Category Archives: Creative Writing

Memoir Writing Workshop: Pilgrims, Immigrants, and Travelers

Memoir is a way to express where we are, where we have been and where we are going. Both women and men are welcome to participate. Everyone has an important story to tell.

Arrive Sunday March 13, 2016 and depart Saturday, March 19, 2016.

This six-day intensive writing workshop uses memoir to position the self and understand our worlds. We’ll focus on themes related to life’s journeys, starting with roots and family stories. Using inspiration drawn from food, art, nature, politics and more, we’ll tell our own tales of culture, identity, change, loss and transformation.

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As a literary nonfiction genre, memoir represents reminiscence — a story, an event or a turning point. Akin to autobiography, memoir can have more focus and is similar to narrative nonfiction. However you choose to approach it, each of us has a story to tell about the evolution of our life and how we came to this place called now. We open this door to you to bring your memoir to life – to start it, continue it or take it to its rightful conclusion.

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Memoir writing raises the issue of truth—is what we remember accurate, and is that even important? Craft and focus allow truth to emerge within the container of writing. Ruth Benedict beautifully said: Experience, contrary to common belief, is mostly imagination. Combining both experience and imagination, we’ll tell our stories.

We will also learn and explore classic and traditional memoir forms, including the letter, the list, the diary, personal essay, and the haibun (poetry with prose). Expect examples from the ancient world, Japan, Mexico, and contemporary literature.

In addition, there will be an emphasis on revision and completion, and on writing for an audience. We include an overview of markets for memoir, including short pieces, personal blogs, and independent publishers. Each participant will also meet with Miriam privately for a personal review and coaching session.

About Workshop Leader Miriam Sagan

Miriam Sagan, associate professor in creative writing at Santa Fe (NM) Community College, where she created and directs the creative writing program, is our memoir writing workshop leader. Miriam has over twenty-five award-winning books of memoir, poetry and fiction published with academic presses, independent publishers, and well-known literary presses. Honors include a New Mexico Book Award, Best Memoir of the Year from Independent Publishers Association, Pushcart Prize nominations, and a finalist from New Mexico PEN women, and Mountains and Plains Booksellers.

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She has taught workshops at the Aspen Writer’s Conference, Taos Institute of Arts, Wheaton College, Antioch College, Colorado College, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the Border Book Festival.

A versatile author, Miriam Sagan’s published books include poetry, fiction, memoir as well as writing techniques. In the past several years, she has participated in mixed-media installations that include writing, poetry and art.

Miriam’s work has appeared in over 200 magazines in the United States, Canada, England, Japan, and France, including: Agni Review, American Poetry Review, Blue Mesa Review, Boston Phoenix, Christian Science Monitor, Exquisite Corpse, Family Circle, Fish Drum, Frank, Hollis Critic, Indiana Review, Luna, Mademoiselle Magazine, Maenad, Mothering Magazine, Ms. Magazine, New Mexico Humanities Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Paragraph, Permafrost, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, Poetry Now, Poets On, The Sun, Yellow Silk, and West Branch.

She is editor of Another Desert: Jewish Poetry of New Mexico, Sherman Asher Publishing 1998, with Joan Logghe; and New Mexico Poetry Renaissance: 41 Poets, a Community on Paper, Red Crane, 1994, with Sharon Niederman. Benjamin Franklin Award.

Miriam Sagan holds degrees in writing and English from Harvard University and Boston University.

Her blog, Miriam’s Well, has a thousand daily readers. The blog has published and promoted the work of hundreds of writers and artists, with a special emphasis on Santa Fe’s West Side and Railyard neighborhoods

About Norma Schafer

Norma Schafer has produced arts and educational programs in Oaxaca, Mexico, through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC since 2006. She is a published writer and photographer. The workshops she organizes are attended by participants from throughout the U.S., Canada and from as far as Australia. During her twenty-five year career in higher education, Norma has produced national award-winning programs for Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University, and The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She holds the B.A. from California State University at Northridge and the M.S. from the University of Notre Dame.

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The Workshop Schedule

Our location is inspiring and tranquil. You are immersed in an indigenous village with 8,000 years of language, history and culture.

Sunday, March 13:  Arrive and check-in to our Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, B&B inn. Informal supper included for those who arrive by 8 p.m. (D)

Monday, March 14 to Friday, March 18: After breakfast, meet for learning session and workshop. The workshop is time to give and take feedback about works in progress. Take a lunch break and then use the afternoon for independent writing and/or to explore this ancient Zapotec village. Dinner is daily at 7:30 p.m. You may want to gather on the rooftop terrace to watch the sunset, sip a refreshment and talk with instructor and participants, or spend your time in evening writing and reflection.

