Marathon Mothership Day 4: The Cracks and the Light (New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat 2014)


20140717_090606Day 4: Thursday

Today I give myself an assignment based on one of Kim’s quotes from the beginning of the retreat.  I determined to ask myself, all day, “Where are the cracks?”  “How is the light getting in?”  I start early, just outside my hotel room, looking down on still-sleepy sidewalks below.

9:05 a.m. Le Richelieu balcony

This morning the cracks are in the floorboard paint, alternating smooth and gritty under my bare feet. The light is getting in through a clump of ivy on a balcony across Chartres Street, so green in the early haze that it shines from within, from deep inside the thicket of leaves tiered tight and flooding into the curling black iron.

During the morning session, Kim reads one of his Nebraska poems, “Prairie Prescription,” about a pregnant woman who has been prescribed an hour of beauty a day.  He asks us to write what that would mean for us.  Then he says, “The past is destiny. The future is freedom.”

20140715_154122(0)He introduces a Buddhist concept he calls “Four Ways of Seeing,” including “the visible,” “the invisible,” “the secret,” and “the deep secret.”  These prompts lead my writing toward the imagery of “the veil between the worlds,” which practitioners of various mystical traditions will all tell you is exceptionally thin in New Orleans.  I start to realize that Kim is our Papa Legba, our writer’s version of the deity of the crossroads in traditional voodoo, the master communicator who opens up the door between humans and the spirits.

My marathon group today is two groups of writers starting in two different places.  Jeff and I head for coffee at Croissant D’ Or while Jeanne and friends head for lunch at Rose Nicaud. We plan to meet up at Jean Lafitte’s sometime around 12:30.

11:25 Croissant D’ Or

20140717_115840The cracks are everywhere here in this Old World patisserie.  In the small hexagonal floor tiles. In the wall paint. In the sidewalks outside my window seat. New Orleans is made of cracks, I realize, which explains all the light breaking through, everywhere, beauty blooming out so fast my heart explodes each time it tries to keep pace.   

Right now, it is breaking through flaky layers of frangipane next to a perfect cappuccino, sweet almond paste and butter seeping straight through to calm my blood. 

Outside my window seat, a thin blond woman in crisp beige heels and a white pant suit climbs onto a raggedy bike decked out with beads and pedals away.

12:10 Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar

The cracks are all over, again, here in the wood-topped table and in the dark, old pirate bricks grinning at us from just behind the veil. The light is getting in through the gorgeous blue eyes of our server, a young Viking so tall his blonde head floats just under the dusty rafters. He’s patient and kind and so beautiful that our rowdy table of writers is hushed in awe each time he stops by. 

Martens photo 2 Jeff Grinvalds at Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith ShopMellow club music is moving all around us, and the light is getting in through the high notes but settling into the bass booms, cozying up to the corners of the room and twinkling at us like the lights in Café Amelie’s courtyard last night. 

Light is getting in all slanted and soft from the shuttered doors thrown open since the day the place began back in 1722. It’s lighting up the plaid bro shirts and the edgy black tees and the middle-aged polo shirts, lighting up the pink capris and the maxi dresses and the cutoff jean shorts of the girl whose boyfriend smacks her tiny derrière as she heads to the ladies’ room. 

Our young Viking server has gone to stand in the doorway. An unlikely guardian of the crossroads, he quietly surveys the Bourbon Street swagger. His broad shoulders angle outward, drawing sunlight into our shadows. He checks his phone and smiles at it, his beautiful thumbs swiping and scrolling and texting away, telegraphing his heart’s deepest joy, I hope, to some extraordinary love.

3:30 Good Friends Bar

20140717_160026It’s Happy Hour here, but I’ve gone for the $8 Maker’s Mark in honor of my BFF, Cheri, who will come to New Orleans someday soon.   Jeanne has pulled us into this glorious, stately old gay bar, remembering some story from long ago, but and now we are so in the thrall of our mesmerizing bartender,  J. J., none of us can write.  I look for the cracks, but I can only glimpse them through holes in the rolling, raging conversation, or perhaps in the drink  J.J. is touting, “The Buttcheeks Spreader.”  I look for the light getting in, possibly through another one of J.J.’s recommendations, something called “The Double-Wide,” but everything is so distracting and dizzying that I really can’t be sure.

