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Writing With Elizabeth

What happens when you take 11 creative women, one of which is Elizabeth Berg, my most favorite author, put them in a beautiful house together, feed them great food, fabulous wine and then teach them how to up their game on writing. Well, I'm glad you asked because this is where I was last Saturday and I can answer all your questions.

First of all, I must tell you that when I saw that Elizabeth was coming to my area, it took me about 30 seconds to fill out the form and hit the send button.  It took me another day or two to figure out if I could really do this. Lately, I'm not a good traveler by myself. Secondly, I didn't really know what I was up against or even what would happen when we got to the workshop.  After a few days though, I got pretty excited and waited for November 5th to get here.  

I would like to report that I didn't have any trouble traveling to our destination and upon arrival, I meet Elizabeth and then all the girls arrived.  So much happened, some much was learned, so many tears and cheers and good jobs.  The validation of each piece that was read, was so encouraging and all of our listening skills were honed.  Elizabeth was a gifted and charming teacher as well as just one of the girls.  We wrote our stories and during meals we told life stories.  We cried with each other openly and we laughed really loudly.  

These workshops though, are much more than the subject which brings you there.  It's about putting yourself out there, stepping out of your box, and stretching yourself far beyond what you think you are capable of doing. It's about letting new people and views into your life, strangers when arriving, friends when leaving, with promises of writing groups and meeting for tea.  Visiting again in another season.  It's about a woman and her daughter welcoming us into her most beautiful home and cooking us three meals, meals that were hardy and delicious, and then two days later e-mailing all of us the recipes.  It's about being open and honest, raw and deep without being dramatic or apologetic.  These are rare events and if you ever have an opportunity to be part of something that is really important to you, you should put yourself out there and take a chance. Creative people often feel isolated and sometimes not very validated.  That wasn't what happened on Saturday.  I think we all walked away feeling just a bit taller than when we walked in.

So to Elizabeth, not only my favorite author, but now one of my writing group friends, I say thank you. Thank you for the notebook, a signed copy of your newest book, Make Someone Happy, my sweet little pink bird that now sits on my desk to remind me to WRITE. For all the great lessons on life and the quotes that pulled it all together and which are now in my Elizabeth Berg envelope, and for so much more. You made me feel like I had a won a ticket to The Price is Right but only better.  Mostly though, thank you for teaching me to walk before writing and to amaze myself at what I find.  Who knew.  I already do that with my photography but I didn't make the connection to do that for writing also.  Thank you also for the solid four hours of writing. A struggle that was so beneficial.  If the opportunity comes up again, you will see me at another of your workshops.  Next time I'll bring the wine.

I also have to thank all the girls for your friendship and reaching out.  Each one of you is lovely and enthusiastic. Your stories were wonderful and heartfelt.  I listened intently because you really had something to say.  Keep on writing..

Most especially to Vicki and Lori...thank you for your warm welcome, the comfort of your beautiful home and all the great food, wine and box of chocolate. Life is kind of like a box of chocolates isn't it, when you go to a workshop, you never know what you'll get. Without the two of you we would not have made  lasting friendships and memories of a most important day.

So to those of you who read this blog, I'm speaking to you. Take a risk, trust yourself and your creative gifts, whatever they are.  Live life to the fullest...and never doubt yourself.  You are better than you think...

Below is the piece that I wrote and read on Saturday...we all had to share.  We were given two hours to go out by ourselves, to observe, to walk, to chat and to see what found us.  After lunch, four hours of writing. Like my photography often does, this exercise took me someplace were I never expected to be. some ways our creative interest are never far apart...even that was a lesson from the workshop.


 Memories Brought to Life



November 5th, daylight savings begins tonight, letting the early fall slip away like a dream.  More leaves on the ground now, than on the trees, leaving the limbs partially naked, with only enough cover to make the sunlight of this day vibrant as it passes through those limbs.

 A perfect day for a walk, a day that will take us into the 50’s and warm our hearts as well as our body.  A good day to be outside.  It won’t be long now before these last days of Autumn fade away into our memory bank.

I took myself, my notebook and pencil to a beautiful cemetery in Wakefield, recommended to me by a lovely lady that I had just met at my first writing workshop with Elizabeth Berg, my favorite author.  As I headed out, I had no expectations of what I would find, who I would see or speak with.  I was just going to stretch myself in this new endeavor as I parked my car and started walking.

Shortly, after entering this most stunning space I came across a tree with so many branches and tentacles, dressed in somber yellow leaves. It seemed to be protecting those graves that were under it from the elements of life as they rested in peace. Perhaps protecting them from the strong summer sun, the cold New England winter and the wind that can howl all year long.  In the Fall, it would lift them up with color and grace…in this their final resting place.  The photographer in me aimed the camera to captured this beautiful tree and bring it home as a gift of the season.  As I turned to get back in my cara black, glossy headstone caught my eye. 

Crunching through the crisp leaves, I walked over to the front of it. I read the name, and noticed that it had quite a long quote under it.  I’m a lover of quotes, so I read this new one and wanted to add it to my list, not so much to re-use, but as a referendum of how life should be lived.

If you listen you will hear the sound of an Eternal Amen

For a life well lived.

