A Scary Leap: Writing Group with Bestselling Author Laura Davis

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Laura Davis

This Thursday I’m taking an emotional and financial risk, but it feels right & I’m excited!

(And scared.)

After winning a scholarship for the Catamaran Writing Conference, I participated in a creative nonfiction workshop in August. The twelve-hour-long class was taught by Frances Lefkowitz, author of the acclaimed memoir To Have Not. As helpful as the class was, it wasn’t enough!

I wanted more…I craved more of the teacher’s wisdom, I wanted more feedback from her and from my classmates.

I learned that listening to others’ feedback they received from our teacher and the class was valuable unto itself.

So to sum up, I wanted the ongoing guidance and the encouragement of a master teacher, and feedback from a group of likeminded writers, but I didn’t think it could happen in my hometown.

Then I got a sign from the Universe!

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The sign occurred at Coffee 9, one of my favorite places. Coffee 9 is where I’ve imbibed countless extra-chocolate, triple shot mochas and gotten to know some colorful locals like “Writing Matt”. 

A few weeks ago while stumbling, uncaffeinated, into Coffee 9 I spotted local bestselling author Laura Davis’ writing class flyer on their bulletin board.

Almost a decade ago, I bought Laura’s bestselling book Becoming the Parent You Want to Be (co-authored with Janis Keyser) back when my little girls couldn’t talk back to me. Ah, those were the days.

Little did I know I’d be speaking with this famous author years later after I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder  – and it wasn’t a meet n’ greet at one of her packed book signings  but about singing up for her writing course.

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During the two decades I’ve lived in this area, I’ve noticed Laura’s flyers posted at different coffee shops. (As you probably know by now, I love supporting local business if caffeine and chocolate are involved!) Sometimes I looked at her flyer wistfully, but deep down I never thought a writing class was for me for various reasons.

Laziness.

Bipolar depression.

I didn’t think I was “worth” the money necessary to join such an extravagant-sounding class, even though my freelance articles had been published regionally and nationally, and I had landed my first book deal.

In any case, I believed that I needed to tough it out by writing alone.

I resigned myself to continue feeling mediocre about my writing, and that constantly bugged me.

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Although I suspected I had the potential to be a better writer, I didn’t think I was worth the investment. Now that I have a deadline for my second book deal (and I don’t want it to go south like the first one did), I think I’m worth the investment.

After speaking with Laura, I liked what she said and how she said it. (As the daughter of a speech pathologist, voices are especially significant to me.) I was also impressed and moved with what Laura had to say on the YouTube clip I include here. I also listened to Laura’s free, one-hour-long writing teleseminar (you can sign up for it on her website) and I found it helpful and inspiring.

Laura Davis’ Statement #1

 

My first class is tomorrow, and I’ll let you know how it goes!!  As Laura asks all attendees to respect the confidentiality of group members & their writing, I’ll only write about my own experience…I’d never want to break that rule!

Have a great weekend & I’ll see you next Thursday.

XoXO Dyane

p.s. some tidbits

Dyane’s Class Description: Feedback Class on Writing Projects of Your Choice

(It’s not too late to join me!)

These ongoing classes, designed for students who are already deeply grounded in writing practice, gives writers a chance to make progress on a focused project of their choice. Each week, the writers in Laura’s feedback classes sign up to get the suggestions and support from the group, whose role is to respond to the writing with editing and encouragement, to hold “each other’s feet to the fire,” and to help everyone in the group reach their personal writing goals. Some group members are working on articles, others on memoirs, novels, short stories, or non-fiction books.

Ira Progroff calls writing, “this solitary work we cannot do alone.” These classes provide the support necessary to persevere in creative work.

Students wanting to move into one of these classes must have a personal consultation with Laura to discuss their writing goals. Prior writing practice experience required. Admission to these classes occurs whenever there is an opening; admissions are on a rolling basis. Contact Laura to ask about openings and to agree on a start date.  

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If you can’t join me here in Santa Cruz for Laura’s class, she has a free, weekly writing prompt you can sign up for – please visit:

http://lauradavis.net/category/prompts/

http://lauradavis.net

Follow Laura Davis on Twitter: @laurasaridavis

Other groundbreaking Laura Davis books include:

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Dyane’s  book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder  with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma of Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press next year.