I leave my group in J.J.’s capable hands and head back early to Le Richelieu to prepare for the pedagogy panel I’m on during the evening session.  Jeff is typing frantically by this time, capturing what will later become a fantastic piece based on our Good Friends experience called “Hey, Girl!  Hey!”

That evening, the marathon rolls on even while our notebooks lounge safely back at the hotel.  Jeff and I call in an order of oyster po’ boys from Verti Mart, just two blocks from 20140717_210745Le Richelieu, and then find ourselves in a weird fluorescent wonderland when we go to
pick them up.  There’s an enormous orange-tan man in a seersucker suit jacket and shorts waiting in line just ahead of us, his huge shirtless chest grinning under a dazzling smile and straw hat.  He turns out to be Tito—of Tito’s Handmade Vodka—also  picking up po’ boys and regaling everyone with Tales of the Cocktail stories from the festival on the other side of the Quarter.

20140718_122234Jeff and I float out of the Verti Mart dream world, gobble the perfect po’ boys, and then
float down Frenchman into another dream world, this one made of brass and funk at The Stooges show at d.b.a.  We dance all night with Cynthia, another retreat writer we’ve decided that we have captured, like pirates, and whom we affectionately refer to as our “booty.”

The evening ends under the bare light bulbs of the Frenchman Street Art Market and a then a slow glide back to bed.

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Marathon Mothership Day 3: Ramping It Up on the River (New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat 2014)

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Day 3: Wednesday

At the morning session, Writer-in-Residence Kim Stafford teaches us a four-step process for writing taught to him by his father, the poet William Stafford.  The four steps are these:

  1. Date, time, place
  2. Random journal writing
  3. A line of insight
  4. A meditation on that insight

20140714_181946I write,

  1. 10:15 a.m. The Gallier House. New Orleans
  2. Terribly tired after getting up way too early to work on my revision of the Wink’s piece. Craving serious breakfast.  Last night is a dream now, a haze of fried chicken and neon and rum.  Probably too much rum.  Starting to do too much planning.  Must stop.
  3. We imprison ourselves trying to make sense of the day. More gets done with less consideration and more exploration.
  4. Never read email before sleeping. Even our modern habit of checking Facebook in the dark before closing our eyes traps our mind for the night in the blue rectangle of light.  Locked in a dimension apart, our consciousness fights, all elbows, to free itself like the Superman villains trapped in that flat, spinning dimensional prison, arcing forever into space.  Rather we should ease ourselves into fade-to-black in soft, open fields behind our eyes, random thoughts passing through unfettered, free to flood in and out of our dreaming eye.

After a long moment of gathering silence after the writing, Kim says, “This is the ritual to enter the French Quarter of your soul.”

Ahhhhh….

Soon I am off with Jeff and Kelly, our marathon day framed around a loose plan to find brunch and then board the riverboat Creole Queen and write on the Chalmette Battlefield.

20140716_12122512:00 P.M.  The Original Café Maspero

I came for the Eggs Sardou but found shrimp and grits instead.  And they haven’t quite righted everything, but I am much, much better.  The fresh herbs and bits of ham in there have healed a hole in my spirit.  Or at least plugged it for now.  Almost.

“Almost” is an ok place to be. Missed the mark but landed somewhere close, at least.  In a lively, lovely place where the gaslights stay on all day.  Rising up in my caffeine elevator, ready to peer down a bit from wherever we were, ready to look up at where we’re going.

