Letter from the Director – January 2022

Balance and Soul Keeping

My birthday comes at the first of the year and I like it that way! I get to celebrate a new calendar year (and try to remember to write the correct date – like 2022 instead of 2021!) while also recognizing a new age and a new year of my own life. I have two new “starts” simultaneously. Everything is fresh and bright, a clean slate and a blank canvas – and I get to direct the decorating however I like. 

I’ve said before that I am an “idea” person and never is that statement more true than at the start of a year. My mind untangles from holiday busyness and begins to look forward to the days and weeks ahead. I write goals, yes, but more inspiring than that for me is writing a new list of ideas for the year. The thing about ideas is that they are fluid, amenable to change or re-evaluation. They also never die. I write my ideas on a whiteboard in my office so that I can see them daily. Whenever I feel stuck, I read them. Admittedly, I sometimes mumble to myself, “That was a dumb idea” but often I say, “Yes! That’s brilliant! Let’s go for it!” 

Last summer, a poet in residence at RWC introduced me to the term “Soul Keeping.” I think it’s important to not only do things that support our work but also things that support our soul. Soul Keeping is about listening and being open to experience. It’s about allowing yourself to pivot from your structured plans and follow the random spur-of-the-moment notions that soothe you – like lying down in the middle of a field and letting the winter sun warm your face, or standing still by the creek and listening to the tumble of water over stones. 

On my “idea” whiteboard, I have a lot of work-oriented thoughts, but I also have this: Attend to Soul Keeping. This is one idea that can’t ever be considered a waste of time. In fact, its brilliance has already generated many, many new ideas, and those ideas keep moving out into the wild unknown of the new year like waves. 

In this new year’s new start, I offer you the idea of Soul Keeping. May you allow space in your 2022 goals for your soul’s good dreaming. It will lead you well. #RWCbelieve

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – December 2021

Holiday Wishes from Rockvale

It’s the last month of 2021, as the Christmas song declares, the most wonderful time of the year. While we’ve taken the month off from residencies and retreats, it’s a busy time for us as we plan, repair, and reorganize. We’re settling into the long winter with dreams of a robust and active 2022. Here are a few things we’re looking forward to:

1. Heather is coming back! Heather Burch, Assistant Director from 2018-2020, has been working behind the scenes for the past year and a half as our social media and communication liaison, but she’ll be back at the colony in person starting in January. She’ll help lead the Goals Retreat and play a more active part in the day-to-day operation of RWC. 


2. We have a new hiking trail. The “Wounded Tree” trail is almost finished and it’s a beauty. This trail traverses the southern part of our land, meandering through cedar glades and alongside limestone formations. 


3. We have seven, possibly eight, brand-new weekend retreats scheduled. Four are open for registration now and the others are coming soon. Here’s your teaser: Goals, Reading, Enneagram, Poetry, Old Photos, Women Veterans, and Grief. Our retreats typically fill up, so make plans to join us if you’re interested in these offerings. Also, these are all-inclusive weekends and we take good care of you!


4. I’ve made some good synchronistic connections with people who know labyrinths. It’s long been a dream to build a labyrinth on the property and now I have a little more guidance. This is a long-term project, but it’s highly possible it can get started this summer. 


5. We’re planning our next fellowship contest. If you’re a poet, stay tuned. This may be something you’re interested in!!

Despite the forward focus, I also find myself looking back at the past year with awe. When I think about the writers who came to stay at the colony in 2021, I feel the turning of something bright and meaningful, that perhaps the goal to “put something good into the world” has come a bit closer to fulfillment. That’s because of you, Friends! That’s because we all believed together and the universe said “yes!”

I wish you the blessings of this most wonderful season. I wish you joy and peace. I wish you time for writing and time for resting. I wish you the resolve to believe in the power of your words. And, if you want a place to nurture that belief, we’re here waiting for you. 
 

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – November 2021

“Forward” is a Pace

Last month, I stood in front of this gate contemplating how much work there was to do at Rockvale Writers’ Colony. Good work. Worthwhile work. Difficult, sometimes challenging work. I felt a surge of love and pride for this place. My place! My ideas. My plans. MY work building this place by myself. But then I had a reality check with a different thought that balanced pride with a bigger surge of gratitude for all the people who worked with me, cried with me, listened to my struggles, and still believed with me that this place could be something special. 

We’re finished with residencies for 2021. In November, there are 3 themed weekend retreats in a row. In December, I’ll have a few weeks of rest as I plan for 2022. Next year is looking good, building off the energy of over 150 writers from this year. I’m excited, not at all cautiously, but boldly, for what’s ahead.

One of my favorite sayings from endurance sports is this: “Forward is a pace.” There were plenty of times (note the entire year of 2020) the speed of building RWC was at a crawl. I know any forward motion was carried on the backs of the goodwill and beautiful hearts of many, many people. It is not me alone, not even when I try to give myself all the credit! 

Dear ones, allow me this indulgence of gratitude. 

  • To my friends and family who show up for me over and over again, I am undeserving but so very thankful. 
  • To the teachers and faciltators of workshops, you give me hope. I am amazed at your brilliance. Thank you. 
  • To the many writers I’ve met, many for whom I have complete trust and love and consider true friends, thank you. 
  • To my College Grove neighbors who refuse to let me mess up due to ignorance and inexperience (read into this, tractors and mowing fields!), thank you.
  • To the women who work/worked with me here, I say Girl Power Rules! Thank you.
  • To all who know about RWC (but haven’t yet been here!) and send good energy, good wishes, good thoughts, good intentions, good light, thank you.
  • To those who believe in the power of words, I believe with you.

To those who don’t yet believe, but will . . .

Blessings,
Sandy

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