Letter from the Director – April 2022

The more I read about trees, the more intrigued I am. The more I walk the property around RWC and study the trees, the more I am convinced that these complex organisms have an intelligent Spirit and communicate. I recently came across a book called Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard. According to Simard, “Mother trees are the biggest, oldest trees in the forest. They are the glue that holds the forest together. They have the genes from previous climates; they are homes to so many creatures, so much biodiversity. Through their huge photosynthetic capacity, they provide food for the whole soil web of life. They keep carbon in the soil and aboveground, and they keep the water flowing. These ancient trees help forests recover from disturbances. We can’t afford to lose them.”

Fascinating! I wanted to find a Mother Tree on RWC land and it didn’t take long. I’ve been walking beside the north fork of Flat Creek, examining the water flow and the sturdiness of the creek bed after rain. Along the water’s path grow several creek-loving sycamore trees. I’ve always loved sycamores for their stark white bark, large leaves with five lobes, and their prickly round seed balls that hang like ornaments in fall and winter. They are magnificent trees. About midway along the section of creek bed I walk stands a Mother Tree. Mother Sycamore. She measures 13 feet in circumference and is probably 80 feet tall. There are at least 10 smaller sycamores growing near her. This Mother Tree not only holds the bed of the creek in place, but provides shade and shelter for insects, birds, and other animals that live nearby. She is doing her job as Protector and Helper, just like any mother.

I like to think of the writers’ colony as Helper and Protector too. If we truly believe in the power of words, which is our tagline, we also have to make the colony a safe place in which to write and speak those words. If “place” can be a positive influence, a nurturing zone, an area safe enough to risk sharing the heart and soul of the language inside, then writers (and their words) can be what they are meant to be. As the calendar fills for spring and summer and I get ready to welcome a rush of both new and returning writers, I hope writers feel the love poured into this place – love that manifests through the walls of our old farmhouse and along the paths in the gardens and trails. RWC was built to help, protect, and bless so that all the important words are sheltered and guarded until they are ready to fly. Kind of like what mothers do, right?!

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – March 2022

In Between Black and White

The first weekend of this month was special. We hosted a new retreat inspired by a conversation I had during the Goals Retreat in January. We were talking about personality and how that relates to the personalities of the characters we write. That led to a discussion about the Enneagram which led to a thought about an Enneagram Retreat which led to me writing a post on Facebook. (I know this seems crazy, but that’s how we roll here!) I asked the social media universe if anyone knew an Enneagram teacher in the middle Tennesee area. Enter Sue Mohr, Certified Life and Business Coach/Consultant, recommended by a friend of a friend, and one of the reasons why the first weekend of this month was so special. 

We hosted the “Enneagram for Writers: Unpacking the Power of Personality for Yourself and Your Characters” retreat and Sue facilitated. I was drawn to what Sue said about the 9 main personality types in the Enneagram system. It’s not about comparing the types and thinking one is better than another. It’s about discovering something about yourself and the people you interact with so that you can respond in a manner that is helpful and loving. 

As a One (I bet you could have guessed that, right?), my personality tends to see things as black and white, wrong or right. I want to be moral and I want things to be fair. Yet, the world doesn’t operate in fairness and many situations are tinged with such nuances that make it hard to demand absolutes. It’s like photographs in grayscale. The darkest possible shade is black and the lightest is white, but there is a range of shades of gray that play upon the eye to create an image. Everything in between the absolute of black and white matters too. 

In my relationships, I’m learning to see things differently and respond differently. I’m opening my eyes to all that’s between my standard right and wrong way of interpreting the world. Sue shared with me a black and white photo she took at the colony of a tree and a barn. Because of the white, the darker shades stand out and deepen the whole. Because of the black, the lighter shades highlight and brighten the whole. The elements work together to create a scene more interesting, more powerful than any single element could produce by itself. 

Isn’t it interesting how a change to black, white, and gray allows for a new perspective? My wish for you this month is this: dare to see something differently, in between the lines of how you might otherwise see it. Maybe you, as I did at the Enneagram Retreat, will realize something important about how you see the world. 

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – February 2022

Listening to the Land

I’ve wanted to build a labyrinth at the writers’ colony for a couple of years now. I’m not a labyrinth expert by any means but I’ve enjoyed meditative, prayerful walks around the circuits. I’ve steadied my mind, asked questions, listened for answers as my body turned the path to the center. It felt restorative, a gentle connection of myself to myself within the settled holiness of the labyrinth’s route. I liked that.

However, as I continued to make plans, I began to doubt myself. The labyrinth experience, at least in the way I understood it, didn’t mesh with the way I understand Rockvale. The more I looked into the “rules” and “procedures” for building a labyrinth on RWC land, the more I felt the land calling for something else. My habit is to let the land speak. In order for this to happen authentically, I have to be quiet and listen. I have to be open to the possibility that “my way” is not necessarily the only or best way. I was determined to build a labyrinth until the land whispered another, better idea. It started with a fallen oak tree.

A mid-sized oak fell across one of the wire fences separating field from forest. In my work to repair the fence, I wondered what I might do with the oak. On a whim, I began to chainsaw cross-sections of the wood. They began to look like stepping stones. An idea, that the land hinted at and gifted, began to take shape. 

A true labyrinth felt too structured, formal, and rule-oriented. RWC is about freedom, not formality. Adjacent to the area in which the tree fell is a section of relatively flat, thinly forested land that has, for a good while, intrigued me. I decided to build a “meditative path” in that section of woods. It’s labyrinthine but not really. Structured but not really. It’s wild and free. It enters the doorways between trees and marks the curves of limestone faces. It is becoming real as it unveils itself. One entrance, one exit, no getting lost.

The purpose: to ask questions and find answers, to discover something real about yourself by being open to the language of the land, to know you’re safe on the path so you can dare to face the unsafe spaces in your life. This will be finished soon. It’s a gift to writers from RWC.

Blessings,
Sandy

 

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