The Maker Makes

The Maker Makes

As a fellow mom with bipolar disorder caring for two girls, I found this post to be brilliantly, heartachingly written and worth reblogging.1-800-273-8255….do

Missus Fissure

I have three daughters, aged 7, 4, and 10 months. As my beautiful ladies grow older and develop their own interests and personalities, I find that I’m discovering parts of myself in them. My biggest fear for them is that I will pass my poisons onto them, and not recognise that I’ve done it.

When I was a child and even a teenager, not many people subscribed to the idea of childhood depression. Many people, my mother and father included, believed that the brain wasn’t capable of mental illness until after the age of 18, and also that “teenage angst” was a choice – not a symptom of mental stress.

After discussing my youth in-depth with my psychiatrist and councillor, we mutually determined that I have been suffering from anxiety since childhood, major depressive disorder since my mid to late teens, and bipolar disorder stemming from around the same time…

View original post 426 more words

Catamaran Writers Conference Gems

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Catamaran Attendees at the Tor House, Carmel, California, home of the renowned poet Robinson Jeffers

While at the 2015 Catamaran Writers Conference in Pebble Beach, I met so many talented writers, poets, editors, publishers, agents, aliens (just kidding) that I was overwhelmed, but in a good way!

Now I understand why people love going to these conferences. You become immersed in a creative energy field, plus you don’t have to cook, wash dishes or do laundry. Or deal with fighting siblings or a snotty partner!

I’d like to share these special people and resources with you. One of them may lead you to a great book, a conference, a poetry collection, landing your own book deal…who knows? 

From my Creative Nonfiction Class with Frances Lefkowitz:

  1. Frances Lefkowitz’s highly acclaimed memoir To Have Not about growing up poor in San Francisco is one of the best memoirs I’ve read. Meeting her in person, being her student and receiving her feedback and encouragement was almost better than chocolate. (Frances, chocolate is to me what a cute pair of shoes is to you! 😉  Visit her awesome website to learn about Frances’ upcoming workshops, writing/editing services & to read her blog.
  2. Rayne Wolfe, a fellow classmates, has an incredible resume. Her book Toxic Mom Toolkit is a bestseller and it has spurred a very active Facebook community. Rayne works as a journalist and has written for none other than the New York Times. She’s a writing coach, media source and guest speaker. Visit Rayne’s Facebook page (Toxic Mom Toolkit) to keep posted of her upcoming book (I can’t wait to buy it!) and her blog: http://toxicmomtoolkit.com 
  3. Annie Dawid is another talented classmate (hey, my class was 100% packed with talent! 😉 and a prolific author, artist, and writing teacher. Annie has had several books published, and her upcoming book Paradise Undone: A Novel of Jonestown is sure to be riveting. Learn more about Annie at http://www.anniedawid.com

During one of our yummy meals I met two fascinating women who teach in my hometown. 

Helene Simkin Jara of helenesimkinjara.com is an actor, director and author. Her book Because I Had To is a Kindle bestseller. Her upcoming book consists of 96 interviews from women and men about childhood experiences with dolls; some are funny, many are terrifying, some are poignant. Some experiences occure in orphanages in Switzerland and Korea; takes place during the Holocaust.  It’s a peek into people’s lives with dolls as the catalyst. Her book sounds extraordinary. Check out her website for the details.

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Dr. Adela Najarro of http://www.adelanajarro.com immediately set me at ease. She invited me to practice my publicity pitch with her about my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. Adela pretended that she was an independent bookseller and I “met” with her to promote my book. 🙂 Like everyone at the conference, she’s multitalented – she’s a poet, published author and creative writing instructor at Cabrillo College. I wish I had her as my teacher when I went to school!

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Our lecturers made a big impression upon me. Two of my faves were:

Michael Larsen, literary agent and co-founder of the famed San Francisco Writers Conference in 2016 and the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference coming up very soon on September 12, 2015. I seized the opportunity to meet with Michael for a half an hour. We discussed my book Birth of a New Brain and he inspired me, gave me a bunch of great ideas, and listened. It didn’t hurt that he had one of the best senses of humor around. To get to know Michael visit his blog http://sfwriters.org/blog/

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Development editor/publishing consultant Heather Lazare gave an illuminating presentation. She explained how the New York editing scene worked, and much more. Heather has a comprehensive website and if you’re a fiction writer I suggest checking out her Northern California Writer’s Retreat she co-founded with literary agent Chelsea Lindman. It’s coming up in 2016 – I wish Heather and Chelsea would offer a nonfiction version, hint hint!  

