Napa Valley Autumn
How innocent were these Trees, that in
Mist-green May, blown by a prospering breeze,
Stood garlanded and gay;
Who now in sundown glow
Of serious colour clad confront me with their show
As though resigned and sad,
Trees, who unwhispering stand umber, bronze, gold;
Pavilioning the land for one grown tired and old;
Elm, chestnut, aspen and pine, I am merged in you,
Who tell once more in tones of time,
Your foliaged farewell.
– Siegfried Sassoon, October Trees
Biographical note: Siegfried Sassoon, who fought in World War I, wrote this beautiful poem. He returned to France to fight again after taking time to recover from what would now be called Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Like Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen who died in the war, Sassoon was one of the major poetic spokesmen against the insanity of that war, and wrote a memoir about it. There are also books of poems by Sassoon, who lived until 1967.
Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.
– Elizabeth Lawrence
Retreating from regular life
There are so many ways to think of a retreat.
Here is one definition: An opportunity to remove yourself from your busy routine and re-connect to your Spirit. By taking the time to relax and clear your mind, you are restored in ways you never expected, returning to everyday life with a new perspective.
From the dictionary: “To set time aside for reflection. To withdraw for purposes of meditation and spiritual contemplation.”
During a retreat the forward movement in our lives is temporarily put on hold; we enter a period of choice and contemplation, disengaging from our usual frantic motion, the spin of time and .
For the last thirty years, I would try to get away from the regular world of work, chores, child rearing, and being “on duty,” setting aside a day or two to escape the urban area, busy traffic, and responsibilities. Though I could never take a long time away from family and work, my soul needed refreshing so I could return and continue my work and raise my family with a better, refreshed perspective.
I loved escaping to the Napa Valley and especially to Calistoga, where I’d be nurtured by the delicious aromas arising from the earth and the vineyards. There I immersed in delicious mud baths, squishy and warm. After I’d take time in silence to write, feel, think, and explore a new path.
The scent of lavender water and the slightly sulfurous mineral and mud baths signify relaxation to me. It’s wonderful to surrender to the strong hands massaging me while music plays in the background. Afterward, I’d go to a restaurant to write. I discovered that the relaxation and mud bath would open up a lot of creativity for me. I wrote my first published story Calistoga Dreams at Bosco’s, a restaurant I enjoy sharing with my writer friends at the retreat.
During the autumn, the vineyards hugging the hills are rampant with colors of red, orange, and amber; birds chirp from telephone wires. By a stream you can watch the water bubble around stones and rocks, over twigs and branches, the wild chaos of nature somehow a comfort. Everything slows down, and I can see what I missed zipping by on the highway.
Because of such refreshing memories I was inspired to offer my writing retreat in Calistoga twice a year.
If you are in need of finding a way to listen to yourself and you want to invite the muse to whisper in your ear, please consider a retreat. And if you like to write and want to explore your creative voice and the stories of your life, please join me in November at my Calistoga retreat. You do not have to be experienced in writing to come. Just bring yourself and your pen, and the willingness to retreat from regular life. You might be surprised by the inspiration that a weekend like this can offer you.
Please contact me if you have questions. I accept credit cards, and there are scholarship slots available.
The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.
– Emily Dickinson, Nature 27 – Autumn
When you are ready to write about the deeper emotional material in your life, it helps to center yourself into the time, place, and physical space of your narrator voice. If you are writing close to the inside of the body and through the eyes of yourself as a younger version of yourself, it is important to “embody” yourself at that time and place.
Writing from a memory, either a body or emotional memory, means immersing yourself in a movie-like flow of your memories. This is like a meditation, a focused entry into your point of view. Remember, you are the main character of your memoir.
Setting as character
When you write a scene, the action takes place at a certain time and in a certain place. It is important to sense and feel that time and place as part of the verisimilitude of the story, the things that make the reader enter into what John Gardner calls “the fictive dream.” He talked about how words create an entire world that invites the reader to enter it and be unwilling to leave or to put the book down.
As memoir writers we experience and remember our story from within as well as through a movie camera lens in a kind of “memory dream.” Through your choice of words and imagery, you recreate a time and a place, bringing it to life in your story.
Linda Joy Myers, Retreat Leader
Dr. Wilkinson’s Hideaway Cottages
November 2-4, 2007
Credit cards okay; scholarship slots available
CEU credits for therapists
Autumn: the earth releases its fruits into harvest
turning toward silence and reflection.