3:05 Chalmette Battlefield

Martens photo 5 Writing on Chalmette BattlefieldThe National Park Ranger is going on about the battle of New Orleans, but I just want to sit here under the biggest live oak I’ve ever seen.  With its hanging moss, this tree could be my Hair Sister, dark and sprawling and unkempt and all over the place.  I love you and your gorgeous, voluptuous body.  I will come back for you and your sisters, I promise.

3:35 Aboard the Creole Queen

Martens photo 3 Kelly Lock McMillen on riverboat Creole QueenWe cruise along, cradled in Mother Mississippi’s brown arms as the riverbanks slide past through the big windows on either side of the riverboat interior.  A hulking Polish oil tanker looms and then fades under the gold-tasseled fringe of heavy curtains.  Then the Domino Sugar factory, with the rusting metal docks trailing past in the molasses-sweet air. A young girl in a lime-green t-shirt with white-rimmed sunglasses makes her slow way along the outer deck.  Then a long, red grain barge slinks by, nudged by a striped little boat called the “Belle Chase.”

The big rack of glassware sways above the calm head of the bartender mixing cup after cup of rum punch.  Two long columns of passenger heads sways, too, all of us pulled together into the rhythm of the rocking current whether we want to or not.  Behind us, the huge red paddlewheel thunders into the water, sweeping us back home to New Orleans, back to where everything washes down, back to where it all comes from.

20140716_1652154:50 Riverwalk Streetcar

We’re outnumbered on a streetcar full of Elks making their way upriver from the Convention Center.  They’re all sporting their proud red vests, emblazoned with their lodge numbers and hometowns underneath all the badges and pins.  Elks from Wisconsin.  Elks from Arizona. Elks from Ohio.  They tell us they love the streetcar and have been riding it all week.  Through the open windows, I realize that I can stick my head out to a scary degree and be killed instantly by any number of poles, signs, and structures.  I decide to keep my hands and feet inside the ride at all times, safe with the Elks.

Back at the evening open mic, I read the piece I’d worked up that morning about our encounter with Dwight Henry at Wink’s, then we treat ourselves to dinner at Café Amelie, topping up the day with a gorgeous stroll back through the Quarter at night.

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And So It Begins: Days 1 and 2 on the Writing Marathon Mothership (New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat 2014 )

Martens Photo 1 with Richard Louth and Tennesee Williams wall quote

Day 1: Monday

The wall in from of us in the Gallier House meeting room reads, “Don’t you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands—and who knows what to do with it? –Tennessee Williams”

In the opening session, our writer-in-residence for the retreat, Kim Stafford, quotes the Leonard Cohen line, “There’s a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”  It will resonate with me for days until the last full day of the marathon, when I give myself over to it.

Kim tells us about his adventures so far this trip in New Orleans, his experiences with people and places. He talks about getting “really deep, really soon” because that’s how New Orleans works.  He passes on some advice from one of his own writing teachers:  “Lower your standards, and then keep going.”

Kelly and I leave the Gallier House and walk, starving, hoping to find the famous Irene’s Cuisine but missing it somehow but ending up at Coop’s which, miraculously, isn’t crowded.  We share smoked duck quesadillas, and I order the tasso and crawfish pasta, which I love.  We drink and talk and wander down Decatur Street, enjoying  Le Richelieu’s magic courtyard before heading up to bed.  All around and above us, room lights glow dim with writers sitting up too late.  It has begun.

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Day 2, Tuesday

In the morning, Kim leads us in several potent writing exercises and ideas start to tumble.   He reminds us that this retreat is “a time out of time.”  I begin thinking about the “veil between the worlds” –the imaginary line between the past and the present, the real and the imagined, the tangible and in the intangible.  It’s a generally accepted notion that the veil is very, very thin in New Orleans, thinnest of all in the French Quarter.  A gossamer nightgown on a shapely silhouette. Dangerously thin.

He challenges us to write a very long sentence and forbids semicolons.  I write,

She sat on the balcony just one room over from where her last relationship had met its end— not its technical end, where she finally said, out loud, “we’re done,” but rather the first glimmer that she was, in fact, not at the turning point and not on the  downward slope and not even that she had been there for some time but rather a sinking awareness that there had never really been a slope or even a trajectory  in the first place but only a long, slow drift out to sea in the mist, moving farther and farther away from herself.

