Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fetzer was extraordinary. I'm still not exactly sure how I got to be invited, but there I was with Lauren Artress, the Episcopalian priest of Grace Cathedral in SF and leader of labyrinth journeys in Chartres, and Jennifer Louden, the "comfort queen", and Naseem Rakha, author of The Crying Tree, a book about forgiveness and the death penalty, and Michael Jones, a wonderful Canadian pianist and philosopher, and Paulus Berensohn a potter/poet/philosopher/child of God--I kept wanting to call him "Bacchus" instead of Paulus, which he said was a great compliment; and Kurtis Lamkin the poet and kora player, and Diane Seuss a great poet and distant relative of Dr. Seuss, and and and...

And we didn't have to teach, we didn't have to lead anything. We just had to hang out and talk, have "creative conversations," with each other (Fetzer's term), and be wined and dined. oh! and write too (almost forgot.) Which I did, although not as much as I'd intended. I do feel like the time "seeded" me for future writing. There was tons o' wine flowing freely in the evenings--I thought it was a lot, and then someone from Wing It! pointed out that the Fetzer money comes from their wineries in California--doh!

I didn't drink much because the last time I really indulged--a glass and a half--was Passover, and I inflicted Me and Bobby McGee at top volume on a bunch of lovely Jewish lesbians who had done nothing, really nothing to deserve it. So I thought I'd spare my new friends that experience until they'd had more of a chance to become old(er) friends. Instead I tried to revise The Recruiter (more on that later), and hiked in the woods, and hung out with people, and drank in the beauty.

Michigan in the spring is lovely. Flowering ornamental cherry trees, so stuffed with deep pinkness they look like prom gowns with corsages pinned all over them. There was a lake with deer. Kalamazoo, who knew? there is a lively. close-knit community of poets and writers out there.

I came to the retreat with the intention of tearing The Recruiter down to its bones, disassembling it and putting it all together again--in three days. I had read Suzan-Lori Parks' account of how she wrote Topdog/Underdog in three days--at least a draft of it--and I was determined to follow her example. Didn't happen. I did get some work done on it that I think was good, but the thing feels now as if I'd taken a big greasy engine apart in my living room. I have all these screws and bolts and thingummies and do-hickeys rolling around underfoot and not a clue as to what I'm going to do with them, how I'm going to put the behemoth back together. (Kurtis did tell me a story just as he was about to leave which I think I can use in the piece. And I got the insight that I have to allow humor to be a part of this story. War isn't funny. But people are, and my other plays are funny. There's no reason for this not to be.)

It took me until the retreat was almost over to realize that the point of the week wasn't so much to produce--although I am so very very attached to production--but to have the experience . Okay, it took me a while to get it; I'm slow. Also insecure. What I appreciated most was the chance to make friends with whom I could talk about the writing process as a peer--as well as all the other processes that make our lives. We were also all interviewed on videotape, presumably for Fetzer's archives--and I think they will send me a copy of my interview which I'll share here or on my web site when I get it.

Got back Friday night and Saturday night performed with Wing It! in our show Big Fat Lies. It was a great show! What a rich and juicy topic, just rife with possibilities. Because of course all performing is a "lie" in some ways--performers routinely go on stage feeling tired, stressed, nervous, or whatever, and step into the limelight and become more than they were a minute ago, offstage. Is this a lie, or is it what we'd call "transformation?" How do the "lies" in art serve the purpose of larger truths?

Today--rain, again, surprising for this late in the season, but not unwelcome. Last night I went to read to Carla at bedtime. But first there was parrot-wrangling--her bird, Ronnie (sex indeterminate) was not in the mood to go to bed. Five peanuts and several arm-nips later I tricked him/her into the cage and got the door shut. Then went in and read Billy Collins' latest, Ballistics (Carla's choice). His quiet whimsical, undramatic, but poignant voice was just right for the occasion. How many of the words we poets write are worthy of this kind of purpose?


Jessica (your cousin) said...

"I didn't drink much because the last time I really indulged--a glass and a half--was Passover, and I inflicted Me and Bobby McGee at top volume on a bunch of lovely Jewish lesbians who had done nothing, really nothing to deserve it."

This, quite probably, is the best quote I've heard in days and absolutely made me smile and miss you.

rams said...

If I'd known, I'd have kept your glass topped up. Imagine the stories the security guards could have told of sixteen drunken writers singing Bobby McGee to a piano and a kora. (But wrong Fetzer -- this one's money came from broadcasting.)

Carol Frischmann said...

My buddy Naseem turned me onto your blog. This sounds like a fantastic experience for everyone who attended.

When Carla has time, I can help her with her parrot.

How do I learn more about your story?

Alison said...

I've also been known to do a rendition of Buffy St. Marie's "Cod'ine", that is pretty devastating. But it has to be the right moment.

It was an amazing experience carol, and I really enjoyed meeting Naseem. To learn more about Carla, you can visit her amazing blog at www.carlamuses.blogspot.com . She's the one with the incredible story. I've got some personal essays available on the web--a little google-sleuthing will get you to them. My dad wants me to collect them in a book, and I intend to, but I'm a little hung up on the project. Don't know how to do it. i did write a little intro for it the other day though.

Alison said...

Gosh I realize I just said "little" about five times in that comment! I must be really feeling "puny" as my friend Julia would say...