Take the time to hear your inner, wise voice,
Find a place to write from the center of yourself.
Writing your stories allows you to weave your past,
present, and future selves into who you are now
Listen to the small, certain voice within
Listen to your stories as they emerge from your wise self
Immerse yourself in your memories. Explore the layers of your life and the meanings of your history. Our retreat gives you time to focus on your deepest being and capture the stories that have shaped you. You will be received with full presence and unconditional acceptance. Visualizations, memory exercises, drawing, and group sharing open up the well of stories for you to draw from. You will leave with several new stories, a timeline, and future writing plans. The retreat is inspirational and provides a safe place for you to explore.
During the retreat there will be time for mud baths and walks, individual writing time, and consultation with Linda about your work. Wineries and wine tasting are minutes away. Contact Linda and the website for more about the weekend schedule, food, housing, and enrollment details.
My deepest appreciation to you for helping me unlock my subconscious….and get it down on paper….it has helped me so much. A. McGrath
It’s been quite a journey. The writing and the space you create has had a
profound effect on my life and my healing. Lily Endlich
Trafalgar Square, Big Ben in background
In early October, I visited England to do some research about my historical fiction book. It touches upon WWII, the Kindertransport, and violin making. Because it is a historical novel, I felt that I needed to research quite a few facts about the war, London and the Blitz, and how refugees were handled by the British government. I was impressed by how important history is to the English people. In bookstores everywhere there are books sitting by the cash register about the war, an event still uppermost in the minds of the English people.
I visited the special Children’s Exhibit at the Imperial War Museum where hundreds of children from France Germany and England were there too with their teachers and parents learning about history—it was impressive!
Gun embattlement at Newhaven
London was bustling and expensive, though exciting, and after six days, I visited Sussex County in southeastern England, about 26 miles from Hastings, where the Normans conquered the English in 1066. It is a quiet, serene area, with lovely English villages, emerald green downs, and chalk cliffs. In Newhaven where the River Ouse enters the English Channel, I stood on the gun embattlements facing France, feeling the sweep of history present there.
At Newhaven, looking toward France and Dieppe
Bucolic scene in Alfriston
I was looking for an English village for one of my characters and found it in a place called Alfriston where you expect to see fairies and elves peeking out of the brush at any moment. There is the classical church, English graveyard, tea shoppes, and cobbled streets.
Ye Olde cemetery
At Charleston House, the home of Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf, I took the “Sister’s Tour.” I enjoyed being where the Bloomsbury group had hung out in all their amazing drama. It was said that they “lived in squares, moved in circles, and loved in triangles.” I picked up the memoir by Angelica Garnett, the daughter of Vanessa Bell, who did not know her father was Duncan Grant until she was 17 years old. She had known Duncan all her life and never suspected that he was her father. Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell had never evinced that much interest in children, including his own sons Julian and Quentin. Open communication was apparently not a trait of the Bloomsbury crowd, despite all the writing that went on.
Garden at Charleston House
Her memoir is called Deceived by Kindness. If you want to read the “inside story” and very much her own point of view about that group, it makes a very good read. I knew instantly it was going to be a “healing memoir” though she does not call it that, but she acknowledges how it helped her to put some of the ghosts away that had haunted her all her life. She began the memoir when she was 59 years old.
Enjoy the pictures!
Alfriston, looking toward the South Downs and the River Ouse
Are You Ready to Start Your Memoir?
Join our classes, retreats, Berkeley workshops or online classes to help you begin your memoir, keep writing, and learn about the writing process. We talk about the power of writing to heal, truth and fiction in memoir writing, and issues of guilt, shame, and family loyalty when writing a memoir.
From one of my students, Laura Singh
… your work emphasizes writing as healing but I also want to say that there is another
side to it for those who maybe do not need healing as much.
Your class could be called “Writing as Cherishing.” I really feel that for me, the dual
process of going back and reliving moments in my life and trying to paint a picture of those moments with words to tell my story to the group is making me cherish my life in a way that I never did before. I find that this kind of writing to be spiritual and grounding.
There is a kind of magic that happens in memoir writing. By going into the past, I feel more rooted, content, and awake in the present.
Main Street Alfriston
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