When it’s time to head out, I’m torn.  I want to go everywhere.  Across the river to Algiers with Jeanne.  To Antoine’s  with Michelle.  To the garden district with Ellen.  Then  Annabel comes at me with her blue eyes like diamonds and says, “Come with us.  Come with us to Harry’s.” And of course I do.

Martens photo 4 Annabel Servat Writing at Harry's Bar

11:17 Harry’s Bar

A beautiful sweet rum syrup to coat my writer’s guts. It tastes like the tropics, with touches of bitter plantation histories at the edge of the sugar. Again, Harry’s Bar, and gorgeous Annabel with her amber rings singing to the sunshine outside.  She’s our marathon priestess for the day, and how lovely.

Perfect Harry’s, where George Dorrill baptized me in the afternoon rain two years ago, sitting exactly here on our first marathon stop of that first day.  Following his example,  I went straight to the jukebox, starting us off with Janis Joplin. Take another little piece of my heart, why don’t ya?

Three cool, young friends have taken up the bar stools across from us, and so far they approve of my music choices. Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” makes me cry, almost.  Tears will be a given here in this potent city. I can feel them in the edge of my throat, caught there this morning already when Richard read the Hemingway quote and Brant said, “Amen.” 

Amen indeed, brother.

And now it’s “Crazy,” by Patsy Cline. And a case of Maker’s Mark is being dropped off just in time around the side of the bar.

Each marathon stop from here on out is a whole day unto itself.

20140715_124957 At Wink’s, the famous Dwight Henry feeds us stuffed peppers with macaroni and cheese AND potato salad with a side serving of his personal philosophy of celebrity. At Café Envie, Randy and I watch each other watching and writing about the same apartment balcony across the street, a place Randy tells me later where he used to live.

At Molly’s on the Market, we run into a dozen other writers passing through at the end of their own marathon ramblings.  We wander away for the open mic and for dinner—Fiorella’s famous fried chicken—then wander back to Molly’s and take up residence at the window seat and trade stories with random passersby on Decatur, everyone and everything glowing in the neon and the humid evening air.  People ask us for directions.  For smokes.  For recommendations.  They smile.  They stop to chat.  Where else do people stop and talk with total strangers like they do here in New Orleans?

We can barely write, it all comes so fast and easy.  Jeff sums it up:

“This window is the shit.”

Martens photo 7 Jeff and Kelly in Molly's Window

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The Writing Marathon Mothership: New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat 2014–Publications

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The Writing Marathon Mothership.

That’s what I’m calling the event I was honored to attend as a guest panelist in July of 2014, the official title of which was “Finding Your Muse in New Orleans.”  Billed as “a writing retreat featuring Kim Stafford and the New Orleans Writing Marathon Experience” and hosted by the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project, it was the fullest expression to date of what we know as the “the writing marathon” as it has been practiced in National Writing Project Sites and affiliated groups since 1994.

It was amazing. So amazing and so intense that it’s taken me forever to blog about it.   For now, however, the most important thing all marathon fans need know is that the Writing Marathon Mothership is landing again in New Orleans this summer, July 13-17, and that registration is opening soon at writingmarathon.com.  This is the new home for writing marathon resources of all kinds, including links to books, articles, radio programs, teacher handouts, and more.

WM sign

I’m going to devote several upcoming blog posts to capturing my experience last year, but I wanted this post to promote the event this summer along side several exciting publications that emerged from it:

Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies has recently published a Roundtable looking at writing marathons from four different perspectives:

KSLU, the award-winning radio station at Southeastern Louisiana University, recently broadcast “Finding Your Muse in New Orleans,” a lively and well-produced program featuring readings from the evening open mic sessions from the New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat:

 

Louisiana Literature has just published a diverse range of works by many of the writers who attended the NOWM Retreat, collected in the essay “Finding Your Muse in New Orleans” by Richard Louth.

