m in awe of their passion for their work, for the intensity of their work ethic, for the kindness and gratitude they show me.
  4. I love writing – I feel affection and pride for the work of the writers who stay at the colony. When a writer has a grand success, a launch of a new book or project, I want to shout with joy! (and I often do!)
  5. I love nature – Plants, mammals, insects, amphibians, reptiles. All are alive and wondrous to view and investigate. Even when I have to trap and relocate a groundhog or coax a brown thrasher out of the garage, I’m grateful to be surrounded by the beauty and variety of life.
  6. I love the trails – Each one is a different journey, a unique gift. They were made purposefully with attention to the contours of the land. They were made with love, for love, because of love.

Have you thought about what you love lately? Maybe it’s time to take a brief moment and acknowledge the pieces of your life that deserve your devotion. Love is one of those things that changes you, that moves you along the line towards your best self. I know it’s an overused word with a variety of meanings, but real love, deep and meaningful appreciation and devotion, is not common or cliche. It’s always on the cutting edge.

Try something with me. For no other reason than to celebrate the month of February, make a list of 6 things/people you really love, that delight you so much you smile immediately when you think of them. (I hope writing is on your list!) For the rest of the month, allow yourself the indulgence of loving these things boldly, loudly, joyfully. What if we all made love a habit. What a world we’d have then!

Blessings and love,
Sandy

Letter from the Director, January 2021

Tending the New Year

I started the new year with high hopes and high energy. The “Tending the New Year” Goals Retreat was a rousing success with thoughtful, deep-feeling retreaters and a message of acknowledgment for the past balanced with the urge to say “yes” to our future. I had a birthday, well-celebrated, and I felt happy – actually happy – for the first time in a while. And then the world stepped in to remind me that the atmosphere we live in is still precarious.

This past weekend, a friend died. I felt the land calling and I ran to it. In sorrow, I stepped into the colors of winter – dry brown leaves, sage green moss, tan, cream, ecru, sepia, ochre, and then white at the base of tall weedy stems. It was not snow, not mushrooms, but frost flowers – Frost Flowers! – created when water freezes inside the stems of certain plants and oozes out between the cracks. It is ice. It is frost so delicate it can’t be touched without breaking. I harvested them with my eyes. They were everywhere, blooming a scattered bouquet of beauty, and dare I say it, hope. Dare I wish it – peace.

I’m building a new trail within the forested acreage of the colony. As I determine the best path, marking my thoughts with orange ribbon, I offer prayers to the stones, the trees, the sky visible between sturdy branches. I call these journeys prayer hikes. I am alone, learning the rhythms of the earth. I’ve come face to face with a coyote, interrupted 2 big rabbits nibbling under a fallen log, watched a squirrel hunch in the nook of an oak, accidentally uncovered a hibernating skink, examined (but didn’t touch!) the thick white skin of mushrooms, deciphered the foreign languages of dozens of birds, identified the warning snort of deer, followed a swath of fern moss, and sang with the chorus of a slow creek. This is when I feel at peace. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to leave.

If this year started for you as it did for me – with excitement and energy – and then swung a giant pendulum back towards despair, might I offer you peace? We have a Peace Retreat coming up the first weekend in February. It’s a planned time of quiet and renewal, solitude and serenity. You don’t have to “do” anything. You just have to “be.” (Read more about it below.) If your heart is yearning for comfort, you can cuddle up in our warm farmhouse. If the land is calling and you don’t mind a little cold, maybe you’ll find frost flowers in the woods. Maybe you’ll listen to the earth’s deep silence and hear everything you need to know. At any rate, you’re invited to share the peace of RWC as a retreater or a resident. All are welcome.

Blessings,
Sandy