Letter from the Director – January 2023

Vulnerability is a Super Power


The year began unseasonably warm and I walked the trails through the colony’s winter-brown fields coatless. The ground was damp from past rain and the seep that joins the water of the top ridges to Flat Creek was flowing full. I squatted beside the small pond at the southeastern edge of the property and watched the stream surge from beneath a rock against the sun-warmed bank. My heart was hurting.
 
The water collects underground for many yards, filling a natural cistern before gushing out at this place. I found a seat on a thick fallen tree limb and noted the steady music of the flow. The sound was softer that I thought it should be given the force, almost as if the natural world sensed my ache and was tiptoeing around me. I folded my body, pulled my knees to my chest and breathed.
 
I don’t think there’s anything that can heal a wrong except time. There’s no antiseptic for unkindness, no bandage to wrap around emotional wounds. Nothing can really dull a gut kick, metaphorical as this one was. I had trusted someone. I had believed in them. I had allowed myself to be vulnerable and found a blade (also metaphorical, thankfully) stuck in my back. With the benefit of hindsight, one can hope to glean wisdom from such experiences, or at least to not make the same mistake twice, but I don’t know the trick to erase the pain. I think you have to lean into it, live in its skin, open yourself to it even more than the openness you offered to what caused the pain. Easier said than done.
 
The cost of vulnerability can be high, but I think there’s value in the purchase. You might not get what you want, but what you gain in understanding your own tenderness is worth a lot. Vulnerability is not weakness; in fact, it’s power. Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” Poet David Whyte says, “Vulnerability is the underlying, ever-present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state.” This feels like power to me.
 
I think it also comes down to trust and openness. You can live your life with your heart locked tight as a vault or you can share the key code knowing there’s a certain risk that comes with that. There’s risk in everything – risk in loving, risk in trusting, risk in sharing, risk in daring to be your truest self. I think the worst outcome is not when we’re open and trust someone, even if it ends badly, but when we don’t ever allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to take the chance.
 
Isn’t it the same thing with writing? You can’t direct all your words from the safe haven of your intellect; indeed, some of them, maybe most of them, have to come from the heart. When you write, you’re trusting the world to hold your language carefully and kindly. You’re offering a piece of yourself. Believe me, I know the courage that takes. I know as well, how frightening it is to be vulnerable within a world so often harsh. I know the cost of risk. I think you should risk anyway.
 
By the pond, even as I was hurting, I watched the water from the land rush beside me. I felt its energy and purpose, its renewal. I felt a sense of my own deep waters, an undercurrent rising through me, independent of anyone else’s acceptance or permission. That’s what these words stand up for, and why, when I sensed the sun’s warmth on my shoulders, I pushed myself to my feet and walked back to the farmhouse. There was still a lot of work to do.
 
May you feel your own power in vulnerable moments. May you take the risk.
 

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – December 2022

Only the Gentle


I’m looking for a word to describe what I’m sensing and needing these days. The last week has been damp and the skies have held a blue-gray hue against the horizon. Days linger as long as they can until the hush of evening falls and the light slowly fades into darkness. What I see when I look across the quiet country fields in this early winter season is the soft glow of Christmas lights from nearby houses, and the trees lit up white and gold. I don’t think about the holiday bustle and busyness; rather, I think of how the light streams across the land like ribbons and how dusk glows with a sort of promise. It’s as if everything is settling into itself, bedding down with gentle sighs. Gentle breaths. It’s a different sort of season. 

Then I have it. The word I’m looking for is gentle. It’s not a word I typically associate with the holidays, but maybe it’s a word worth considering. I recently read the phrase, “Only the gentle are truly strong,” and I’ve carried those words with me through these chilled days. I’m intrigued by phrases like this. Both “gentle” and “strong” are fair words, good words, words we wish to claim for ourselves. Carry them together and the meaning shifts slightly. To be strong is one thing, but to show strength through gentleness is quite another. That demonstrates choice and control, and maybe more importantly, restraint. 

For me, December is the month for winding down the year, gathering the threads of experiences and weaving a cloth of remembrance. As I prepare for 2023, I want to honor 2022 for its lessons. I don’t want to impose judgment or label what was good, what was bad. Instead, I want to allow and accept, acknowledge the happenings of the year with respect and introspection. I want to treat them gently, and maybe through that gentleness find strength to move forward, make changes, and grow. I never want to be static. I want to be moving with intention towards something better.