Friday, March 18: End-of-Workshop Evening Celebration and Reading – an opportunity to select your best of week work to read before the group.

Saturday, March 19: After breakfast, leave for home or continue your travels independently.

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What Is Included

For participants in residence, daily 8:30 a.m. breakfast and 7:20 p.m. dinner are included in your workshop fee. Daily lunch is on your own. The workshop includes all instruction, a private coaching session with Miriam, and the gala celebration dinner. For non-resident participants, lodging and meals are not included except noted below.

Optional Activities

During the week, we will schedule optional outings that are sure to inspire your creativity: cooking class, temescal sweat lodge, Zapotec massage, weaving and natural dye demonstrations, local hikes, visits to nearby archeological sites and more. We will send more details and costs of these activities to you before the workshop starts.

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About Lodging and Accommodations

Our workshop is in the rural Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle. Yes, there is Internet connection and coffee shops that prepare good cappuccino and chai latte! The bed and breakfast inn where we stay is a family home within a large patio. Accommodations are clean and basic. We offer a few rooms with private bath. Other rooms share a guest bath across the courtyard.

Workshop Cost

Non-Resident Participant:  $695 per person, does not include lodging or meals. It includes all instruction, one private one-hour coaching session, one gala dinner.

Resident Participant: A limited number of double occupancy rooms with private bath, and single occupancy rooms with private bath are available. Please indicate your preference below.  Requests are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

[  ]  $795 per person, shared room, double occupancy with shared bath.

[  ] $995 per person, shared room, double occupancy, with private bath.

[  ]  $1,095 per person, single room with private bath.

Residency Program cost includes 6 nights lodging, 6 breakfasts, 6 dinners, all instruction, one private coaching session for one-hour.

The program does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit guarantees your reservation. The last payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be made by January 15, 2016.  We use PayPal for all deposits and final payments.  Tell us you are ready to register and we will send you an invoice for the deposit.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After January 15, 2016, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  If you cancel before January 15, 2016, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

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Required Travel and Medical Insurance

We require that you take out an international travel insurance policy that includes $500,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for proof of purchase. Thank you for understanding since unforeseen circumstances are possible and that’s what “accidents” are.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact:  norma.schafer@icloud.com

Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, produces this workshop.

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2016 Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice

This is our 6th annual Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat and we hope you can join us! Many retreat participants return each year and we limit registration to 10 women. So, if this is something you have always wanted to do, please do not hesitate. Starting at $995 per person.

Arrive by Friday March 4 and depart Saturday, March 12, 2016.  We start Saturday morning, March 5th and end Friday night, March 11, 2016. The workshop fee includes 8 nights lodging, all instruction, daily yoga, personal coaching sessions, daily breakfast and most dinners. Some choose to travel on Thursday to settle in or avoid a late night arrival or a missed connection.

You have options, for an added cost, to take a traditional Oaxaca cooking class, take part in a temescal sweat lodge, schedule a massage, or extend your stay to go to Oaxaca city or the Sunday, March 13, Tlacolula market.

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You are a woman with something to say.

  • You keep journals, notes, drafts of unpublished material.
  • You dream of writing and never have.
  • Ideas percolate, and you want to capture and develop them.
  • Perhaps you have written and/or published a while ago, let the writer’s life lapse and you want renewal and encouragement
  • You may want guidance and support to continue an unfinished piece or publish it.

The Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice is your place to learn, express yourself, and be the woman who writes — and keeps writing.

Our workshop leader and coach is published author/poet and university professor Robin Greene. With her help and feedback from the group, you’ll gain knowledge and perspective about the art and craft of writing.  There will be plenty of time to retreat for writing — what you come here for!

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You are encouraged to write in the genre that best suits you:  memoir, journal, poetry, creative nonfiction or fiction.

  • We accommodate novices and experienced writers.
  • We limit enrollment to 10 women to guarantee personal attention in a small group.

WritingWorkshop (71 of 199)Daily yoga sessions with Beth Miller enhance your writing.  We tailor the sessions to fit each person’s physical level and needs. As you flex your body, you stretch your imagination. Yoga develops core strength to find voice and creative center.

This is a perfect combination of the physical and spiritual, says past participant Lee Ann Weigold.