LaLit

Look for upcoming posts showcasing writing, highlights, and photos from each day of the Retreat!

P.S. I’m also thrilled that my vignette “On the New Orleans Writing Marathon,” based on my experience at the New Orleans Writing Marathon at the 2010 Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, was recently published in College Composition and Communication 66.2.

Me with one of my marathon muses, Jeanne Northrup, in the famous window seat at Molly's on the Market, NOWM HQ.

Me with one of my marathon muses, Jeanne Northrup, in the famous window seat at Molly’s on the Market, NOWM HQ.

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Not One but Two Prairie Lands Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute 2014 Marathons

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Our Prairie Lands Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute kicked off in June 2014 with a writing marathon, but it also ended with one.  The teacher-writers who gathered at Missouri Western State University with us for four weeks of their precious summer truly embraced their identities as writers, and they boldly went wherever their writer whims took them. 20140630_102209 I was fortunate to be in a group on June 24 with my Institute Co-Facilitators who wrote at Cafe Pony Espresso, the downtown branch of the Saint Joseph Public Library, and then a Neapolitan pizza shop called Il Lazzarone.   On the last marathon, July 24, I crashed another group who was heading to the local DMV– a marathon stop I’d never tried before, and who also sought out the writerly haven of Pony Espresso as well as some stops along the downtown sculpture walk.  Here are two pieces of writing from those two marathons.  You can read more marathons stories from other PLWP Invitational Summer Institute Participants here

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Il Lazzarone 12:30 p.m.

Pizza Superhero Eric
stands proudly beside his imported Italian pizza oven,
invites me back into the prep area to get a picture, and–
I’m sure I’m violating some kind of health code—but I can’t help it.
He’s humble and proud all at once, basking in the lunchtime rush love and
in the heat of flames licking dough into Neapolitan magic.
According to the News-Press, it cost $30,000 just to get the oven from Italy to St. Joseph
Totally worth it from a foodie standpoint, but my writing group worries for him;
restaurants struggle in this scrappy little town.
We resolve to keep bringing Eric and his oven our money and our love,
Hometown pizza superhero,
Eric the Good,
Eric the Brave

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Saint Joseph “License Office” (a.k.a. DMV) 10:05 a.m.

We pull up to the scene of the first marathon’s crime, and I can feel some healthy anxiety in the car. I’m a guest in this group, lured by their stories from the first writing marathon and by the faint hint of danger. I turn to Terrance and say, “This is going to be ok, right?”

He smiles and says, “Well, the worst thing that will happen is that we will be arrested. Or maced.”

20140724_123254With this reassurance, we enter. We sit in the long rows of backless brown chairs and get out our notebooks. The place is mostly empty. A woman that Terrance will eventually name She-Ra calls to us in a practiced voice. “Are you here for driver’s license or motor vehicle?”

Deb says, “Neither.”

Terrance says, “We’re writers.”

20140630_110535I explain that we’re teachers who are also writers, working together this summer, and that we’re looking for inspiration.

She-Ra says, “I used to write.” She looks away, a little sad. “I used to write poems. It always took me to another place, you know?”

I tell her yes. I do know.

She-Ra slowly realizes that Deb was her science teacher back in middle school, and they start reconnecting.

About that time, another woman walks by behind the counter and notices us writers. Terrance and Deb recognize her as The Other Deb who questions them during their first marathon visit. She says, “You’re back!”

We all smile. Terrance explains about the quest for inspiration and the reason for our return to the License Office. “We like the feeling,” he says.

She-Ra stares.  “In the DMV?!”

We all laugh. The Other Deb says, “Good to see you again.”

We return to our notebooks, scraping away under the watchful but benevolent eyes of the DMV ladies, their patient, daily chant washing over our pens.

“Ninety-four? Ninety-five? Ninety-six?”

