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Fun and Games at the Berrett-Koehler Author Retreat

“Playing to change the world” was the theme of this year’s author retreat.

Authors on the floor, organized to laugh

This is a play–and I take that word seriously–on the value statement of publisher Berrett-Koehler and the unique author’s co-op it inspired: “Creating a world that works for all.” This year’s retreat brought together about 65 authors at the Trinity Conference Center in West Cornwall, CT, October 11-14, 2012.

The theme catalyzed the freest, funnest, and most exhilarating retreat in memory.  Deborah Frieze and Noah Blumenthal, co-chairs of the organizing committee, understand that play is the best possible answer to over-worked and over-zealous authors who take themselves too seriously.

It can’t be about working harder. We’re already working as hard as we can. So why not try play?  The opportunity that play creates gives us the space to look ridiculous, the only platform from which we can make the impossible possible. There is no failure in play.

So play we did and the results were astounding. Everywhere I looked, people were laughing and being present in the moment. I never felt more safe to look at how my work and life were going well and where I still felt unfulfilled.  Working in a small group led by Marcia Reynolds, I looked closely at my writing practice to see where I could make some changes.

Patrice Murphy, Mark Levy, Mary Key, and I made up a small group in Marcia Reynolds' Levels of Potential Deep-Dive.

“Until we discern what is disappearing, there’s no room to discern what is waiting to emerge,” Marcia said.

That got to me to think about my writing practice and what stretches me and brings me great joy and what I basically phone-in because it’s decent income and it’s easy.  I get really jazzed by writing books that create conversations with readers, that allow me to engage on a deep level with my subjects, that enable me to learn something new.  I’m less interested in some of my magazine work. It’s honorable work and brings in good income, but it’s hard for me to get excited by it.  I saw that many other writers had a similar tension in their practices and that fear keeps us locked into doing some things even when we know we’d rather be doing something else.

So for me it comes down to accepting the loss of a sure thing against the possibility of gaining something else.

Elizabeth Bishop said it well:

The art of losing things isn’t hard to master.

So many things are filled with the intent to be lost

That their loss is no disaster.

It just feels that way.  And if I start to doubt myself, I have only to review what my fellow authors wrote about me. At the start of the retreat, the walls were filled with posters of every author with just a name and photo. By the end, all were crowded with affirmations and appreciations.

At the start of the retreat every author had a blank poster. By the end, all were filled with affrimations and appreciations. I had the good fortune of being in proximity to the fabulous Holly Blue Hawkins.


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