With that in mind, I wish you, dear writers and friends, a holiday season of gentle strength and a time for gathering what you’ll need for the new year. We’ll be doing the same here at RWC as we close for 4 weeks and make plans to reopen the first weekend in January for the Writing Goals Retreat. We hope you take time to ponder what is gentle, what is strong in your life, and how those good words become better when carried together. 

Blessings and Happy Holidays,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – November 2022

In Company

We just finished our third weekend retreat in a row. Whew! As tiring as hosting retreats can be, they’re also energizing. The retreaters who spend a weekend at RWC bring with them a unique light, a personal vitality that infuses into the atmosphere and adds to the overall verve of the colony. I’ve always believed that everyone who enters the farmhouse can feel a bit of the generous spirit of those who entered before them. That was true for me the first time I stepped through the kitchen doorway. 

I had been looking for a property to purchase for eight months. I had some specifications in mind (like private bathrooms for every bedroom!) but I didn’t have a solid idea of what might make the perfect colony for writers. I only knew I would know it when I found it. Imagine how frustrating that was for Kim, my real estate agent! She took me to properties all over middle Tennessee and I would say, “This is nice, but it doesn’t feel right.” She came to accept my “feel” for things, bless her, and didn’t try to reason it out too much!

When I walked into the kitchen at 6994 Giles Hill Road, College Grove, I stood in silence for a few minutes. I said to Kim, “This is it.” Kim said to me, “Don’t you want to see the rest of it?” I said, “Yes, we can do that, but this is it.” As we toured the property, the “feeling” only increased. At the end of our tour, Kim said, “Yes, I feel it too. This is it.” One month later, the purchase of the property was final. That was in March 2018.

I say that to attempt to explain a part of  RWC that is hard to put into words. This place is bound by all the hearts and spirits that have ever been here. We are “in company” with the generous and kind-hearted people who lived and worked and dreamed and loved here, in the buildings, on this land. I cannot count the number of times writers enter through the kitchen door off the main deck and sigh because they sense the innate goodness that has come before them. Some even cry. Some say, “I feel like I’ve come home.” 

I believe in the goodness of the past and try to add a semblance of goodness to the present and future. It is not a chore. It is a blessing, an opportunity to weave some tiny thread of positivity through the fabric of a world that can be challenging. It gives back far more than it costs. 

So, on retreat weekends, when I’m busy and tired and ready to have a day off, I remind myself that this opportunity to serve will benefit the colony in the end. It adds to the layers of love and life that sustain us. There is a company of spirits that have come before and left their energy and beauty for us to receive completely for free. That’s something to be grateful for. We gladly pass that on to you!

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – October 2022

Peace in the Parting

In 2019, I asked Williamson County Animal Shelter if they could give me a couple of barn cats. I took 2 cats home in plastic boxes with no idea of their color, sex, or disposition. I was told they had zero socialization and didn’t know each other at all. The animal shelter employee said, “Good luck” and handed me instructions on “what to do WHEN your barn cat runs away.” As I carried the boxes to my car, I thought, “What am I doing?!!”

That’s how Finn and Oliver came to be the Colony Cats. The inferred prediction of how they would do in their new home was completely wrong. OK, it took a year for them to settle, but these two cats have brought joy, wonder, and many photo opportunities to writers. And to me, they brought love in a time I needed it most. I thought they would live forever. Surely, the universe knew we couldn’t make it without them. 

And then the world shifted and Finn was gone. He died on September 28- suddenly, shockingly. At 3:30pm, we were at the vet. At 5:00pm, I was digging a grave. 

To be honest, this loss feels incredibly hard. Finn taught me how to be a cat person after a lifetime of being solely a dog person. He showed me that sometimes being aloof and distant didn’t necessarily mean being unbonded. He knew where he belonged and he knew he was loved. He greeted writers upon arrival. He sat with them on the front porch in the morning sunlight. If you were very lucky, Finn would lean into you and rub his head on your arm. With me, he would bite my hair – a sign of ownership. 

As I try to put meaning into a very raw event, I struggle, but whatever powers there are to remind me of past joys won’t desist. I remember the times Finn followed me up the trail, meowing the whole way as if to say, “Why do we have to go up here?” I remember the places Finn would doze during the day – on top of the grill, in the wheelbarrow, on the worktable in the garage, under the bench on the back deck. I remember his distinct meow, shorter and higher than Oliver’s, and how he would tell me he was coming when I called his name. In those memories, I can find a settled peace. 

