Though I am eager to start my third day in Chautauqua, I wonder how Monday can match Sunday’s experience. Not only is Send in the Clowns stuck in my head (and I can’t stop singing the song), for last night’s supper, we were treated to the best barbecued chicken I have ever eaten. And then, there were those chocolate frosted brownies next to an invisible sign with my name on it that said, “These special writer’s brownies are meant to be eaten in multiple portions. Do not eat just one!” I think everyone had an invisible sign with his or her name, because I was not the only one going for seconds—and thirds, and then, halfway to the bus, I turned around, yelling to Nanci. “I can’t help it. Save me a seat. Do you want another brownie?”
Prior to being served dinner, we were encouraged to walk the lovely grounds at Westfield and to pick our own blueberries to eat—one of my favorite fruits. I was so smitten with photographing the blueberries that I realized–too late–that I had nothing to collect the blueberries in. I did the next best thing: I ate one after another, until a gentleman offered me his full cup of blueberries. (I savored them for days.) Thank you, kind sir!
My belly full of blueberries, I listened to the birds sing, studied insects on leaves, and then discovered The Land of Dinosaurs Versus Trucks, which is where I was when the call of “Chicken being served,” resounded through the fields.
After everyone had eaten, we settled in our seats, where we quickly fell under Joy Cowley’s spell. If I had attended the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop in 2010, I would have missed Joy. And I can’t imagine missing the opportunity to connect with her. Joy returned this year after a three-year absence, and she is an absolute joy!
Joy speaks from the heart and from years of experience, and with such love for others, you feel as if you are a child, alone in a room with her, listening to stories. I would have sat there all night if I could. She stressed that we must awaken our senses, connect with our inner child, and that we need to write our stories. This is essential as breathing. To write for children is a spiritual experience.
Joy’s speech lingers in my mind as I walk to the Hall of Christ for Monday’s first general session. On the way, I notice an animal’s tail switching from beneath a plant. I stop and bend down at the curb to look closer. A cat hides in the garden of her home. I say “Good Morning” to the owner and ask her permission to take a picture. “Please do, she loves to pose.” As I reach out and call the cat over to me, the owner tells me her name. This is a wonderful way to start a new day: meeting a cat named Alice.
I remain in Alice’s presence a little too long (Nanci secretly snaps a photo of the two of us), and then I have to run up the hill and find the red brick road (yellow in my mind) that will lead me to the Sanctuary. I arrive five minutes early, in time to grab a cup of coffee and a cold bottle of water. The day is about to get even better: the one and only Peter P. Jacobi is the morning speaker.
Three years ago, I attended a SCBWI conference in Austin, Texas, which is where I first heard Mr. Jacobi speak. He has a presence that commands your attention with brilliance, humor, and an utter devotion to the craft of writing. His voice is rich with musicality and he ends many sentences in an upward swing, as if singing to you. I grab a front-row seat and prepare to go to a place of inspiration, unique to Peter P. Jacobi. Very quickly, he confirms the feeling I had when I first arrived here, that like Dorothy, I escaped the tornado and landed in the Land of Oz. His speech revolves around The Wizard of Oz. Pieces I had not yet understood begin to fit together on the third day of my journey at Chautauqua. Not only am I like Dorothy, but I need to be the scarecrow, the lion, and the tin man. My journey this week will be to find the way back home, to develop the courage to finish writing the story that aches in my belly, to expand the knowledge in my brain by taking numerous writing workshops, and to open my heart as wide as it can stretch, so that the words flow free upon the page. As Mr. Jacobi ends his speech, I smile, knowing I have finally met my wizard.
Because my first manuscript critique is tomorrow, my free time is spent walking the streets, smelling the flowers, checking on the purple martin babies, absorbing the beauty of Chautauqua, and thus following the strict advice given to me by Clay Winters on my first night here. Over dinner, Clay said, “I do not want to see you bent over your laptop or notes, sitting alone on the grass, working on your manuscript. Nor do I want to hear that you are locked in your room alone, revising and revising. That is not why you are here. Do not make this mistake, as others have. Soak in Chautauqua. Talk with other writers and mentors. Talk about writing. Talk about anything but writing. Take pictures. Sit by the lake. Listen to the birds. Unless you are given a short assignment from your mentor, don’t revise at all. Soak in the joy of this special place.”
Thank you, Clay, for those words of wisdom. Thank you!
My afternoon workshops include Writing Dialogue with Mitali Perkins, 200 Words or Less with Joy Cowley, and Characterization with Helen Hemphill. I learn something new in each session to apply to my writing.
As a group, we spend the evening having dinner at the Golf Club across the street, and afterwards listen to Mitali Perkins. Mitali is as lovely as can be, thoughtful, funny, and very inspiring. Add her to your list of Writers Whose Speeches You Must Hear.
After dinner, I walk the streets of Chautauqua with Joy, alone. We discuss our love of pigeons and children and writing. After we say good night, I head for my hotel, and along the way, I think about the young adult novel I am writing. Tackling this particular story will take great courage and an abundance of heart; a thinking brain, but not one that is judgmental. Lastly, I need to allow my spirit to dream, while I search for the rainbow. Only then will I find my way home.
I am willing to be brave.
I am not afraid to fail.
I am ready to take on the dragon.