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What Participants Say

  • I learned I am fully capable of being the writer I dreamed of becoming.
  • The location, teaching and program structure creates a truly transcendent experience of enormous value.
  • I was challenged and that turned out to be exactly what I needed.
  • Far exceeded expectations. Got many suggestions for how to write healing stories.
  • It was wonderful!
  • The combination of writing, yoga, meditation and shared sisterhood is transformational.
  • Oaxaca feels safe, safer than my hometown in the USA.
  • I identified a writing project that engages and excites me.
  • The balance of intensive writing workshops, cultural excursions and yoga lead to a powerful experience on all levels.
  • The feedback was so thoughtful.  I honestly can’t think of anything I would change.
  • Beth’s yoga is the best I have ever experienced.  A perfect combo of the physical and spiritual.

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We are based in the Zapotec weaving village of Teotitlan del ValleOaxaca, in a woman owned and operated guesthouse. Accommodations are basic, clean and simple. The food is delicious, home-cooked and organic. Vegetarian options are available.

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Imagine a setting so beautiful that it inspires all the best within you.  Here, amid the flowering Bougainvillea and in the shade of red pomegranates, with the backdrop of 9,000 foot mountain peaks, you will enjoy a rich and rewarding experience. Our workshop is perfect for renewal and self-reflection. 

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From Instructor Robin Greene

“The writing retreat is very relaxed. This year, I am asking each participant to send me a work in progress or writing sample before the workshop. I will distribute these, one to each participant, who I will ask to make editing suggestions. We will all bring these to our first session for discussion on editing. Our goal is to develop craft and we will support each other in this learning process.

I’ll also have plenty of prompts, writing exercises, and suggestions—and, of course, as women write, we energize each other. “As the writing instructor, I like to encourage women to find their voices so that the retreat experience is personally meaningful. In addition to one scheduled conference with each person, I’m available for feedback and coaching throughout our time together.  And, because I teach creative writing, I have a repertoire of techniques and strategies to share with writers at all levels. “While I’m a university professor, this Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat remains my favorite teaching experience.”

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We cannot promise that you will win a poetry prize, as did one of our participants after writing her winning poem at the retreat, or be published in The Sun Magazine and Minerva Rising literary journals as several past participants have. We CAN promise that you will explore, develop and deepen as a writer if you are open to the experience.

What the Retreat Includes:

  • 21-hours of group workshop and feedback
  • One-hour individual coaching session
  • Focused sessions to hone your skills: grammar, reading in public, publishing, grammar, editing
  • 7 yoga sessions tailored to your skill level
  • Yoga at Yagul archeological site, includes transportation
  • Self-guided map of village
  • 8 nights lodging
  • 8 breakfasts
  • 6 dinners
  • Final Group Reading with Celebratory Fiesta Dinner

Optional Added Fee-based Activities:

  • Shiatsu or Zapotec Massage scheduled during the workshop, $30 per person
  • Zapotec cooking class in Teotitlan, arrive early, spend one additional night, includes lunch, dinner, breakfast, $125 per person  (2 person minimum)
  • Temescal women’s sweat lodge, scheduled during the workshop, $30 per person

*What is Temescal?  The pre-Hispanic temescal of Mexico was used by the Aztecs, the Zapotec, the Mixtec, and the Maya for therapeutic and purification purposes—coming-of-age rites, childbirth, the burial of a relative, and other tribal ceremonies. Temescal comes from the indigenous Nahuatl word temazcalli, meaning “bathhouse.” The temescal is a rectangular or round adobe structure with a vaulted roof. In it volcanic rocks are heated, and steam is produced by throwing herbal teas, such as rosemary and eucalyptus, on the rocks. The bather is gently whipped with ritual or medicinal plants. Curanderas, locally trained folk healers perform the ritual. They say it is important not to bathe for twenty-four hours after!

The Spanish friars fought against this custom during the viceroyalty because they considered mixed-gender bathing inappropriate. Nevertheless, the temescal survived and is still used in certain parts of Mexico, mainly for bathing, for alleviating illness, or for recovery after childbirth. However, there is an increasing interest in reviving the traditional religious aspects of the temescal as part of the country’s heritage.

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2015 Exquisite Corpse Poem

The Exquisite Corpse Poem is a collaboration.  Each writer in the group contributes a random sentence or phrase that then becomes part of a complete poem. The result is surprising and creative!  We do this each year as part of our closing ceremonies for the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat. For 2015, our mission was different however.