We can’t replace Finn, but we can rescue other barn cats and give them a home and not take for granted the holiness of every small life. That’s the lesson here, I think. Every small life matters. Every small love expands beyond the borders of its contained body. That’s the way love works. Writers who know the value of words know also the value of spirit. I was blessed knowing Finn’s unique personality and doubly blessed by his love.

Goodbye, Finny. We will remember you. 

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – September 2022

Pause and Ponder

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m very active and busy. That’s my natural tendency. When I rest, I’m often thinking of and planning for the next burst of energy required for the next new project or idea. It’s hard for me to slow down. In fact, I rarely stop for long . . . unless I’m forced to. Funny how that works. When it’s necessary to pause, when I’m required to stop my busy enterprises, I’m pleasantly surprised at how refreshing it is to simply “Be.”

I had a triathlon race in Wisconsin this past weekend. I had a good swim and was at mile 15 of the bike when a pedestrian/spectator ran onto the bike course and we collided. The collision made me crash head-first into a parked pickup truck. The moments that followed were interesting. I was unable to say where I was or what my name was. I didn’t feel panic – just a sort of confused wonder at what I was doing on the road. I knew I was in a race, but I had no idea where. When someone told me I was in Wisconsin, I remember thinking, “How in the world did I get to Wisconsin?” Within a few more minutes, I remembered everything, and then I was whisked away to the emergency room.

I’m not badly hurt, but I will need a few weeks to heal from my injuries. It’s a forced pause, a slow-down to allow my body to heal and my concussion-addled brain to steady. Living in the still air of patience and acceptance is a lesson in a different sort of fortitude than the one I’m used to. It wasn’t in my plans to get hurt, but the hurt came anyway, and it’s my responsibility now to see what I can learn from it. Otherwise, the experience is wasted.

Here’s what I’m discovering from my forced “Pause.”


1. People matter more than anything else. So many people have taken the time to check on me and see if I need anything. Am I attentive to others’ needs when I’m in “Busy” mode? Can I take a moment every day to tune into another person’s heart and say “I see you, you matter?” 


2. Being still teaches a certain kind of balance which can lead to delight. I sat on my back porch yesterday and watched the afternoon fade into dusk. Two chipmunks were chasing each other from the porch to the grass and into the burrow under the shed. I felt like I was a crucial part of this scene. I belonged in an intricate way to the wonders of nature. I didn’t move or direct anything. I simply was there.


3. Letting go of perfectionism is the key to being satisfied. I was sorely disappointed I didn’t finish the race. I kept replaying the details of the wreck in my head over and over. What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? Sometimes, stuff happens that we can’t control. Sometimes, we simply have to accept the drama of the day and move on with gratitude.


4. Beauty exists in every situation if you stay open to it. As I was being driven from the ER back to my hotel, I noticed the light glinting off the water of the lake, little cups of sparkle and glee. I thought, “how beautiful.” Back at home, I settled into my own comfortable bed with its floral comforter and sage green pillows and I thought, “how lovely.” Do I even notice this when I’m focused on all I need to get done?

When I think about my writing, I realize that if I get too focused on the achievement aspect and forget the beauty of each moment, I can miss the whole point of writing entirely. I write because I have something valuable to say. My writing comes from my soul, not my ambition. Remembering that is what will keep me at the page. 

A “Pause,” forced or chosen, can be a time of pondering and eventually, great insight. If we believe every situation has a purpose and a lesson, we’re more apt to let experiences teach us and take the lessons to heart. Yes, we learn a lot from work, but we learn equally from not working, from pausing our “Go” button, and simply allowing the universe to share its infinite wisdom. I would not have chosen to wreck in the race, but I AM choosing to ponder the Pause, the Moment, the Wonder of Being Here Right Now. 

It’s something I’m glad I didn’t miss.

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – August 2022

Wild Love

I like to walk beside the creek early in the morning before the rest of world stumbles out of bed and into another busy day. It steadies me, readies me for the work of the next eight hours, some of which is planned and expected, some discovered by accident and more reactive than proactive. The few minutes of calm is when I best practice the art of mindfulness, of seeing what’s before me, taking it in, reveling in appreciation and awe. 

One morning, I noticed a strip of blue bordering the creek, right where the water met the shore. It was bed of dayflowers (Commelina), those small weedy plants that have 2 ear-like blue petals rising on a slender green stalk. The wisp of color lasts only a day, but gathered in bunches at the edge of the creek, the impact was lovely. I stooped to look at one closely and noticed the stamens curved together, forming a heart – a perfect, tiny heart – tucked into the grasses. I felt like I had stumbled upon a secret, a nod from the universe that spoke love over the wide earth, that promised something more than what I might think I had earned. Love. Everywhere.

