Nancy deferred her writerly life until after she had retired from working as a teacher, librarian, social change activist and hospice caregiver.
Since young adulthood, she knew that journaling and making poems were essential to her well-being, to tracking her inner life.
Being able to devote herself to these practices has opened an unimaginable richness in her later life.
Writing poetry is her spiritual practice.
When invited, she shares her work with others in readings and handmade offerings.
She is part of a women’s writing circle and delights in encouraging, and participating with, others in exploring their creativity and writing.
Why Did You Decide to Come to La Muse for a Writer’s Retreat?
I was in a workshop with Esther deWaal, who said, “If poetry is the way you pray, you had better pay attention!” I felt as though I’d been caught with my hand in the cookie jar! I knew I needed to start honoring a furtive practice, bring it into the open. So I searched “Writer’s Retreat France” and Google offered up La Muse. On a trip with my husband, I had traveled within a few kilometers of Labastide, felt very drawn to Cathar country; I spoke some French from serving as a Peace Corps volunteer; I was drawn to John and Kerry’s vision and invitation: it all “came together” for my first visit the fall of 2010.
What’s the Difference Between Writing retreats at La Muse and Writing Classes or Workshops?
Both experiences have been essential to developing my writing practice. The class or workshop teaches me new skills of the craft and lets me hear others’ work and ideas. The retreat is a time for me to go within, to find my own voice and understanding. The first time at La Muse, I engaged with Poetry as Spiritual Practice (McDowell) for three rich weeks. Time was spacious: mornings were for writing, afternoons I wandered the mountain and let my mind empty out. Evenings I visited with others on retreat, enjoying their companionship, being inspired by their creative energy. Retreat time at La Muse has been about discovery, about going deep within, and having the camraderie of other artists and writers following their own Muses.
What is one Word You Would use to Describe Your Time at La Muse?
Was There a Transformative Moment in Your Retreat time?
Interestingly, the transformative moments of all three retreats at La Muse have happened when out hiking on La Montagne Noire. The first time, I found myself “lost”, a remarkable experience which still teaches me. The second time I was able to come for a luscious three months, so had time to learn the paths, map in hand, husband at my side. Radiant moments of exploring. This past visit, on a solitary walk, the essential spirit of the place presented itself in a magical way – no mood-altering drugs involved! Certainly a poem in the making!
What Didn’t You Pack that You Wish You Had?
This most recent trip I forgot a small flashlight – found one at Carrefour which worked just fine!
How do You Know You are a Writer?
For me, it is that I have to write – it is like drinking water every day. It is my vital connection to knowing, seeing, bringing to awareness my experience, my feelings, my understanding. I believe the Word is sacred, that we create reality through our offering of words. Especially in poetry, the alchemical can happen: word, form, sound, meaning come together to transform the moment, perhaps ourselves, potentially others.
What is Creativity?
Lifeblood. A uniquely human capacity for perception, distillation, expression. Beauty. Wonder. A brain chemistry thing and a spiritual exploration. We can tap into our creativity in so many ways (art, music, writing, dancing, etc.) and once into that river, it has its own dynamic, rhythm, flow.
What is Inspiration?
The involuntary, or sought after, tapping into the waters of creativity. With writing, much good counsel suggests having a daily practice so that when the Muse, inspiration, offers itself – or knows it is welcome – we can readily give it form. Inspiration often comes to me when I am out walking. I receive the words and let them spin out, reciting and memorizing, until I return home and can write them down. I like this practice, as it returns to poetry’s origins as song, as spoken word.
What Would be Your Advice to a Younger Writer?
Honor the gift. Find your own way through the labyrinth of writing as a calling and the politics of literary culture. Know why you write and be true to what is healthy in that. Know how ego and spirit compel you. Keep learning the craft. Practice discipline. Be grateful when inspiration visits. Offer your gift to others when it might enrich their lives.