It’s been almost a week since I left the soft, rolling hills of northern California and returned to a fresh sprinkling of damp snow in a Norway finally graced with an acceptable number of daylight hours. I should feel relaxed, inspired, happy, and ready to tackle all the problems I found ways to solve while I was away. And I did find solutions…but I found something else, too, something I never expected. And it has broken me, just a little bit.
Now, before I get all soul-barey, let me preface by saying I’m not an outwardly emotional person. And living for eight years in a country filled with stoics has only taught me to further fortify the walls I build around myself. But in the course of seven short days, like water seeping through cracks I didn’t even know were there, the spirit of artistic peace and freedom that takes hold at Djerassi crept into me and changed me forever.
Melodramatic? Maybe. True? Definitely. I’ve read it’s normal to feel a sense of loss after a retreat, but the usual residency period is four times as long as the one from which I’ve just returned. The difference, perhaps, is in the company of the people I spent that week with—people I will never forget. These eleven women, all writers of middle grade and young adult fiction, were strangers to me at the beginning of the week—all I knew of them was in their writing, and that might even have been enough; it was strong, beautiful, intimidating, inspiring…I already admired their talent. Then I met the women themselves. Individually, they were friendly, funny, quirky…all good things, but as a group, they formed that soft, secure place so rare in a brand new critique group; amongst these women, I felt immediately confident there would be no moment of attack, no nasty revelation that the writing I feared was terrible was, indeed, terrible. Yet, there was no dishonesty, no saccharin platitudes, only honest, thoughtful critique that came from a place of genuine enthusiasm for the work and what it took to produce it. This is rare and valuable to a writer at the best of times, but when these people are writing in your own genre, and are at various points along the same journey, the immediate kinship makes them nothing short of family.