I’ve been on hiatus for a while, mostly because of winter
doldrums but partly because I’ve actually been away at John C. Campbell Folk
School in Brasstown, NC. If
you don’t know about this place, you need to check it out. It is based on the Danish folk schools
and is dedicated to the idea of developing “inner growth as creative,
thoughtful individuals, and social development as tolerant and caring members
of a community.” Since 1925
they’ve “worked towards these goals through performing arts, agriculture, and
crafts rooted in the traditions of Southern Appalchia and other cultures of the
world.” In a nutshell, you can
spend a week hanging out with some of the coolest people you may ever cross
paths with in a warm, welcoming environment and learning almost any craft or
skill you can imagine from world-class instructors. It made me like people again.
Not that I disliked people before, but there are days when I
question our goodness and feel that the world is going “to hell in a handbag”
as my friend Lois puts it.
Usually, my distaste for mankind is directly proportionate to the number
of times I’ve watched or read the news, which is one of the reasons I choose to
remain blissfully unaware of most things going on in the world. This, I realize, is not a responsible
attitude, but it is one that keeps me happier.
I was somewhat hesitant about going to the folk school. Rob had created quite a level of
expectation for me, having had a life changing experience there in October of
last year. I was afraid that there
really was no possible way it could live up the standard he had set in my
mind. After all, I was going for a
week long writing class with people from all over the country. Writers—enough said. I pictured a group of patchouli scented
hippies, most younger than me, spouting pseudo-intellectual platitudes and
looking down on most other members of society while chastising them for
intolerance. It has been my
experience that the more peace signs and bumper stickers a car has, the more
unfriendly and downright self-righteous the driver may be.
The first night, as we met in the large community room, I
was pleasantly surprised by the seemingly normal, and I must say older, group
that assembled. There was not a
single Rasta hat in the crowd (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but
instead, everyone looked like my parents’ friends with a sprinkling here and
there of folks our age. At dinner
that night, we all gathered at large dining tables and were served a terrific
family style meal. We fell into
conversation like old friends, a trend that continued all week. I did not meet a single unfriendly
person the whole time. It was the
kind of experience you hope for but often are disappointed by when it doesn’t
meet your expectations. We were
just people from varying and different backgrounds that, every single time,
made connections that solidified the idea that we are all so very much the
My writing group itself was no exception. We came from places all over the country,
and our stories were wonderfully different; however, whenever anyone in the
class shared his or her written words, each story resonated with me in some
way. It also helped that we had a phenomenal teacher who really knew her stuff
and encouraged us so well. It was
just the confidence boost I needed.
A week of writing and talking about the past turned out to
be more mentally demanding that I had imagined; I was tired and frankly,
plagued by weird and sometimes sad dreams while I was there. But it was good therapy, and it forced
me to write down so many of the stories that have been bubbling beneath the
surface for years. I have, because
of this experience, decided to begin work on something more than articles about
voles and making baby food. I’m going
to write my own story. I still
don’t know what my focus, the passion that drives my work, will be
exactly. I have an idea, but most
of it will probably be revealed to me in the process. So I’m adopting an “attitude of writing”, which involves
early mornings, not my favorite thing.
Once the inspiration of this past week wears off, 5:00 a.m. may turn
into 5:30 a.m. and so on and so forth, but I hope to maintain the discipline to
do it. Hell, can it be worse than
running up mountains in 35 degree rains?
I hope not, though this writing about your life stuff can really take it
out of you. Fortunately, I have a
new group of friends, people I can rely on for the occasional long-distance
confidence boost and ones that I know are probably up before the sun penning
their own words and struggling along with me. For some reason, I feel responsible to them; they listened
to me, they commiserated, they laughed, they offered advice, and they clapped
for me and told me what I had to say was worthwhile.
The Folk School experience showed me in a way I only thought
I understood that to waste a gift is a tragedy and that our lives and the lives
of others can be enriched so much through the practice of a craft. Both Rob and I came away feeling that
our lives could be so much better.
Too much of our time is wasted on television and computers and mindless
activities that seem to suck up time and add nothing of value to our life. If nothing else comes out of our
experience with these people except the realization that relationships and
creative expression are the cornerstones of a life well spent, it will have
been a worthwhile week.
Honestly, I was a little depressed about coming home this
weekend. Though I was more than
ready to see my kids, I didn’t want to leave this comfortable place that
immersed me so fully in the art that I love and provided me warm and friendly
companions. I knew that laundry
and stray cats in need of spaying waited at home, that dirty dishes and sitting
in car line would replace my precious writing time. Bu, this life I led for a
whole week is not realistic though it is fun for brief periods. Instead, I have to take what I’ve
learned and reprioritize my life.
I’ve discovered that some things are more important than others; it’s up
to me to give priority to what that is.
One of the instructors in our closing ceremony said that we
should not cry because it is over; instead, we should smile because it
happened. This morning, I am all