Raising Our Voices, Writing Our Lives

Our goal in Ashlar writing retreats is to create an environment where the Story that Wants and Waits to be told will emerge, flourish and where wounded will heal.  This work builds resilience, well-being and greater creative expression.  And now ---

The Helpful Writing (and Performing Spirits) Are Here.  

Our retreats and classes began nearly 35 years ago as an experiment and challenge to disprove the common idea that nobody could be taught to write – that  you had to be, Lady Gaga-like, “born that way” – the best to be done for them was to refine and craft what natural writers did…and put up with those who were not gifted at birth.  But wait a minute; it is never too late to be gifted at birth. 

 I was and am a passionate writer myself and love the feeling, sensation and music of writing and discovered all sorts of natural processes that existed in me that one could liken to “techniques” if one were to use a word like that but OK, I’ll use it, risking that I will scare off the Helpful Writing Spirits who really dislike those kinds of words and are totally responsible for my writing.

I took two creative writing courses and felt like what was happening to my writing I had been doing for years was like tacking to a corkboard, the wings of a graceful monarch butterfly.  I fled from both– I took the second course – OK give them a chance --  in case I just got a professor who didn’t work for me.  But no, the second class was the same.  They were so heady that the Helpful Writing Spirits were dying. You can feel the energy drain out of your excitement. I am a learning junky so I know there is a great place for the intellect but it was not here, not in expressive writing.

What I have to share is what those Spirits have taught me.  The very first lesson was:  Off with the Head.  The HWS (helpful writing spirits) showed me that I needed to get the mind out of the way and get to writing through the body and that’s what we call it here, writing through the body  and you can learn it. Pretty easily. Thus, the image of off with the head.  Oh no, I thought, when it came to me,  such a violent image and yes, ideas and thoughts often arrive in images – this is how the stories get to you -- this is how the Helpful Spirits communicate. (Psychology sorts like Carl Jung say that the unconscious communicates through images, sensations, emotions, not through clear cut words spoken in a very linear way. I really “get” the truth of that but I still flee when I had three syllable Latin based words. I quit one doctoral program because the idiom was killing my Curiosity who is the Mother of the HWS. Though now I often will “hear” what the image is telling me but still it is rhythmic and poetic because as we know(thank you philosopher,  Suzanne Langor) poetry is closer to dance than to prose and prose and I add it is musical, you can sense and feel the rhythms. And still it is prose. I often feel like I am dancing as I write – in place exercise – and joyful movement retained.   Suzanne knew a thing or two probably from her Helpful Writing Spirits.  And no, I am not crazy, at least in the way you are thinking. This is just how I “get” things.  Picasso experienced the same thing and no, no, I am not saying I am Picasso but just that the Helpful Spirits communicate pretty much the same way to everyone – most people don’t know how to “listen.”   So, there you are -- and this is what I have to pass along to you – what the Helpful Writing Spirits have to teach.. They are sneaky.  Their lessons will extend into your life in many ways you will not have anticipated before you cross the threshold into their world.

And oh, I forgot to say that they the HWS want what they want, not always what you want.

Expect to be carried away by them, expect to given or find a Story that Wants and Waits to be Told, not necessarily the story your intellect may have wanted to tell and always follow them into their story.  You can make them angry if you don’t and they go away sulking for a while.  You might call that time, Writers Block.  I can’t remember a time being blocked.  This is one place I follow the rules.

The understanding of how the HWS help me, came in a dream where I was shot in the head.  After that, I “got” that my strength came by Writing Through the Body. Easy Mindless Writing.   After some time spent in their  world, I was getting to be good at accessing stories and was feeling pretty much like a Smarty Pants – then, I had another dream which took care of the Smarty Pants. A lovely young man who lived in the Underworld (a world under consciousness ), was reaching up and handing me stories from the lush, green rich world that was his.  So OK, there I was.  Something else is doing the story-telling and believe me, like it or not, it is better for me…and you.  Ever meet an artist or writer who asks “How am I today?” and there you have it. 

So I had this idea, I was Curious to know if I could teach access to lush rich world under consciousness.  I wondered IF I could teach others and get them writing as their very best writing selves, teach them how to build a relationship with the Helpful Writing Spirits.  So I started the retreats and figured out 20 minutes before the first class what I would do.  The first class was a phenomenal success and left me cross eyed with wonder – what did I just do -- and dazed.  I knew this worked for me but, yikes, it really did work for other people too.  In fact, I am still in touch with one of my first students from that long ago.  What happened is that I helped conjur playmates for myself. 

As the stories take shape and people gain confidence, you will have an opportunity/choice to participate in The Word Jazz Theater, where your stories are publicly performed.  Oh no, you say, I can’t do that.  I say, wait and see if this true.  For some people this is exactly what they want after they have the confidence.  The Helpful Writing (now Performing -- HWPS) Spirits make sure of that.  And this performance thing started because they got me performing my own work – the HWPS and my husband.  And frankly, after a few years of the Writing Retreats where I often sit while writers write, I was getting bored.  It happens, boredom I mean, if you let the WHS into your life.

The week before one of my 3 day writing retreats, I rented a black box theater for a The Story that Wants to be Told and at the end of the weekend we did the first improvisational theater, The Word Jazz Theater.  Now, I did not just send people out there with their bits of paper to read from --   we had spent a few hours learning how to be actors – first the embodied voice and then two ways to hear when it is your turn to read (people needed to re-learn how to be impolite and jump on each other’s lines – not something women do comfortably and the HWPS love this both the jumping on lines and the idea of relearning rudeness) and the difference between resonance and dissonance and then the necessity for both.  The HWPS helped me with this also.


So, come to a retreat and learn to make contact and befriend your very own Helpful Writing/Performing Spirits – what they will teach you will change your life.  Remember you are their job, their only job. So you don’t have to share with anyone.  We have our own.  (P.S.  I take no responsibility for the above, it was their doing.)

We have been told that this is one of the most powerful performances of the personal story that has been witnessed. And that is our point: witnessing, offering, play and fun -- are quite possible even when the story is tough.

 Oh and hey, I am reminded to say, remember this is one of the few places where you are alone  with yourself  and still together in a loving supportive community.  Also remember, you will never be coaxed to read to the community or be part of the performance.  Everyone chooses her level of participation. 

As a participant you will learn: 

  • To access the creative source from which Story emerges. (This access provides a richness in experience and develops skills beyond telling the story that carry into everyday life.) 
  • Writing through the Body.
  • The role of Curiosity and Surprise
  • To process stories of severe stress to resolution
  • Deep Listening and Presence in group members
  • Embodying the personal story -- how to help a reader free her voice when she is not inside of the story. 
  • Work through conflict -- in yourself or with others
  • Learn to lead, to become a Narrative Arts Facilitator
  • Create a structure through which the story writing/telling process continues beyond the workshop.
  • Word Jazz theater -- build a performance piece that integrates the stories gathered at the workshop, yours alone or as part of a group.