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Chicago Quarterly Review

(How cool & lovely is this collie on the cover? Doesn’t she look like Lucy?)

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I was honored to meet Syed Haider, the founder of this highly respected nonprofit literary journal and author of To Be With Her. Syed was so kind to me and we had some wonderful talks at mealtimes. If you’re a writer, I encourage you to look at the website’s submission guidelines and send the Chicago Quarterly Review your work – they consider virtually all forms of writing. If published, you can be tremendously proud to be a part of this literary tradition.

Finally, I must mention the beautifully produced

Catamaran Literary Reader

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Catamaran conference attendees were given swag bags upon check-in, which was a lovely way to start the conference. We received a copy of the latest issue of the Catamaran Literary Reader.

While at the dentist last Saturday for four hours (without WiFi or a smart phone) last week, I thank God that I brought my Catamaran issue. I leisurely enjoyed every page – I had the time! I was very impressed with this notable local publication founded by visual artist/writer/creative visionary Catherine Segurson.  

As someone who has lived on the West Coast of California for forty-five years, I particularly love Catamaran’s tagline: “West Coast Themes – Writers and Artists from Everywhere”.

Thanks for reading!  Please share if you dare! 😉

with love,

Dyane

 

 

 

 

“Just The Way You Are”- Dyane Serenades Lucy the Collie

 

I can’t thank you enough for the comments regarding yesterday’s post “Just When Things Are Getting Better, Here Comes Death”. I’ll respond to them over the next couple days. 

This morning, unexpectedly alone in the house with Miss Lucy, I decided to record a tidbit to share with you. Annie at Gentle Kindness encouraged me to share anything Lucy-related; she understands how important our animal friends are. 

I felt a Billy Joel love song was fitting for my sweet furry beast. I was a Billy Joel fan at a young age, and listened to his Glass Houses album incessantly. I was thrilled that the producers of “Bosom Buddies”, one of my favorite TV shows, used Billy Joel’s “My Life” as its theme song.

My Mom loves the Billy Joel classic “Just The Way You Are” and I do too, even though it’s schmaltzy. When I was ten-years-old and learning how to play piano, I could only play the first few stanzas of “Just The Way You Are”. I played that bit over and over and over again, which annoyed the shit out of my L.A. Philharmonic violinist father, as you can imagine. 😉

Here I spare you that kind of annoyance; I only sing the first stanza, so this will be brief. I love how Lucy reacts with the longest dog tongue stretch I’ve ever seen (you’ll see) This sweet hound is so tolerant of my off-key attempt to serenade her, not to mention my nasty java breath.

I hope you like this video!

be extra-good to yourselves, and remember I love you just the way you are!

Dyane

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“Just The Way You Are” by Billy Joel

Don’t go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore
I would not leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are
Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care
I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.
I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take ‘till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you.
I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from my heart
I couldn’t love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

 

Dyane’s book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2017.

 

 

Just When Life’s Getting Better, Here Comes Death!

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Recently the incredible Marie Abanga, a friend of mine, joked that my WordPress tags section could make a blog post of its own. And she’s right! A lot is going on, which is reflected in the tags. Too much is going on. 

I hesitated to write about these recent events for fear that I’ll hurt someone’s feelings, but all the parties involved don’t read my blog. 

Just before I attended the Catamaran Writers Conference on August 12, my husband received alarming news. His close family member had been admitted to the hospital for severe jaundice/dehydration. I immediately knew the cause for this ER admission: full-blown alcoholism.

Selfish me. My first thought was, “Don’t let him die now. I want to go to this fucking conference! I worked so hard to get this scholarship.”

Add to that, I have issues with alcoholism. Mine are deep-seated, festering pustules full of rage and resentment. My father was an alcoholic. The red wine he guzzled each night turned him into someone I no longer recognized; someone who I feared for good reason. I believe my Dad was desperately trying to crush out the demons caused by his bipolar disorder and the abuse he suffered as a child.

