Saturday, September 28, 2013

Chats Retreat - The End

[Note: I'm writing this from home, but want to keep things in order)

It's hard to imagine that things could have gotten better.
They did.

After dinner we gathered in front of the small, but warm, fire. I slouched in a leather chair. Amy beside me in her chair, Carol F, backed up to the ottoman in front of me. Laura sat near Amy, Leeanne and Louise shared the couch. Carol O. sat center stage on the hearth.  As the founder and facilitator of Chat Noir Writers Circle, she could have shone like the sun, while we, her planets circled around her. Instead, she sat among us, an equal and leader at the same time.  Her brightness enhanced by the light of her friends. Hard to pull off, but not for Carol.

Our last night together began with Leeanne, Laura, Amy and both Carol's sharing their vision boards. It  was amazing to see how board reflected its maker's beauty. We noticed how Leeanne's favorite color turquoise, stood out among the pictures and words she chose. A surprise even to Carol F, was how instead of travel, her board spoke of her love of dance. Laura's board identified her desire to be more courageous and bold. I couldn't miss the quotes were soft and gentle, yet powerful, like the woman who chose them. " joy is 1 part inner pece 1 part giddy delight and 100% attainable" or "the soul is here for our own joy" (rumi). Carol O's board pictured a layering of doors. Each opening as if to call her in to a new place. I didn't have a board to share. I read some of this blog about how the experience had opened me up when I didn't even know I'd been so tightly shut down.

If this week had been a movie, the final scene would be each of the women reading their favorite piece of work. The words were awesome. Powerful. Touching. Hearing them read by the artist who wrote them incomparable. It's been a long time since I sat in a circle being read to. I think it was nursery school in Philadelphia. I can remember lying next to my mother for an afternoon nap, dozing off as she read me a story. The child in me was comforted by this firelit circle of women and stories. The writer in me wanted more, and more, and more.

Like all good things, the evening had to come to an end.
Well, almost.


"Will you go in the hot tub with us?" Laura whispered in my ear.
Still aglow from the evening's readings and warmth of the fire, I said, "sure." It would be a perfect end to a perfect week. Simmering in hot water with Amy, Laura and Carol brought out even more flavor from the week, like cooking a beef bone makes a meatier broth than opening up a can before adding it to the soup. The end product is so much better than the individual ingredients. The conversation(s) were raw but honest. One of us has a brother who could best be described as an #%AA#, one has a few mother issues, one is in a constant battle with her son. Yet each of us believes in the power of forgiveness and moving on, in finding a place of serenity that includes troublesome loved ones. Although painful family dynamics can make for a good story, staying stuck in them zaps writers of their creative edge.

Disabled Amy (I don't think she'd mind me saying that) maneuvered in and out of the roiling water better than I did. Bubbles filled my bathing suit so that I felt like one of those channel buoys ships use as a guide.  I had trouble sitting still.  It's been 20 years or more since I've been in a hot tub.  Without estrogen flowing through my body helping me maintain a constant livable temperature, I've grown into a woman that can't stand much heat (literally and metaphorically). I must say, however, my back screamed an orgasmic, "oh God" as my muscles began to relax.

The clock's hands passed midnight, then one, then two. Knowing we'd have to get up in just a few hours, we stood up on wobbly legs and made our way to our separate bedrooms. (Amy, of course, didn't stand. But she did hoist herself out of the hot tub, with way more strength than I did.) Before falling asleep, my down time consisted of re-counting sweet memories rather than sheep.


And just like that, as if Cinderella's coach had turned back into a pumpkin, the magic faded. Pollen-laden worker bees we turned our thoughts toward home. Saturated with the glories of the week's experiences, our casual laid-back personas morphed easily into those of the job-focused women we are in the "real" world. Our pace quickened as the time for departure neared. The hustle and bustle of packing, cleaning, loading cars and getting Amy down the steep ramp over-shadowed the mountain's stillness. We paused only once, for a final photo shoot. We let Cherish Rose, the youngest of the group, yet every bit as wise and witty as her mother, position us for the best light.

"Say Chats!" instructed Carol.
"Chats!" we chimed in unison. Knowing that one picture could not capture the spirit of the whole week, we smiled over and over again, as cameras clicked.
Standing on that balcony, with the mountains as a backdrop evergreen trees moving on the tiniest of currents appeared to be waving goodbye. The bird songs bid us a fond farewell.

As must happen when the final goodbyes are said, the solemnity of the moment breaks. Louise began singing, "Memories" from her favorite musical Cats.

All alone in the moonlight
I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember
The time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again.

Not to be outdone, Cherish, Laura, Carol and Amy marched down the hallway singing "Do You Hear the People Singing"from Les Miserable. A perfect end to a perfect week. 


Heading Home

I thought it might be easier to pack the car for the trip home. Let's face it, a wheelchair in the back of a Ford Focus is going to be hard to pack around no matter what. It's the stuff of a Mike Rowe commercial. Our first stop (requiring an unpacking to get the wheelchair out, and repacking to get it back in) was Mercier Orchards. On top of the chair went 5 bags of apples, a few jars of preserves and apple butter and a bottle of sparkling apple cider. 