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My First Writing Marathon in Saint Joseph, MO

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Ok, so I’ve fallen away from my blog practice for… ugh… more than a year.  In that time, I’ve been on several great writing marathons, so I am going to try to catch up and use this opportunity to reflect on what I’ve been learning. With new fellow blogger-friends in the graduate class I’m teaching now, I feel reinvigorated with new blogging fire.  

My first writing marathon in my new home of Saint Joseph, Missouri, happened in April 2014.  It began with a launch in the “Story House” at one of Saint Joseph’s great public libraries, then spilled out into two cemeteries and one awesome little local deli/bar/music venue/institution.  This was the first of what I hope will be many Open Writing Marathons hosted by the Prairie Lands Writing Project.  I loved my writing group and the adventures we had together.  Here are two pieces that emerged:

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11:50 a.m. Mount Olivet Cemetery

“Writers in the Cemetery”

Writers sit
with their backs against
graves warmed in the sun,
journal pages flicking in the breeze.
Squirrels watch behind stones
while plastic flowers nod,
waving frayed ribbons
across the hills.

There should always be
writers in the cemetery.
Just in case.20140405_145159

Like battlefield priests,
writers could be on hand to
comfort the wounded,
hold hands,
call for medics,
hear confessions.

Like Old West telegraph agents,
waiting with their headphones
in the lantern light,
there should always be
writers in the cemetery.
Just in case
the dead decide to speak.

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1:20 Ben Magoon’s Delicatessen

20140405_132054Our table of writers sits below an array of dusty hot sauce bottles nearly toppled from overhead by a giant blue Marlin, a framed photo of morel mushrooms, and a Boulevard beer pub sign with a familiar Lewis and Clark silhouette that says, “To those who make maps. Not follow them.” Next to it is a neon-rimmed Gibson guitar with the Jim Bean logo across its body.

Below it a trombone props up the corner of the storefront window with a plastic golden sun resting in its bowl. Next to that is an old-fashioned music stand, a four-foot tall glass bottle filled with green liquid, and a large golden lamp in the shape of a Greek goddess. She’s lifting up the lamp shade and standing on a Schlitz sign, and she is adorned by a single strand of green beads.

20140405_132606Over my shoulder, I can hear the easy laughter and storytelling rhythms of the usuals at the bar, punctuated by the sound of pool balls thunking each other and rolling into their pockets. The bell on the door clatters, and then there is a small chorus of greetings for someone named “Tom.”
Above it all, the waitress is cheerily explaining the specials for the 40th time today: hot ham and cheese, your choice of bread, with chips and a pickle. Chicken poblano pepper is the soup of the day

20140405_143112At the three small tables we’ve pushed together for lunch, seven writer heads now bow silent amid the bottles and cups, pens moving, my keyboard clicking. Ashleigh is crossing something out and then pondering, the pen moving in her hand like a priest working a rosary. Her brows furrow. Mary is grimacing, then writing, then grimacing, then writing. I can feel her brain trying to separate out the bar conversations behind us, pulling them into poetry.

To my left, the “Regular Weekly Music Schedule” taped to an antique icebox announces that on Monday, Colby the Human Jukebox is playing from 6-9, with Double Happy Hour and a Discount for Service Industry with Server’s License. Behind me is a giant green banner proclaiming that the Ancient Order of the Hibernians has declared Magoon’s the BEST BAR ENTRY in the St. Joseph Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.

I want to sit at this award-winning bar for the rest of the afternoon and listen to the music of this cool, weird town, my new home. Last night, Mary challenged the First Thursdays crowd at Norty’s to write Odes to St. Jo for the next Open Mic. I might start with this place, humming right along in the clatter and warm dust.