As a result of seeing how alcohol affected my father and our family, I despised alcohol for most of my life. At 37 I received a postpartum bipolar disorder diagnosis. My mental illness was treatment-resistant and at my wit’s end I became an alcoholic, finally understanding to some extent why my father drank.

Red wine and tequila became my daily meals. “Unhappy Meals” without clowns, if you will. I knew I had a serious problem when I switched from evening to daytime drinking, as early as  10:00 a.m. On Monday through Friday I filled a large coffee tumbler with red wine and downed every drop, hating the taste but wanting the buzz of oblivion. I was passively suicidal during those years.

My former psychiatrist, the one who talked behind my back to Craig about how I was such a frustrating patient because no medication was working, the one who complained to me about his hatred of his ex-wife and his myriad problems with his four children, the one who was put on probation for overprescribing meds, wasn’t much help.

Ever since I started drinking heavily, I’ve considered myself an alcoholic. On November 18th, 2013 I gave up alcohol cold-turkey. That was the day I took my first pink-colored Parnate pill, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) in addition to lithium.

Parnate is known as the “last-resort” medication for bipolar depression; it’s old-school and has been used since the 1950’s. Parnate has been shown to be most effective when used with lithium. There are rules when taking the older MAOI’s which consist of dietary restrictions and no alcohol if you want to avoid having a stroke.

I didn’t want to stroke out, so I stopped the booze.

Parnate and lithium gave me my life back. The dietary sacrifices, the giving up the booze were 1000% worth it.

It occurs to me that in writing about alcoholism, I’ll come across as a hypocrite. Even so, I’m willing to share with you about how flawed I am – I learn from reading about other flawed souls, so I hope this might help one or two of you in some way.

My current psychiatrist Dr. D. has been such a useful sounding board. His specialty is addiction medicine. I didn’t know he had a specialty when I decided to work with him, but of all the specialties he could have, this one would prove to be extremely helpful.

Ironically I learned about Dr. D. at my neighborhood liquor store during a chat with the owner. I was there posting a flyer promoting my “Women with Mood Disorders” support group, and the owner started telling me about his wife who had OCD. He said, “I’ve found her a great shrink!”  As we spoke surrounded by vodka, the owner added emphatically, “Dr. D. helped my wife so much!” and he handed me the psychiatrist’s business card. Even though I still met with my misogynistic psychiatrist, something told me to take that card.

When I met with Dr. D yesterday for my routine appointment, I told him what was happening with my hospitalized family member. He had plenty of insights. Something that stuck in my mind was this: he explained that if both parents are alcoholic, then each child has a 70% chance of becoming alcoholic. I was clueless about that statistic, but it made complete sense. I’m relieved I no longer drink nor does my husband. Our kids have suffered enough hellish shit with my bipolar disorder; they certainly don’t need two alcoholics “raising” them.

Alcoholism, like bipolar disorder, runs in families. My mother-in-law died from it, and I witnessed her death firsthand. I was manic at the time, and I was strangely numb to the grief surrounding me. The hospice team told me how “great” I was dealing with my husband’s grief. It was all a ruse. My mania took away 99% of death’s sting; I only felt bad when I saw my usually stoic husband break down in sobs.

When I was alone in her hospital room, I told my mother-in-law that it was okay to die. Giving someone permission to die was not something I’d have been able to do when I was my usual, deeply depressed self. She passed away shortly after I spoke with her.

Today I’m not manic. I’m raw – I’m susceptible to others’ grief, especially when I sleep with the person who’s grieving. And I’m scared.

I don’t do death “well”. Does anyone?

I’m always worried that I’ll relapse if presented with an extremely tough situation. I haven’t “overcome” bipolar. I’m not a fucking warrior. Far the fuck from it. 

At least I’m a realist. I examine my personal history, I see what happened, and because of what occurred it makes sense why I fear death so much now.

Here are three more examples of my “getting an F in Death”:

When my father died, I was so devastated that I became suicidal. I asked to be hospitalized and Craig threw the girls into the car and drove me to the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). While there I begged for my first round of ECT. They gave it to me. ECT helped immensely to mitigate my acute suicidal impulses.  While I no longer wished to kill myself, I was still severely depressed. 