Not hear for a long time,

Here for a good Time..

I thought about that quote and thought, how beautiful those words were. How wonderful this person must have been, how wise to take life by the hand and walk with it.. So I went around to the other side to see how long this person, with a zest of life, had lived.  Surely, for many years, to have learned such a valuable lesson.

I was wrong:  This stone and resting place belonged to a young man, only 53 years old, 1961 to 2014.  I immediately felt sadness. Along with the quote, this side of the stone was etched with the wedding photo of this young, handsome man and his beautiful bride.  Along the edges were smaller etching of their life together; somehow cut short for reasons I don’t know.

I don’t need to know this young man history to know the tragic and sad story that was part of his life, because as I stood there, rooted in those Fall leaves, that felt like a soft, eternal, yellow fuzzy,, I knew the sadness that was created by letting him go at such a young age, no matter the circumstances.  I had a brother who also rests now in a sea of fall leaves who was only 50 when he left us. Then again, my youngest brother joined him last year. It is way to young to say goodbye, but somehow I think they would have liked to have had that quote on their stone also.  There are those “who get” the quote early and run with it, and there are those who will live to be 100 and never understand the beauty and gifts of this life.

It always amazes me when my days head in a different direction than I was headed when I woke up and dressed that day. When unexpected emotions and memories surge when I least expect them, when I have no idea that they are even on my mind until triggered by a prompt, like that headstone.  How did I end up there, when there were so many other stones to choose? A writing workshop that I thought would be about punctuation and paragraphs, verbs and adjectives, character and form turn into a memory bank and now, my story for the day. My thoughts this morning were on the challenge that I would meet just by attending the workshop and whether or not I could compete against skilled and advanced writers.  Now as I sit here writing this short essay, I am once again reminded that writing always takes me to a place I never expected to be. I would never have thought it would have taken me to the cemetery to visit a grave of someone that I never met, but reminded me so profoundly of my brothers. Perhaps that is why I sometimes hold back on the history of myself.  It’s always a struggle to go with the feelings, when they are uncomfortable or to scratch the project and move on to something more entertaining. 

Today I choose to step-out, to deal with the emotions that came floating to the surface, like a kite flying through this blue November sky, because what good would it be to come to the workshop if I didn’t want to do the hard work.  Something in me brought me to that cemetery and that spot.  The spot that reminds me again, that life is to be well lived because it is not guaranteed or permanent.  I hear my brother Bob’s voice in that quote…a message on how life should be lived.  Writing for me, is part of a life well lived…it’s something that I have been doing since I was a young girl…with my first diary, key and lock provided. A secret writing space only for me.  Today, I host a blog and my words are shared but somewhat protected but always true to myself…and sometimes, sadness is part of the writing journey as much as all those other uplifting and light words.  Words are feelings, of all kinds, so I’m thinking we can’t leave sadness out if it shows up on my workshop day.

In the end, when I was ready to leave that glossy black stone, with all the beauty and sadness that it held for me, with the memory of my brothers fresh in my mind, I tried to listen for the sound of that eternal Amen…it’s there, waiting for me also, but before that time comes, I’m here for a very Good Time.  I’ll be heading back to my workshop with the hopes that the other women will write some very funny and uplifting stories…to balance out the day…and when Fall turns to winter…I’ll add a few logs to the fire and write whatever comes into my mind…because really, some days, I feel all of this is totally out of my control…

Just a side note...the photo of that beautiful table and setting was where we talked, ate and shared our lessons and stories...It is used here, with permission from Vicki Longo...thanks so much sweet lady. It is a photo which I took inside her lovely home. 








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Reader Comments (7)

I loved reading this Cheryl! It took me back to Saturday at that table. You perfectly described the experience!

November 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDiane B

Well, well, WELL, you KNOW how the cheerleader in me is doing a pom pom dance right now!
LOVE how you drew me in with this heartwarming story which unexpectantly swelled up from the depths of your soul!
Some day you are going to be thanked for being a certain person's "favorite author" . . .
And thanks for identifying the table . . . I LOVED the place setting but didn't think it was yours . . . so my curiosity was really piqued!

November 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAntoinette

Thank you for sharing your experience. I am so glad the you stepped out of your comfort zone and went, such an enriching experience. Writing often hijacks us and throws our intentions out the window. Lovely story too, I am sure you will treasure it forever.

November 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Thank you for the inspirational take a risk and live to the fullest. Telling your story gives the rest of us the courage to take a leap out of our comfort zone. I am glad you enjoyed the workshop. I am now going to Amazon to check out Elizabeth Berg's books. :)

November 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle B

This is fantastic, Cheryl!!!
So happy for you.

November 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Gordon

Wonderful Cheryl. First of all how fantastic to be joining in such a great, new and satisfying pursuit. And of course secondly the photos you took were beautiful and the story was sad but teaches us to live our lives to the fullest!

November 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLiz Thomas

A wonderful piece of work, Cheryl. Seems like this turned out to be a very cathartic exercise for you. Your writing is sincere and heartfelt, filled with such great description. I've always had a hard time expressing myself through words, but you certainly have a gift for that. You are a woman of many talents, my friend...keep going!

November 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

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