When Writers Come Together

This past weekend, a dream I have had for, oh, as long as I can remember came true.

Many of you know that Elizabeth Berg is probably my all-time favorite fiction writer.  There is something about the way she uses language that really gets right up in my heart and stays there.  I find that the characters she creates stay in my head like new friends--I'd like to invite them over for breakfast, or to watch a movie in our jammies. She can craft a sentence that will bring me to tears.

On Thursday, I travelled to Boston to take a writing workshop with her.
See?  I was really there!  (Although, right up until the last day, I didn't quite believe it.)

I KNOW!  I know!  I... I know. Like that feeling when you think you've won the lottery and it turns out that you HAVE.


(I guess I should maybe make that a dream, too, as long as my dreams are coming true.)

Of course, in classic introvert fashion, I spent the entire day before thinking of reasons why I really shouldn't go, why I didn't want to go, why going was a BAD IDEA.

And then I went.

And it was truly a life-altering, transformational, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

First of all, since I know you're curious, the answer is YES.  YES, Elizabeth Berg is every bit as winsome and irreverent and gentle and lovely and astute as she appears to be.  One of my secret fears was that she'd be something other than the incredible person she is in my mind, but that fear was laid to rest immediately. She's hilarious and warm and open and charming.  And she tells the truth with such grace and tenderness.  In the final piece I wrote, I took a risk and wrote a foul-mouthed character into my story.  As you know if you've read my work for a while, this is not natural for me,  I've only just recently stopped flinching when people say the "f" word in front of me in anger.  While I occasionally use profanity for the shock value, I almost NEVER use it in my writing because I just...I can't pull it off.  Elizabeth totally picked up on that. Very gently, she told me it sounded forced.  At first, I thought about pouting.  And then I realized that she was entirely right and also? On my side.  That's a hard tightrope to walk, you know?  Offering criticism in such a way as to speak the truth, but with such grace that the writer feels supported, listened to and uplifted.

I quite, quite love her.

I even still kind of want to BE her, but failing that, I can at least KNIT for her. I gave her some hand-knit socks.  I finished a pair on my way to Boston that I thought were for my yoga instructor.  (Yvonne, Elizabeth Berg is wearing your socks!) But I think they were meant to be for Elizabeth because it was her birthday AND when she saw them she said, "My favorite color!"  (I was still too shy to ask her for picture of her wearing them. Next conference.)

So, of course, while the conference with Elizabeth was amazing, something else totally unexpected and magical happened: The other conference participants turned out to be long lost sisters of mine. I'm really shy and I was prepared to dislike the other workshop participants.  (When you're shy, you assume everyone is going to hate you, so you hate them FIRST, by golly, because then they can't hurt you.) (Because, why yes, this IS eighth grade.) But, oh, y'all, they were amazing.  AMAZING.  And SO talented.
Talented AND funny!

We were a really disparate group on the surface.  Ranging in age from 44-67, some married, some divorced, some with small kids, some with small grandkids, some without kids at all. We bonded immediately --honestly, I think there is no greater act of intimacy than to share one's art in progress.  It was like meeting seven strangers and immediately standing up and taking off all of my clothes.  And then having those seven people examine my scars and wrinkles and pudge and pronounce me perfect.

That is powerful stuff.

So, we bonded immediately and then Elizabeth sent us on assignments that stretched us and grew us and challenged us and brought every one of us to tears at least once. I was utterly transformed by the end of the those four days.  On the first day, I said, "You know, I'm not really a fiction writer." and on day four, I said, "So, this is what I want to talk about in my new novel..."

We met as strangers, we left as family. And by gosh, we left as WRITERS.

To learn more about Writing Vacations, click here.


Unknown said…
Lovely! So happy you got to experience that!
Sarah said…
I *totally* get the "this is eighth grade" stuff. Congrats for overcoming that!
And you totally deserved the weekend.
And she totally deserved the socks. Your yoga teacher will LOVE the next pair.
smalltownme said…
Oh what a wonderful experience! And as a shy person, I understand...and I'm just blown away by your bravery.
hollygee said…
I bet that the majority of you WRITERS there were shy and introverted. I think most creative people are. Well, maybe not Molly Ivins.
Ann in NJ said…
It always makes me smile when you write things like this - not just because you had a wonderful experience, but knowing that I am not the only one who walks into a situation like that vaguely terrified and feeling, yes, like 8th grade all over again.
Judy said…
Oh God Bless you Barb Cooper! I'm sitting here in tears ... so very blessed you are dear lady! I'm getting all tongue-tied and Yoda over here! I'm so happy for you <3
Amy said…
Pretty incredible that it was all you had hoped it would be. You seem to be having some great adventures for someone so shy. You know how happy I am for you.
Susan said…
Tears here. I, too love Elizabeth Berg and to have the opportunity to spend time with her and others wanting to grow creatively - WOW.
Carol said…
you said it all SOOO beautifully.