I missed my father’s memorial service, which is probably the biggest regret of my life apart from all the traumatic, crazy shit I pulled on my little girls and husband during my bipolar episodes.

When my grandmother died a gruesome death from lung cancer, I went into a clinical depression for which I should have been diagnosed/medicated, but no one recognized it at the time.

This happened was when I was 27, ten years before my bipolar diagnosis. When Granny died I felt frozen, hopeless, inhuman. I took time off from my job working as a certified personal trainer and flew with my family to New York. We buried her in upstate New York.

While in New York I remained frozen. I didn’t want to go explore New York City with my family. They didn’t seem nearly as fucked up as I was. I wanted to disappear

When I had my fifteen-year-old American Eskimo Shera euthanized in my arms, I plummeted into an evil darkness within a day. 

Granted, these people who died were hugely significant in my life. My beloved dog Shera was a family member too – she went to my wedding and accompanied us on our honeymoon. She loved me through so many of my depressed-filled years.

What I’m about to write is harsh. Please don’t go off on me in the comments. This particular death by alcoholism enrages me. Our family member has been drinking heavily for years. I don’t know the specifics of the nuclear family dynamics – what I mean by that is I’m ignorant whether or not anyone tried to do an intervention. I have never been close to them. None of them visited/called/contacted me during my 7 hospitalizations.

The last thing I want to do is visit this jaundiced, bloated, tubed-up, dying person in the hospital. I have hospital PTSD from my seven psych unit hospitalizations. Hospital PTSD is an honest-to-God condition, and unless you’ve suffered in this way, it’s hard, if not impossible to understand it. My therapist believes I have it, yet she implored to me during our last session that I need to work through it in this particular case. She suggested that I visit the family member to support my husband, to say goodbye and to be ethical. I’m forcing myself to do it.

If I was still drinking, I’d drink to get through such a thing. If I still took benzodiazepines, I’d have a few. Or smoke pot if that would help me – it doesn’t do a thing except make me tired and relieve nausea.  All I can do to get through this hospital visit is to try anxiety-reduction techniques, use some Rescue Remedy, and inhale essential oils such as lavender & orange, two of my favorites.

And keep the visit short.

 At the Catamaran Conference the renowned poet Ellen Bass read a poem called “Relax” that resonated with me deeply in light of what has just happened in our family.  Bass, the co-author along with Laura Davis of the bestselling The Courage to Heal, wrote something so real. I loved how she recited “Relax” to us in the campus chapel – her rather deadpan tone did her poem justice. You can hear Ellen Bass recite it at the link listed below.

I  joked with a Jewish classmate sitting next to me that the poem should be called “Jewish” instead. (We Jews worry about everything….)

At almost 2000 words, and having been all over the place, I wonder if any of you are still reading this post. It’s more like a novella, but sometimes I can’t stick to the much-more-readable length of 200-400 words. Please forgive me. Brevity is the soul of wit, but I’m not feeling so witty today.

Love to each of you,

Dyane

Visit this link to hear Ellen Bass read “Relax”:

http://www.ellenbass.com/books/like-a-beggar/relax/

Relax

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–
the one you never really liked–will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too Tired to Write…Here’s A Video Check-In!

My Catamaran Writers Conference creative nonfiction class. We were taught by Frances Lefkowitz, an extraordinary instructor/author. Her memoir To Have Not, about growing up poor in San Francisco, is amazing. I’ll be sharing some of my talented classmates’ websites with you next week.

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Dyane’s book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2016.

The Catarmaran Chronicles: Killing Chickens & More!

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Dyane (looking rather porcine but happy!) with her creative nonfiction teacher Frances Lefkowitz. Frances is author of the stunning memoir To Have Not about growing up poor in San Francisco

Here’s the cover: one of my all-time favorite book covers!

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The 2nd annual Catamaran Writers Conference brought me back twenty-four years ago to my days working at Labadie Productions. That was my first “grown-up” job. I helped plan and produce large-scale festivals in Silicon Valley such as the San Jose America Festival, the San Jose Jazz Festival, the San Pedro Square Brew Ha Ha, Villa Montalvo Concert Series, Music in the Park and many more. special events.

