I have just returned from the “Stories from the Heart IX” writing conference in Austin, where I had the honor of spending time in the company of the most open, honest, loving and wise women I’ve had the occasion to meet in a very long time. I don’t even know quite how to put these feelings I have into words because they are so visceral. Let me see if I can share a few glimpses of my time there, just to give you a sense of what I mean.
I arrived at a dinner for the Story Circle Network board the night before the first day of the conference and there I was seeing these women I only “talk” to mainly on the Internet. I felt shy for just an instant, then spotted my beloved Pat Bean, who has been in my e-circle writing group since I joined SCN ten years ago. (The e-circles are small groups where we share our writing online.) Pat was wearing her usual tie-dye tee shirt and the minute she saw me, she stood up and held her arms wide open. I stepped right into them and she pulled me close. I can’t even describe how loved I felt with just that hug. Before the night was through, we were all laughing around that table, sharing stories about our lives. When we stood up to leave, we hugged and loved on each other as if there had never been any distance between us at all. We were just good friends, seeing one another just like we did every day.
The next day, I presented my pre-conference workshop on Flash Fiction/Flash Memoir and found myself surrounded with women who were all there for the exact same reason I was there: to figure out how to be a better writer. In my presentation, I read them one of my student’s nationally award-winning essays, and as I read, I watched as every woman in that room was moved, some to tears. I was so pleased to see that my student’s writing had touched them; I was just sorry she wasn’t there to witness that reaction for herself. (I made a mental note to consider asking the board if these award winners could be invited to the SCN conference and read their essays themselves.)
After my presentation, I sat in on Susan Wittig Albert’s workshop, where she talked about paths to publishing. She is the founder of Story Circle Network and I noted that every person in the room was leaning forward, listening with rapt attention. Susan is open, honest, unassuming and generous despite the fact that she is an award-winning author or co-author of over 100 books of fiction and nonfiction (and yes, I just counted them on her website). She recounted her process of writing over the years – she even wrote as Carolyn Keene for some of my favorite Nancy Drew books – and she also shared her surprises, setbacks and lessons. I think the whole group would have gladly sat there all night listening and learning from her; however, after almost 2 hours, Susan wrapped it up. Let me just describe Susan in the two words that work for me: role model. If ever there was one for me, Susan is it.
Linda Joy Myers, our opening keynote speaker spoke about the power of women breaking their silence and telling their personal truths. She was humble, self-disclosing, real. Bird Mejia, our Sunday lunch keynote speaker, emphasized the importance of embracing who we are and sharing that pride with women of all ages. She brushed out her beautiful curled hair to show us the power of the “wild” woman when her locks extended full and wide into a glorious fan that framed her entire head. Jeanne Guy, the incoming SCN president, made us all laugh with her ever-present sense of humor and perfectly timed quips. The Sarton winners and finalists awed us with their beautiful words when they did a noon-time reading of excerpts of their books in historical, contemporary, and young adult fiction; memoir as well as biography.
The workshop presenters offered insight and advice on a whole host of topics, ranging from writing about your mother without guilt to using the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment for character development to creating space for writing to publishing through CreateSpace to developing and facilitating a writing-from-life workshop and more and more and more. On Saturday night, there was an open mic where conference attendees could read their work. In between, there were countless conversations about writing, life and each other. The entire weekend could be summed up with these words: love, kindness, generosity, openness, connection, sisterhood, learning, and hugs.
One of the toughest aspects of this conference was the absence of Devorah Winegarten, the exuberant, life-affirming, multi-award winning author and publisher, who recently learned she has life-threatening cancer. However, the Debster proved herself to be her usual exemplary self by sending us multiple messages via Facebook and continuing her good life works by using her hospital bed as a bully pulpit for causes she believes are critical, including a fundraising effort for the Ruthe Winegarten Memorial Fund for Texas Women’s History. Ruthe is Devorah’s mother who was also an author and supported women in history through her writing.
One of my biggest pleasures was seeing my other e-circle 6 writing sisters: Nancilynn Saylor, Carol Ziel and Ardine Martinelli. I also missed a few of my circle sisters who didn’t make it this year. However, Nancilynn – like Pat – demonstrated the spirit of this organization when she saw me, opened her arms wide and pulled me close. With no hyperbole, I can say that I felt right then as if I was wrapped in the loving arms of the Mother of us all.
Dear women friends, please join Story Circle Network! This is an organization that can use YOU and your unique gifts, whatever they are. I believe you will find this group exemplifies women helping women at its best. You will not be sorry. You might even find – as I have – your life changed forever through this experience.