And then, indeed, it was everywhere. I saw hearts in vines, in leaves, in rocks, in shadows, in reflections, in the hazy shimmering waves of sun after rainfall. Everywhere. I took it as a sign that no matter how unloved or unlucky I felt at any given moment, love existed around me, inside me, above me, before me. I needed only to look at the wild world for confirmation that I was loved and part of a universe of love. The best part was the ability to give back the gift of love in return – to family and friends, to the land and environment, and to myself and my writing. 

Love always has a bit of the unconventional to it, but it’s at its most radical when applied to ourselves and what we do. We want to love ourselves, love our words and our writing, but for some reason, it feels conceited to say so. What if it didn’t? What if we took the world at face value and believed in the hearts all around us? What if the signs we dismiss as simply ordinary are really the extraordinary messages of a universe seeking our highest good? Why do we worry that we haven’t seen enough, done enough, been enough, when the whole world is waiting for us to just be fully ourselves? 

There is a world of hearts out there waiting for you to discover them. Once you see one, you’ll see many, so get ready to be bombarded with wild love. Then, pass it on to the people around you, to your own dear soul, to your own wild words. 

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – July 2022

Writing Through Grief

In the last 2 1/2 years, I’ve lost two of the most important people in my life: my mother (January 2020) and my husband (May 2022). To say it’s been a difficult 2 1/2 years is a huge understatement. Navigating the emotional swells, not to mention the full-blown tidal waves, has been a lesson in perseverance – sometimes day by day, sometimes hour by hour. What sustains me in the lowest hollows and deepest aches is language. Words. Writing. When it feels impossible to speak what I feel, I can write it.

I journal every day in a notebook that has this quote on the front: “You are here. Now, anything is possible.” It gives me the courage I need to sit in the hard places of grief. One thing I realized as I spilled words (and sometimes tears) on the page is that I wouldn’t feel this grief if it weren’t for love. Love and grief walk hand in hand on a parallel path. At some point in every life, the path will intersect and the two will merge. What we do with the merging changes our life. It changes the person we are. We become a new being, rebuilt from the ashes of what and who we thought we were. 

If that feels scary, it’s because it is. Change is always a bit scary, especially when it’s forced upon us. I contend that our humanity is strong enough to face it, strong enough to stand inside it. Even in a grief-phobic world, where more importance is placed on being happy than being real, we can find ways to step into the sorrow and reclaim our hearts. Changed hearts, yes, but ours nonetheless. One way to do this is through writing. 

During the first weekend in November (Nov 4-6), we’re offering a retreat titled “Writing Through Grief, Finding the Words that Live in Loss.” I’m working with brilliant lawyer, writer, mindfulness coach, and co-founder of Thought Kitchen, Jill Carnell. Jill and I will lead 4 workshops that explore ways to express and acknowledge (To yourself! Sharing is optional!) feelings of grief. Through prompts, writing exercises, mindful meditation, exploration in nature, and moments of introspection, we’ll practice what it means to share space with sorrow and leave room for healing and even joy. 

I invite you to read more about the retreat at this link: Writing Through Grief. We’d be honored to have you join us. No writing experience is necessary. 

It’s very difficult to show up for our emotions. Avoidance seems the easier path. (I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work very well for long!) Now, I’m committed to the quote on the front of my journal. “You are here. Now, anything is possible.” We’ll stand in the “here” with you. We’ll stand together.

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – June 2022

The Practice of Stillness

My mind has been disturbed and bothered lately. I’ve had trouble remembering things and my usual decisive nature has been sluggish. We’re in a heat wave. It’s hot and uncomfortable, yes, but it’s more than humidity that is making me feel unsettled. It’s deeper. 

Whenever I’m afflicted with tangled thoughts and a jumbled spirit, I walk down the hill and along the north fork of Flat Creek. The trees and shrubs are thick, crowded along the water source. Birds linger in the canopy and turtles sun on flat rocks. Occasionally I see deer enjoying a drink in the swirling pools, and once, a raccoon exploring the bank. What I come here for is not the scenery though, but the settled sense of peace. There is no rush, no urgency, no velocity of spirit that makes me feel like I should race the water flow, or achieve any specific thing. I am still.

