“The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words.” ~ William H. Gass
I’ve spent much of the past month with alchemists, alchemists changing the world into words. Fall always tends to be a time of book events and writing conferences, as if the turning of the leaves from emerald to gold somehow also ushers in all-things-literary.
The South Dakota Festival of Books (along with the accompanying buffalo, birthdays, and burned trucks) came to a close with a lively radio conversation with Karl Gehrke of South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He jumped right into the heart of Meadowlark in ways that others skirt around! I knew that Mom and Dad were in town that day and parked somewhere listening to it live. They called two seconds after the interview ended. Apparently, I did okay. Here is our audio conversation about Meadowlark: Great-grandmother Inspires Novel.
Alchemists—One of the greatest gifts of writing is the community of other writers that one joins. A community of people interested in life, in fine details, in humanity in all of our reality and vulnerability. It is an amazing experience to be surrounded by writers. Energy fills the air. Even more of a gift are writers who support one another, lift up the spirit and work of others. This sense of kinship, of a deep understanding that we all spend the majority of our writing lives alone at a desk, often in the pre-dawn or late-night darkness. Perhaps because of this, we become downright giddy when we’re together!
This past month has left me in awe of the passion, perseverance, and well-honed skills (because it takes all three) of writers. Three incredibly gifted writers and I gathered at the Women Writing the West conference to share our experiences in writing, “Place as Character.” Two of my co-presenters wrote exquisitely about this. I share their words and images. Susan J. Tweit lifts our time together beautifully, “Community, not competition” in her Writing, Community, and Women’s Voices. Page Lambert conveys the spirit and of our experiences in her Heart of Place, “For each of us, and with each new story, Place will be different. At its heart will be everything that has ever been born, lived in, or died in that place, everything in the past, everything in the present, all energy— every sound, smell, ray of sun, every shadow, every sorrow, every joy.”
Mom and I came together in Billings, MT for the High Plains Book Awards. I sat on the Best Woman Writer panel with other writers of the Great Plains, including Canada. We realized that community often runs North-South, rather than East-West. We found more in common with one another, than with people of our own country on either coast. Mom and I had wonderful slumber parties!
The Tony Hillerman Writers Conference brought together writers of years of experience with writers attending their first conference. Joe Badal (The Lone Wolf Agenda) said of the conference, “Anne Hillerman (Spider Woman’s Daughter) and Jean Schaumberg’s spirits of kindness infuse this entire conference.” Joe, Susan Tweit, and I spoke on “The Art of Blogging.” Joe writes of Everyday Heroes, Susan of Restoring Land and Community. As a voice, we spoke of following your passion.
Luci Tapahonso (A Radiant Curve) spoke of “Saad: Luminous Beads of Wisdom.” Luci stood at the podium, “”Saad—words, story, a system of language. A clear, luminescent string of beads. The beads represent words, song, stories. We are made of saad: stories, songs, prayers.” Magical, powerful, a world unto itself in the room. In the Diné tradition, a child’s first laugh is honored, celebrations follow, blessings made. Imagine such a world…
So, these past weeks have been a world of words. Alchemists changing the world into words. To distill all learned would be to focus on the essence of community, kindness, perseverance, and never letting go of one’s dreams.
Chilean writer Isabel Allende describes writing as, “A constant exercise in longing.”
May we never stop longing.