The group follows the Amherst Writing & Artists’ philosophy (AWA method). Writers write and share (if they wish). Feedback is provided about what worked well in the piece, what stayed with the listener and what was strong about the work.
The AWA Method is based in the following philosophy. These affirmations rest on a definition of personhood based in equality, and a definition of writing as an art form available to all persons:
1. Everyone has a strong, unique voice.
2. Everyone is born with creative genius.
3. Writing as an art form belongs to all people, regardless of economic class or educational level.
4. The teaching of craft can be done without damage to a writer’s original voice or artistic self-esteem.
5. A writer is someone who writes.
The method provides every writer a safe environment in which to experiment, learn, and develop craft. The AWA method, is fully described in founder Pat Schneider’s book Writing Alone and With Others (Oxford University Press, 2003, also available at www.patschneider.com).
Donations to keep this worthy organization going are gladly accepted here.
Ten Things I Did on my Summer Vacation That I Had Never Done Before
1 - On a hiking and fitness vacation in Southern Utah (aka “fat camp”), I shared a motel room with two daughters and one daughter-in-law. I slept on the left side in one of two queen-sized beds and discovered my daughter-in-law sometimes sleeps on her back with her legs bent at the knee, making a tent of the covers. I didn’t ask her what she discovered about my sleeping habits.
2 - I stood on a paddle board, not for long and I didn’t love it—both rigid and wobbly, not a great feeling—but I’d said I couldn’t, would never, because of the pins in my toes from last year’s foot surgeries. So now I’ve done it and lived to write about it.
3 - As lightening cracked the sky overhead and thunder boomed, ricocheting, echoing off the surrounding mountains, I, still on the paddle board, albeit down on my knees, pushed my oar into the water and rowed for shore, where chaos reined as the lake emptied, water enthusiasts shoving boats and boards, tents and kids into their vehicles and tearing out of the parking lot. And there I was, calmly, more or less, dipping my oar.
4 - I did a bona fide burpee, then dozens of them, well, maybe a baker’s dozen, despite assuring the girls, at the start of the class, that I wouldn’t be doing any, because I couldn’t, owing to the usual qualms about bending my toes the wrong way and tweaking those pins. Watching my daughter-in-law drop to the floor then jump up as if she were spring-loaded, again and again, red-faced but determined, I was seized with the urge to try. I didn’t love the burpees either, but no harm done, no permanent harm.
5 - While hiking under the desert sun, already fierce by nine am, after a lifetime swearing, “I don’t sweat; it’s genetic,” I sweat like a leaky faucet. My salt water, mine, spotted the rocks underfoot as I clambered uphill. A trail of dark drops the size of old school jelly beans.
6 - That look on one daughter’s face. You’re strong, go Mom, she said, raising her palm. I slapped it with the warm flat of my own, accepting the compliment, no quivering maternal lip, no tearing up. None of the girls had to say, too much Mom, too much.
8 - Along a dry, craggy riverbed, I spied a desert tortoise on the side of the trail, the only sighting that week, his shell the size of a serving platter, prehistoric neck stretched long, eyes beady. I called out to the others and we clustered round, reverent, honoring the distance. Our guide spoke into the walkie-talkie. Her voice crackled with authority. Dorothy found a tortoise, she said, Dorothy did. Later, at dinner, I spread the news, I found the tortoise, I said, I did.
9 - Each morning, while the others slept, the air thick with our breath, our dreams, I slipped from the motel room before dawn, to sit by the pool and write in my notebook. Alone under the moon, one bright star to my right, clouds a misty gray on black, the air was a light blanket. Just before sunrise, the temperature dipped, a breeze ruffled the dark, a respite, a hint of cool to usher in the new day. I’d found my time, a temperate window between night and the rising sun, a thin, unexpected slice of watermelon.
10 - At journey’s end, I left one daughter at the Las Vegas airport, bound for New York, her home. Last night, I dropped the other at the Sacramento airport, headed back to school. This morning, in the hour before dawn—relinquishing my temperate window to the task—I left my son and daughter-in-law, my two grandchildren, at that same airport, bound for Puerto Rico, a last vacation before summer’s end.
Each takes a chunk of me and leaves more pieces behind. I harbor no regret, no fear or anxiety, not for them, or me, not for words I said or failed to say, things I did or failed to do. Not this time. I find myself without excuses, without reasons for not doing, and without remorse over what I’ve yet to do, yet to accomplish. I find myself a capacious purse, a lichen-hued carpetbag, ready to be filled.
Number 11 is to not forget number 10, and that there is no one season, no set time or stage, to do things you haven’t yet done, not if you want to, not if the reasons you haven’t have become arbitrary boundaries, limits, life winding down when it needn’t, questions you haven’t asked because it seems easier, safer not to.