Writing on the Mountaintop: The Sun Magazine at Wildacres Retreat
Last weekend my friend Carla and I drove up into the mountains of North Carolina for The Sun Magazine writers retreat at Wildacres Retreat in Little Switzerland. Carla and I are flatlanders from the Low Country....we live at sea level. So the climb up to the top of the mountain had me holding my breath. Once we got out of the car, I felt like kissing the earth, but restrained myself.
If you're not familiar with The Sun Magazine, you need to check it out. The Sun is an independent, ad-free monthly magazine that publishes beautiful writing, and writing on topics you won't see anywhere else. The magazine is published in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and was started by Sy Safransky in 1974. I've been reading The Sun for many years, as has Carla, and we decided that this was the perfect writing retreat for us. I'm so happy we went; first of all, we had a blast together. Secondly, the retreat was better than I ever could have imagined. I simply drank in so much writerly nourishment, met so many kind and wonderful people, and best of all, got some actual writing done.
I wish I could have taken a workshop with each of the writers at the retreat, but I could only take three workshops, I attended a workshop with Joseph Bathanti on "Writing Nakedly." Bathanti is poet laureate of North Carolina and the author of novels and short stories; I bought his book of linked stories The High Heart while I was at the retreat, A story from the collection, "Fading Away," was what caused me to take the workshop, and I'm glad I did. Bathanti's class was about using your personal "storehouse" of story, and how to write "nakedly" and yet ethically about autobiographical events.
Next I took a workshop with the brilliant essayist Krista Bremer. Her essay "Blues for Allah" had brought me to tears, and I wanted to hear what she had to say about "Getting Intimate with Readers." As a teacher, I was impressed with Bremer's abilities as a writer and as a teacher.
Finally, I attended Pat MacEnulty's workshop on "The Writer's Shadow." MacEnulty's story "Scarlett in Harlem" had left me gobsmacked, and I wanted to hear whatever she had to say about writing. MacEnulty frequently leads writer's workshops, and is the author of a memoir, three novels, a book of short stories, and a book about writing, Write for the Soul. Pat is a warm, authentic, genuine teacher and person....I would love to attend another of her workshops. I highly recommend her workshops if you ever get the opportunity; she also has a writing blog, The Art of Transformative Writing.
The TBR PileOne thing I didn't do much of while on the retreat was read. My reading life has been full of peaks and valleys that match the cycle of my teaching year. For my Classics Club list I have finished All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain, and Lolita, but I have not yet reviewed any of these classics, This weekend I finished Mitchell Zuckoff's Frozen in Time, and I've started Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni (so far I love it).
I almost hesitate to write about this, but it happened, it is important, and it would feel weird to ignore it. As some of my readers are probably aware, I'm a high school English teacher. I work in a great school. We have about 1,100 students in our building, and I have complete confidence in my administration and my colleagues. And what happened this week, in some ways, confirms my feelings of confidence, but my feeling of safety has been punctured. On Wednesday we went on lockdown. I was in the school media center with another teacher and her class; we were having some fun activities to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday (somewhat belatedly, due to testing).
Since there were half a dozen police cars, then two fire engines, then an ambulance (all visible from the wall of windows in the media center) I was pretty sure we were not having a drill. My first concern was the safety of my students, and my second concern was keeping everyone calm. After about an hour in lockdown, an administrator, a guidance counselor, and our school resource officer came into the media center and searched every student's backpack. From the grim expressions of my colleagues, I guessed that there had been an incident, or a tip of a potential incident.
As it turned out, the actions of my colleagues averted a potentially grave situation. A student had brought multiple weapons into the school (including a loaded gun). Because a teacher was there to listen to that student, he was taken into custody without a struggle,
I am sharing this without fully knowing what to think of it. This was a student I knew very well. I am still in shock over the near-catastrophe that was so narrowly escaped. And yet I think that my school could be any school. This truly could have happened anywhere.
The only thing I can say I know for sure is that teaching is above all about relationships. Relationships are the foundation of everything good that happens in a school (and perhaps in life as well).
Over the years, whenever I read or heard about a violent incident in a school, I had this feeling...a feeling that sooner or later my sense of safety would be shattered. I am just grateful that this week no one was hurt, and that everything that could go right did go right, mostly because of the phenomenal colleagues with whom I am blessed to work.