We adapt the Exquisite Corpse Poem based on the game developed by the Parisian Surrealist Movement.  Professor Robin Greene, our writing instructor and coach, takes liberties with the concept and edits what we have contributed into something more coherent than abstract, but always beautiful!

This year, we dedicated our Exquisite Corpse Poem to honor returning participant Becky, in celebration of her upcoming marriage in North Carolina over Memorial Day Weekend.  Congratulations, Becky.

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To Becky, Upon Her Upcoming Marriage

Becky, it’s spring at last under the beloved fields

in Teotitlan, where the earth is full and steady,

constant and quick as our rushing breath,

constant and slow as the rotating moon;

love, we wish to tell you, is light and dark,

bitter and sweet, rough and smooth. So let

the planet remain round, Becky, let your leaves

open and rustle; let your moments be amazed

and electrified, changed and unchanged—as

marriage is both perfect and imperfect, full

and empty, and light radiates in the star-

filled darkened sky. Becky, we are your sisters

now, braiding your hair with soft ribbons, asking

you to hug the space between all spaces, allow

the romance of cockroach and swallow to matter,

give yourself to the heart-merging of all white

daisies in wind. And in return, we give you

our blessings: for you are so lucky, Al is so lucky,

and so lucky are we.


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 What Women Say . . . “I better learned how to put together a writerly life.  The coaching session will help me stay on track.  I enjoyed listening to and evaluating each others’ work.  What a great group of women.” –Leslie Larson, California

“I came with the hope of being rejuvenated.  I am leaving with a lightness and grounding that is beyond comprehension.”  –Rebecca S. King, North Carolina

“The instruction was excellent and supportive. The personal coaching session offered me a chance to talk about my writing in a way I never had before.  The workshops are especially valuable because the feedback is so thoughtful.” –Susan Lesser, New York

“I discovered that my writing entertains people!  Beth’s yoga is the best I have ever experienced.  A perfect combo of the physical and spiritual.  –LeeAnn Weigold, British Columbia, Canada

“There is amazing resonance between Robin’s and Beth’s teaching — vigorous, solid, and accepting.”  –Deborah Morris, M.D., North Carolina

“It was all perfect. You gave us a beautiful writing workshop in a beautiful village setting and you also gave us a strong community-of-women bond that will far outlast this conference. Mil gracias!” — Katie Kingston, MFA, Trinidad, Colorado

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“The quality of the teachers was stellar and the combination was a perfect fit for me. Robin has a clarity that is lovely, supportive, truth-telling, knowledgeable, superbly skilled. Beth is a beautiful, beautiful teacher. Combining the yoga and sound with writing was profound.” — Nancy Coleman, Portland, Maine

“Robin’s knowledge impressed and guided me throughout the week.  She is one of the most generous people, instructors and writers I have ever met. The week gave me the insight to reinvestigate life and write about it.”  Kathryn Salisbury, North Carolina

“The week helped with my intention to write my book. There were too many valuable parts to list! We experienced an amazing time together, sweating leaves, meditation, chanting, writing, and honoring our lives. This was an awesome experience.” — Susan Florence, MFA, Ojai, California

“We learned from the other women in the group, from the culture, the language and people in the village. It was magical.” –Bridget Price, Mexico City

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Your Workshop Leaders: Robin Greene and Beth Miller

Robin Greene is the McLean Endowed Professor of English and Writing, and Director of the Writing Center at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is also co-founder and senior editor of Longleaf Press, a literary press that publishes contemporary poetry. Greene is the recipient of a NC Arts Council/NEA Fellowship, a university teaching award, and a visiting professorship in Romania. Her work is widely published in literary journals. Greene has served as a writing consultant and has taught creative writing for over two decades. Her books include Real Birth: Women Share their Stories(nonfiction), Memories of Light and Lateral Drift (collections of poetry), and Augustus: Narrative of a Slave Woman . Greene holds an M.A. in English from SUNY-Binghamton and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. See Robin’s website: www.robingreene-writer.com

Beth Miller combines yogic practice and philosophy with meditation, creativity and improvisation. She specializes in Vinyasa-Hatha yogic traditions and employs sonorous yoga practices as an approach to help women of all ages to give voice to their lives. Beth has a background in Holistic-Health Counseling, working primarily with teen girls and young women to inspire healthy lifestyle habits. In addition, Beth is a vocal artist, performer and teacher of Western classical and sacred music. She holds a B.A. in music from Westminster Choir College, is Certified Holistic Health Counselor.