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Boston Writing Marathon

This marathon took place at the Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project in Boston on Nov. 22, 2013.  Our big group of eight turned out to be perfect for wandering and writing in the two large, gorgeous spaces we visited: Central Library and Trinity Church.  It was a special marathon for me, since I got to write in a group with 1) my Marathon Guru, Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project Director Richard Louth, who invented the writing marathon, 2) my Marathon Mamma, Dakota Writing Project Director Michelle Rogge-Gannon, who took me on my first writing marathon ever back in 2006,  and  3) Tom Pankiewicz, a long-time writing marathon fan and the former Director and founding Co-Director of the Prairie Lands Writing Project, my new NWP home.  We were joined by several new writer friends who helped us find our way, both geographically and metaphorically.

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Bates Hall Reading Room, Central Library, Copley Square, 10:47 a.m.

This is a Library from Story and Legend. Amazing contrast between where we were—the Boston Convention Center—and where we are now.  The physical and mental shifts disrupts my usual presentation-day conference panic, bringing blessed refuge on a rainy day in Boston.

We’ve wandered into the Bates Hall Reading Room where the classic green lamps line up in comforting rows.  Long wooden tables stretch out like pews underneath a soaring, vaulted ceiling.  This stunning, hushed space is ruled by an unspoken covenant, pulling on the medieval authority of wood, stone, and brass.

Everyone here within my view has a laptop except for Richard and me, plus one lone woman three tables down, reading and writing notes and catching my weird marathon glance over her spectacles.

A security guard walks through, slowly, like a Zen meditation master.

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I cannot ignore the signs before me, propped up in little plastic stands between the green lamps.  “Be alert ,” they read in large, worried letters.  “Please do not leave personal items unattended, even when photocopying, requesting materials, or making a phone call.”

Be alert, indeed.

Un-alert, we nearly left my writing marathon guru behind in the awful Sheraton lobby.  We left a phone message with a rendezvous point and hoped for the best.

Nothing like a little snag to get the writing blood flowing, to make the unfolding of new space all the more magical when we emerged, all eight, together, into this Temple of Words, newly alert.

Alert and grateful.  We would not be here without each other, in good and ambling company.

We would not be here now, glancing at our watches, alert to the deadline driving our writing toward our regroup-and-share time.

Oh, my dear group of writers, thank you for your  patience and for your warm writer smiles, traded ever more silently as we moved deeper and deeper into the library’s heart.

Other groups had passed us earlier on the sidewalk, clogged briefly with writers emerging onto Boylston Street and heading to Copley Square. Before that, NWP friend Troy Hicks, had passed us in the corridor of the convention center, grinning and smiling. “Looks like a writing marathon,” he said.  I could tell that he wanted to come, too, but was clearly off to some conference obligation.

“It’s ok, brother,” I thought.  “We’ll write for you, too.”

Trinity Church, 11:15 a.m.

We’ve traded our tables for real pews now, having made our way to Trinity Church,  an important stop we nearly missed.  It had been so chilly in the damp but beautiful library courtyard that we’d been sorely tempted to take up Richard’s suggestion to sit by a warm fire and have a Guinness at the Irish pub just up the street.  But Micha reminded us that we were a mere block away from the church, a historic landmark, and so we moved on toward it in the drizzle.

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Another great reason why it’s good to be writing in a group.  Yesterday at the plenary session, the new acting president of the National Writing Project said, “We know more collectively because we learn together.”  She was talking about NWP, but it’s also true of writing marathons.  We know more collectively because we write together.  .

As we sit, more writers from other groups come into the church. They take their  places a few pews ahead of us and begin to write.  Writers at the back of the church.

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There should always be writers at the back of a church. Just in case.

Alert. Waiting. Listening. Recording.

Pens poised like antennae to receive the signal,

transmute it through ink–

the Word of the World,

transcribed unto itself.

Note: After I wrote this, a concert started in the church.  An all-female vocal ensemble called Lorelei performed, starting with a stunning piece that sounded like Gregorian Chant.  Their voices filled the space in a way that left me so awe-struck and moved to tears that I could no longer write.  It was a great gift, another testament to the magic of the writing marathon and the way it opens people to experience the world more fully and deeply so that they can share it through writing. 

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