Let me tell you, being still is not my usual state. I’m busy and active, and I get a lot done every day. But, I know myself well enough to admit that “busy” is not always sustainable. A balanced busyness can be ok, but busyness in the sense of barely keeping up with demands is definitely a strain on the brain. When I allow myself space for my brain to catch up, I’m much more productive when I start again. 

I placed a “Believe” bench at the bend in the creek. One side of the bank angles down steeply from a high hill, while the other, where the bench is located, casually curves up from the water and flattens into a field of grass and wildflowers. A breeze funnels from the heights and cools my skin. Under an Osage orange tree, whose dark limbs criss-cross above me, I engage in the art of stillness. I sit. I “take in” the sunlight reflecting on the water surface, the gentleness of leaves rustling. I take what is offered. Nothing else. Nothing more.

This is a practice, much like meditation or yoga is a practice. I like the dual meaning of the word. I practice: verb, meaning a repeated action to improve. I perform the practice: noun, meaning routine or usual procedure. Allowing oneself the gift and the discipline of stillness requires both the verb and the noun. 

Last week, as I walked quietly to my bench, I saw 4 otters playing in the dark pool at the creek bend. They swam to their den when they saw me. I sat down and quieted my body and mind. I was still. After about 30 minutes, they came back out and resumed their play while keeping a watchful eye on me. When they decided I was not a threat, they felt comfortable in my presence. I, in turn, was delighted by their presence. Who knows what we miss when we forget how to dwell in silence. It is a practice worth the discipline to master it. 

For me, writing poetry comes from observation and action, but also from a deep quietude inside me. I cannot force words to come, nor a poem to rise perfected from the ashes of my thoughts. Sometimes a poem is born out of surrender. Sometimes it takes its form because I’ve given it space to become what it needed to become. That means I take my busy mind by the hand a say, “be still.”

Try it. Be still. 

Blessings,
Sandy

Letter from the Director – May 2022

Joy Moments

A few weeks ago, I was running along Flat Creek Road about to turn onto Giles Hill Road. I was in the middle of my first interval in a 55-minute interval run, feeling pretty good. I saw a car stopped by the bridge, and a person sitting on the edge of the road. The bridge goes over Flat Creek. It’s not a high bridge – probably 10 feet to the water and the grass slopes gently down on both sides. The stance of this person spoke “sadness” to me though I couldn’t see their face. I was running well and didn’t really want anything to mess up my pace. I said to myself, “I bet they want to be alone.” I almost ran past them. But then I thought, Giles Hill is my road and Flat Creek is my creek and I can’t run past and leave somebody sad. So I stopped my watch, stopped running, and said to this person, “Are you ok? Do you need help?” And then I saw the person was crying. 

I asked them what was wrong and at first, they just shook their head, but then they said, “I try to do all the right things – at work and at home – and nothing ever works out. Things are so hard sometimes and I just feel so sad.” And I thought, “Been there, I know that feeling. I know that sadness.”

Flat Creek is special to me. It has large flat rocks that lay across the width and when the water is low, those rocks are dry and the water curves and splashes around them. I sit on those rocks sometimes and pray. I call them “soul keepers” – those rocks – almost magical. I said to the person, “This is Flat Creek. Let’s go sit on that rock and talk.” And we did. We talked about life, how hard it can be, and how we can still find moments of joy even in the middle of the pain if we look for them. You have to look for them. You have to pay attention because the joy moments are out there. We talked about tattoos – this person had many, many cool ones. We talked about hair – this person had purple and green hair – also very cool. 

Then I pointed to my arrow tattoo with the word “believe” within it. I said, “This is the word I hold on to.” And the person smiled, a real light-filled, open-hearted smile, and they turned to show me a wide tattoo across the back of their shoulders. “BELIEVE” in all caps! Bold and bright and beautiful. We laughed and said, “There you go – a joy moment!”

We stood up and hugged each other – standing on a rock in the middle of Flat Creek – a long, tight, soul-keeping hug. Not two strangers, but two humans who claimed what the universe offered that afternoon: a chance to share our humanity with all its aches and miseries, and within that, find something so strangely wonderful it has the power to save us. 

Is that not what we do when we write? We share our humanity with our imagination and creativity via the bridge of language. It is a joy moment when a reader connects with what we’re doing, when they find meaning within the words we write because of the human connection that says, “Been there. I know that feeling.” 

Sometimes we’re the person crying on the bridge. Sometimes we’re the person too busy to stop because we’re doing something we deem more important. The joy moment occurs when either person or both people dare to trust the other one with what it means to be human. That saves us. Words save us. Keep sharing your words. 

Blessings,
Sandy

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