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Preliminary Workshop Outline

  • Friday, March 4, travel day, arrive and check-in (dinner on your own)
  • Saturday, March 5, introductions, orientation, editing session, writing exercises, yoga (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Sunday, March 6, editing, yoga, writing (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Monday, March 7, yoga, writing, coaching, optional temescal and/or massage (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Tuesday, March 8, yoga, writing, coaching, optional temescal and/or massage (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Wednesday, March 9, yoga at Yagul archeological site, writing, coaching, optional temescal and/or massage (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Thursday, March 10, yoga, writing, option to go to Oaxaca city or Mitla archeology site (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Friday, March 11, yoga, writing, group reading and closing dinner (breakfat and dinner included)
  • Saturday, March 12, departure

Note: You may enjoy extra days in Oaxaca at the end of the trip or extend your stay in Teotitlan del Valle to go to the always exciting and wonderful Tlacolula Market.  Added nights in Teotitlan del Valle are $55 per night, which we can add on to your invoice. Added nights in Oaxaca city are $110 per night, which we can add to your invoice.

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Lodging/Accommodations and Cost.  To keep this program affordable, we have selected clean and basic accommodations at family operated guesthouse/posada. Local cooks prepare delicious meals from scratch, including organic, locally grown corn tortillas. Vegetarian options are available.

Cost: 

  • $995 per person double occupancy with shared community bathroom across the courtyard
  • $1,095 per person single occupancy with shared community bathroom across the courtyard
  • $1,295 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • $1,495 single room with private bath (sleeps one)
  • Added nights before or after in Teotitlan, $55 per night (includes breakfast and dinner)
  • Added nights in Oaxaca City before or after retreat, $110 per night (includes breakfast)

There will be a sign-up for massage and temescal appointments after you arrive. You will pay for these services directly to the providers. Estimated cost is $30 per 50-minute session.

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city.  We can arrange taxi pick-up and return from/to the Oaxaca airport at your own expense. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Reservations and Cancellations A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The last payment for the balance due (including any add-ons) shall be paid by January 10, 2014. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register.  After January 10, refunds are not possible.  You may send a substitute in your place.  If you cancel before January 10, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

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Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne Shafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

Workshop Details and Travel Tips.  Before the workshop begins, we will email you a map, instructions to get to the workshop site from the airport, and documents that includes extensive travel tips and information. To get your questions answered and to register, contact: oaxacaculture@me.com

This retreat is produced by Norma Hawthorne Shafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

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Exquisite Corpse Poem 2015, Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat

The Exquisite Corpse Poem is a collaboration.  Each writer in the group contributes a random sentence or phrase that then becomes part of a complete poem. The result is surprising and creative!  We do this each year as part of our closing ceremonies for the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat. For 2015, our mission was different however.

We adapt the Exquisite Corpse Poem based on the game developed by the Parisian Surrealist Movement.  Professor Robin Greene, our writing instructor and coach, takes liberties with the concept and edits what we have contributed into something more coherent than abstract, but always beautiful!

This year, we dedicated our Exquisite Corpse Poem to honor returning participant Becky, in celebration of her upcoming marriage in North Carolina over Memorial Day Weekend.  Congratulations, Becky.


To Becky, Upon Her Upcoming Marriage

Becky, it’s spring at last under the beloved fields

in Teotitlan, where the earth is full and steady,

constant and quick as our rushing breath,

constant and slow as the rotating moon;

love, we wish to tell you, is light and dark,

bitter and sweet, rough and smooth. So let

the planet remain round, Becky, let your leaves

open and rustle; let your moments be amazed

and electrified, changed and unchanged—as

marriage is both perfect and imperfect, full

and empty, and light radiates in the star-

filled darkened sky. Becky, we are your sisters

now, braiding your hair with soft ribbons, asking

you to hug the space between all spaces, allow

the romance of cockroach and swallow to matter,

give yourself to the heart-merging of all white

daisies in wind. And in return, we give you

our blessings: for you are so lucky, Al is so lucky,

and so lucky are we.


 

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The dates are set for 2016 Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat — March 4 – 12, 2016.  Send me an email if you are interested in attending and/or finding out more. As soon as we publish the program description, I’ll send you a notice.  Thank you! –Norma Hawthorne Shafer

In 2015, all our participants were women who returned from years before, many for two, three or more times. This was our fifth annual writing retreat and the energy, and quality of writing and poetry was amazing. There is a space for you in 2016.