Those music/arts & crafts festivals drew several hundred thousand attendees over a weekend, and I often worked twenty-hour days. I was able to do that since I was young, although it was (cough, cough) unhealthy, especially when a dormant genetic code for bipolar disorder was in my brain.

I became hypomanic with the lack of sleep, although no one recognized it back then including me. Barely sleeping at those events was crazy, and it kinda made me crazy. But I got a kick out of being a staff member. I enjoyed interacting with musicians and artists, and I really loved getting lots of free food and drinks from my 75 food vendors at each festival!

My boss founded the renowned Paul Masson Mountain Winery Concert Series before starting his own company. He and his wife, co-owner of Labadie Productions, taught me so many things. They became my second family and had very high standards on how I did my job. Event production is not for the weak!

Working a festival is very similar to working a conference. As I observed and interacted with the amazing Catamaran staff I couldn’t help but wish I had been able to work at this kind of event when I was at Labadie. It’s absolutely exhausting to do event production, but so fulfilling, which is why I lasted for almost four years at Labadie.

Apart from reminiscing here, I’ll sum up my Catamaran experience by explaining more about why I loved it so much. I had no idea that a bunch of writers and poets would be so cool, fascinating, and most important: friendly. I thought I’d show up there, keep to myself and feel lonely. I didn’t think I would make a single friend. 

I was wrong on all counts, thank God. I connected with the students in my (albeit small) creative nonfiction class. I thought each writer was fantastic, and while I wasn’t going to be able to be BFF’s with them all, I knew that I’d like to keep in touch with them and promote their work, and for some of them, their books and websites.

As for my teacher Frances Lefkowitz…there are no words for how “packed with awesome” she was. Plus, I didn’t have the chance to tell you what a trouper this remarkable writer is. The night before the conference Frances was washing dishes, broke a glass and she came close to cutting the tendon in her right (writing) hand. She had to drive by herself to the ER at midnight. Yikes!

99% of people would have bailed on driving to the conference in that condition (I think she had to drive 3 or 4 hours to Pebble Beach) to teach a demanding class, but she stuck to her commitment and made the trip. Poor Frances’ hand was bandaged up and it looked like a big white lobster claw, but she was able to write.

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Frances didn’t complain about her injury – not one word. Now that’s dedication and true guts. That’s my Teacher. I cannot WAIT for her next book (about learning how to surf later in life and breaking her neck) to be published and become a bestseller – she’s one to watch! 

And now I’d like to share a few highlights from the conference…

 

Chicken Killing Poems #1 & #2

If you told me that I’d listen to not one but two lengthy, extremely detailed, disturbing poems about the mechanics involved and emotions triggered when killing a chicken, I would have said, “No way!”

Well.

On Friday night, the renowned poet Ellen Bass recited a poem “What Did I Love” about her first time killing a chicken accompanied by her wife Janet.  It was extremely well written and I could never pull something like that off, but the subject matter wasn’t what I’d choose to listen to in a chapel on a balmy August evening. Guess what? 

You can listen to it too via The New Yorker – Bass fan Phillip Levine reads it!

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On Saturday it was our big night. The evening was designated for a reception and the opportunity for most of the teachers to read their latest work. Twenty students were invited to sign up so they could read their work too. I wasn’t going to do this as I thought I’d probably pass out if I did it, but I wound up caving and taking part. (More on that later.)

On Saturday night a student named Marek from Warsaw, Poland recited his chicken killing poem in his heavy Polish accent. Marek read with such feeling; it turned out he was quite talented. Boy, it was a grim poem – even gorier than Ellen’s masterpiece. Marek had me in tears at the end. 

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Back to my decision to read- on Saturday afternoon during my meeting with agent/San Franciso Writers conference founder Michael Larsen, he advised me to do as much public speaking as possible. When we finished our session, Michael had me so pumped up that I sprinted over to the sign-up sheet. With a fleeting sense of confidence, I scrawled my name in the #18 slot. That wasn’t the greatest placement since by then everyone would be totally pooped out, but I did it anyway. Whatever, I thought, throwing caution to the wind.

I decided to read a four-minute-long piece that I wrote in class about a significant place. I chose the loony bin literally (ironically) down the road from the conference called CHOMP where I stayed five times. I titled it “PTSD Highway”.