While at the orchard store, Amy and I watched how apples are handled from the time they are picked til the time they are packed and shipped.  First they go in a dunking tank, and roll out on a conveyor belt. They are sprayed to look pretty, then the bad ones (remember the one bad apple adage) are culled by women sitting on either side of the belt. Then the best of the best are packaged for grocery stores, the others bagged for sale there at the orchard.  Although it was a mechanized belt that moved things along, I was surprised to see human beings doing the work, not robots. The work did not look stimulating. I'm glad I'm not an apple picker-outer. But I will appreciate the apples in Publix a lot more knowing they were touched by people who do a job that's been around since Johnny Appleseed. What if those women sent a blessing, like a prayer with each apple? Maybe that's what makes those September Wonders taste so good. 

Or could it be the bees? Jim Mercier explained to me that even when something says it's organic, some pesticides have to be used or there would be no pollination - no fruit. A local bee keeper brings his bees into the orchard at the right time of the year for population. He only has a 3 day window, and the temperature has to be below 60 degrees. I had no idea Mother Nature had such an exact schedule. The bees arrive at night, feeling angry and out of sorts. I wouldn't like my home being smoked, put on a truck and carted away either. They need to settle down some. They stay in the hive while it's dark.  In the morning, they circle the area 3 times to get their bearings. Then, like fraternity brothers at a keg party, they fly into the orchard dipping their heads and feet into the heady, goodness apple blossoms provide. At the end of the three days they return to their hive, where the work of making honey begins. Interesting.

Our second stop, the De Kalb Farmer's Market in Decatur, Georgia. Think a couple football fields full of every kind of food imaginable. Seriously, I'm talking anything and everything. Sustenance for the job ahead required a trip through the buffet line. Then it was down to business. Carol bought for herself and her daughter back home. Amy had cheese, bread and wine on her mind. I felt overwhelmed. I didn't know where to start but knew if I did, stopping would be a problem. I strolled behind Amy. I tried not to drool over the pastries, chocolates, fresh strawberries, chocolate croissants ........ This proved to be a good thing. After all the grocery bags were stuffed in the few open spots left, my back seat felt mighty cramped. 

From Decatur/Atlanta we only stopped once. Amy insists that people are friendlier in Georgia. I cannot disprove that theory as everyone I met all week, spoke and smiled and displayed good ol' southern hospitality. We chose to stop at McDonald's over the few gas stations we saw. Good choice. New, clean, friendly, helpful personnel. Sometimes the Mickey D's experience can be less than desirable. This was not. Sustained by caffeine, chocolate and french fries, we faced the rest of the drive home contented. 

I've got to say God bless Carol O'Dell. I'm not kidding folks, she is one amazing woman. She can write. She can cook. She could read a road map and keep you on the edge of your seat. Although big hairy psider removal requires an extra set of hands, she does not blink before sticking her hand into a toilet's plumbing apparatus. She hugs like a mama, encourages stretching your muscles (physical, spiritual, emotional) like a coach, cooks like an Iron Chef, and drives like a multi-tasking trucker on a long haul.  She is a great listener and wonderful to listen to.  I called her Wonder Woman more than once on this trip.

Sweetie and Suzi Q picked me up at Amy's house around 10pm -twelve hours and a world away from where I'd been. A balmy sea breeze replaced the mountain air.  Within minutes of walking in the back door, i had slipped back into my every-day skin. I wandered around the house looking for the changes Sweetie had made. Give that man a few hours by himself, and you can expect something to be rearranged.  Not big differences. Subtle changes that you can live with but startle you when first encountered. Like moving the bread box from the counter by the refrigerator (where it has been for as long as I can remember) to the counter by the toaster.  I'm happy to say the house had been well tended to - always a nice to come home to.

I felt a wee bit off kilter this morning. The dog barking woke me up, not women laughing. I looked for my peeps and they weren't here. I looked for a place of solitude, a hideaway for writing, it's not here. I decided not to rush right back into things. I gave myself time for the transition. Sweetie has turned off the air and opened all windows and doors. I believe the birds are louder here than in Georgia. Boy Cat sits at the door, watching. Hoping a squirrel or lizard may get close. In the same way, the outdoor sounds quiet me. Like Grandmother's chair that I'm sitting in, my old routine is not a bad thing, it's just a little worn. On the other hand, its comfort reminds me how lucky I am to have a place to call home. 

I feel like a bee who has gone from one flower to another collecting succulant bits of life. I've traveled in a group and I've soared to a place I, alone, needed to be. Now it's time to pollinate the thing I love. To write. You know the sound of a 1000 bees humming? Imagine the stories they tell.

I am the woman who felt so anxious, nervous,  scared she almost backed out of going on this retreat. Now I'm the woman who can't wait for next October so I can go again. It won't be the same, but I don't  want a do-over. Instead, I look forward to something new, like a person who has been baptized in the jacuzzi of life. I hope I won't soon forget the pleasure of opening up to the "yes." 


Jody said...

Dear M,
It is wonderful that you did and will again open up to the power of "YES!"
You sound glorious with contentment:)


MamaJoe said...

Yes! You opened up to the word yes! How many times will your soul yell "retreat",while among your familiar things where the birds sing louder, and you will listen and heed the call. I encourage you to shed the routine that binds and clothe yourself in the possible with an answer of ..."yes"!!!

Unknown said...

I just got to read your blog--today--as my bags are by the door and I'm head back to ATL and the mountains. Oh, to live life twice! Your words took me right back to our sacred time together.
YOU ARE SUCH AN AMAZING WRITER!!! Don't say one more time, dear friend, that you aren't writing! Blogging IS writing and this blog is such a blessing in the deepest sense of the word.
You captured the spirit of our adventure and it was as delectable as sticking my finger knuckle deep in a honey jar.
I love you like crazy cakes...