Women’s Words, Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat Closes for Another Year

Our fifth annual Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing Retreat just ended.  After an intensive week of writing, listening to each other’s words and offering feedback, our participants dispersed to upstate New York, Denver, Manhattan, North Carolina, the north coast of British Columbia. We are a diverse group.  Our words resonate, are distinctive and universal.

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I have been able to do not much more than organize and actively participate, which I do each year.  This time, I wrote, rewrote and rewrote a poem that was finally ready to submit to Minerva Rising literary magazine where I am a monthly contributor. It was hard and satisfying work. I started a creative non-fiction piece that could likely become the foothold for a memoir. Then, I wrote another about the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, mother earth. I had no time to take many photos or write a blog post.

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This sense of place inspires us.  Others wrote poetry, memoir, creative non-fiction.  Some wrote fiction. Mostly they wrote about relationships between mother and daughter, with husbands and boyfriends, childhood memories, Christmas and grandchildren, the meaning of food, the slipping away of time, death, aging, youthful exuberance and misguided decisions, the strength of being a woman. This is important stuff however trivial it may seem.  We listen. We say what works and what doesn’t work, what we understand or don’t.

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Each morning began with yoga, a refreshing and cleansing way to begin a writing practice. One afternoon, we took the practice to Yagul archeological site where DNA testing of cave corn remnants confirmed that corn was first cultivated here about 8,000 years ago. It is a magical place high above the valley floor where the wind speaks.

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We ate great local Zapotec food, strolled the Sunday Tlacolula market, wrote about these experiences, savored the deliciousness of culture and community in Teotitlan del Valle, and directed this energy into our writing.

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We celebrated the upcoming wedding of Becky with flowers, flan, lots of tamales with yellow mole and chicken, and Magadelena’s handmade chocolate with almonds.  She roasts her own cacao beans!

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Hermalinda and her daughter-in-law came from San Felipe Usila to give us a private expoventa show and sale of the Chinanteco region’s fantastic textiles, woven on back strap looms and then intricately embroidered in cross-stitch.

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The end of the week culminated with a public reading followed by a fiesta dinner. Many will return again next year, March 4-12, 2016, and we hope there will be space for you. Interested in participating?  Contact us.

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Thanksgiving and Frida Kahlo, Hospitals and Recovery

It’s Thanksgiving Day 2014. I’m at Duke Regional Hospital in Durham, North Carolina recovering from knee replacement surgery in a hospital bed that reclines to any position at the touch of a finger. In the past twenty-four hours, Frida Kahlo has often entered my mind.

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Mostly because she did such a miraculous job of hiding her pain and her deformity when medicine at the time did not offer sophisticated drugs or surgical techniques. She adorned herself in jewelry and costumes to focus attention to her upper body.

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Mostly because I want to look “normal” just like she did. Friends will come to visit today with good cheer, turkey and mashed potatoes in hand. My bandaged leg is under a blanket, my lipstick is applied.

Mostly because having surgery is a solitary experience, even surrounded by flowers, accompanied by Facebook, family and friends who are with me in this virtual world. Frida did not have Facebook and WhatsApp to connect her. She had her imagination and insights.

She reached out to connect by looking in the mirror that still hangs above her recovery bed in Casa Azul, paintbrush and canvas in hand, sketchbook and pencil in hand, to express her feelings about life, death, politics and Diego.

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I have my knitting at hand, my dreams rumbling around in my mind and my plans for the new year formulating.

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When I left Mexico City last week to return to North Carolina for this surgery, I kept the image of Frida on her bed with me. Her effigy was draped in an indigo shawl reflected in the mirror above.

My knee will heal and the pain will subside. This is more than a hope. It is knowledge that my care team led by Dr. Rhett Hallows, a Duke orthopedic surgeon, is expert. Afterall, I did interview four surgeons in September!

Today, one day after the procedure, I used day-glow pink, duct-taped crutches  to walk my first three hundred and one steps down the hospital corridor. The goal was three hundred, but my friend Mary Ann said, go on, you can do one more. So, I did.

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I am reclined in my hospital bed ready to welcome visitors. I give thanks for the gift of life as it presents itself each day, each moment a different experience and not as I predicted.

It is a perfect day for giving thanks, to my family and friends, to the strangers who care for me, and to Frida’s memory, a woman who endured hardship and pain. Frida is a model for what it means to transcend, create and live large.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I am grateful you are a part of my life.

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Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Art History Study Tour, April or July 2015.