However, by the time I was set to speak (11:15 p.m. – a late time for someone who usually goes to bed around 8p.m.) I decided to wimp out on my choice. I recited my poem “Enough” instead. I didn’t care if everyone else read for much longer periods of time. What mattered was my getting up in front of the crowd and doing it. Fortunately, I had my beloved Kindle with me so I could access “Enough” via my blog.

There were so many fabulous readings. In a deadpan voice, a nonfiction teacher named Robin Hemley read about an Air Supply reunion concert that was absolutely hysterical. Frances’ micro-memoir about breaking her neck while surfing was so brilliantly written and intense that you could hear a pin drop in the theater.

When I was called up to the stage, I stood in the wings and started to freak out. I whispered to the seasoned co-MC Kevin (our poetry slam master/owner of the Art Bar & Cafe @ The Tannery in Santa Cruz) for advice. Kevin whispered two bits of wisdom:

1) Breathe in, breathe out, and…

2) Keep my feet in the same place.

The other MC named George, also a terrific speaker, announced my name. On shaky legs I hobbled onstage in front of the podium.  I had been warned about the extremely bright spotlight which nearly blinded me. I looked out at a sea of blackness. I couldn’t see one face. It sounds kind of good, right? It wasn’t – it was really weird. My legs kept shaking but I remained glued to my spot, following Kevin’s dictum.

As an icebreaker/stalling device, I told the audience that I was nervous and explained how I asked Kevin for the last-minute public speaking advice. Some of them may have thought that was a bit funny. I certainly hoped so. Then I commanded them to give Kevin a round of applause for all his hard work, which they were happy to do as he had been a great MC/teacher throughout the weekend.  

I explained my switcheroo from a 4 minute-long piece to my forty-second poem, and I know they were glad about my decision. I could feel it in the air. Everyone was ready to call it a night!

Since I was saving everyone so much tine, I gave a brief introduction to my piece. I leaned in toward the big, black microphone, making sure I looked at the audience even though I couldn’t see anyone. They could have been a bunch of aliens for all I knew. I said,

“I made a last-minute change from a four-page-long freewrite to a very short piece I wrote for a wonderful, cutting-edge website called Stigmama, which is on hiatus. It was founded by Dr. Walker Karraa, a mentor of mine who has believed in me as a writer. She’s the author of the book Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth. Walker is also a trauma expert so she really knows what she’s talking about. Stigmama’s purpose is to break apart the stigma that our society places upon mentally ill women. It’s called Enough.”

I proceeded to recite my poem with as much emotion as possible despite feeling like a zombie. I tried to keep looking up, not down at the podium, although all I saw each time I glanced out at the audience I saw that unnerving black.

Enough

Enough of feeling obligated to you even though I don’t owe you anything

Enough of supporting you as much as I can, yet you never throw me a bone

Enough of worrying if others like me – that went out with the 70’s

Enough of comparing myself to Photoshopped fourteen-year-olds with professional makeup artists

Enough of comparing myself to others’ social media: likes, comments, pages, blogs & followers

Enough of trying endlessly to accomplish what our society deems respectable

Enough of bipolar depression kicking my ass

Enough of putting pressure on myself to be enough

Now I’m strong enough to say…

Enough

—-

As I reached the second-to-last line about strength, I emerged from the podium & busted this move!fly

It was well-received – people even clapped! 🙂

 

Elated after facing my fear of public speaking, I made a deep curtsy as if I was in front of Princess Kate or starring on Downton Abbey. It was hilarious! The audience was so kind, probably due to the heady combo. of exhaustion, the sea air, inspiring writing, gifted minds, and lots of high-end drinks imbibed at the reception.

It didn’t matter why they were nice – I think they meant it. I even had one writer named Barbara hop out of her seat to come hug me, and she thanked me for speaking about mental illness. Several other attendees thanked me later on, mentioning they had experience with bipolar in one way or another – talk about awesome.

There were more adventures, but I’m beyond tired tonight so I’ll save them for tomorrow. I’m lifting my rule to blog 1x/week just for this week. I want to capture a few more memories and share them with you.

In my next post I’d like to share some websites of some very special writers I met at Catamaran.

In the meantime take care, hope your Monday wasn’t too Mondayish, and I send you my love.

Dyane