I dropped by Mom’s place today to remind her (for the sixth time) that I’ll be leaving to go to Mexico tomorrow. I’m heading back to teach at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference for the 4th year in a row, and I wanted to be sure that Mom would be okay while I was gone. While she sat beside me in a nest of newspapers, I wrote in giant letters on her calendar, “LAURA IN MEXICO” across each of the 13 days I’ll be gone. This trip means more to Mom than some of my others. Mom used to go to San Miguel herself every winter, for a dozen years, way before I ever went there, to escape the New Jersey snow. She even thought of moving there, but never quite rallied the courage. Three years ago, I brought her with me to visit her old friends while I attended the conference. It’s hard to believe ... [Continue Reading]
I always love the sweet promise of setting out on a trip before dawn. But it wasn’t until the end of a long day of travel, when I boarded the shuttle that would take me to Susan’s house, that it really hit me that I was in Mexico. The moment I walked out of the airport door, 85 degrees slapped me like a wave. I immediately stripped off my down vest and my black wool cardigan and wished I’d had the forethought to put my flip flops within easy reach. A huge sign, Bienvenidos, arched over the roadway, welcoming me as we exited the airport. As I chatted with my driver I peered out at my surroundings. We were driving through scrub country—lots of cactuses and a fair amount of trees, grazing land for cattle, a lot of empty space, and few small villages. I tried to puzzle out the Spanish ... [Continue Reading]
Today, Susan needed to go to Dolores Hidalgo, a small town a little more than an hour from San Miguel, to replace her ceramic water dispenser and its wobbly wooden stand. I went along for the ride and got a Mexican history lesson in the bargain. The first Mexican Revolution, Susan told me in the car, the one that freed Mexico from Spanish rule, started in Dolores Hidalgo on September 16, 1810 when Father Hidalgo, a Spanish priest, stood on the steps of the church and gave the rallying cry--the grieto—a fiery Spanish version of, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” Father Hidalgo was one of four men who led the Revolution—and one of the others was Ignacio Allende, whom San Miguel is named for. September 16th is the Mexican 4th of July, and every year, ... [Continue Reading]
This morning I headed out in search of a pedicure before the conference begins. I was wearing open toed shoes and my toes look like crap. I stripped off the old polish before I left California, but now they have red ghost residue on them and look tawdry. I'm not particularly vain, but I think my feet should be more presentable. I followed Susan's perfect walking directions and headed off on the 20 minute walk downtown through the dappled, cobbled streets. I practiced my "Buenos dias," to the people I passed on the street and enjoyed the freedom of movement of setting off alone. I carried the dog-eared detailed street map I'd saved from last year's conference in my hand and easily arrived at the salon Susan had recommended when they opened at 10 AM. But no luck--they were fully ... [Continue Reading]
The San Miguel Writer's conference, in its ninth year, attracts writers from all over Mexico, the United States, Canada, and this year included participants from England, Australia and Morocco. This year, there are 300 full conference attendees, and some of the keynote speakers draw as many as 900 people. There are workshops on everything from travel writing to playwriting, from how to find an agent to how to make characters come alive, from young adult novels to book promotion, and so much more. This morning, I attended a panel on the new era of publishing, covering everything from traditional publishing to do-it-yourself and everything in between. The panelists described five types of publishing, all ... [Continue Reading]
The most fun thing about coming to a writer’s conference is not what happens in the officially scheduled sessions, but what happens in the cracks between sessions. There’s the fun of exploring San Miguel, but there’s also the conversations, connections and adventures that happen with fellow participants over meals, while getting lost, while shopping, or sometimes while drinking tequila. Last night, for instance, I was supposed to have dinner with Ellen Bass, my co-author, who’s doing a keynote speech at this conference, and her dear friend Beverly, who lives nearby and is spending the week with Ellen. I made some reservations at a nearby restaurant with a great view of the city, but when it was time to meet, Ellen told me she had to go to a special event with the other keynote ... [Continue Reading]
A small snippet from David Whyte’s keynote address about why readers need to live a courageous life:
"Writer's block has to do with the attempt to keep a conversation going long beyond its shelf life."As an antidote, David suggested the discipline of asking ourselves "beautiful questions," questions that enable us to have a conversation between our history and the ground on which we stand and the new, unknown horizon before us. These are some of the beautiful questions David suggested:
- What is my relationship to the unknown?
- What is my relationship to silence?
- How much am I in a real conversation with something other than myself? What relationship do I have to voices other than my ... [Continue Reading]
Since the San Miguel Writer’s Conference is a tri-cultural festival, the conference features evening keynotes from authors from the US, Mexico and Canada. This year’s Canadian author was Yann Martel, best known for his bestselling novel, The Life of Pi. The conference brochure described Yann’s talk as follows: “At a time when the arts are increasingly marginalized, reduced to being mere entertainment, Yann Martel will speak about how the act of creating art and the act of receiving it are fundamental to human understanding and happiness.” My favorite part of his presentation was his vivid, wry description of the guerilla book club he founded—a unique book club with a membership of two. [Continue Reading]
One of my favorite things about this year’s San Miguel Writer’s Conference is that my co-author from The Courage to Heal, Ellen Bass, is here teaching poetry and giving a keynote speech. I had the honor of introducing her and preparing my remarks took me on a long trip down memory lane. My introduction was a lot more personal than many of the others I’d heard at the conference—introductions that focused more on accomplishments—after all, I’ve known Ellen intimately for more than 30 years. I had to edit down my original version to stay within my time limit, but I thought I’d publish the longer version here. “I first met Ellen Bass when I was 23 years old, three days after I moved to Santa Cruz, California in 1979. I was doing my laundry when I saw her flyer thumbtacked to a ... [Continue Reading]
Some of you may know, from my previous writing, or from being in class with me, that I had an identical twin sister who died when I was a day old. I’ve grieved Vicki all my life and have always had a deep fascination with twins. Last year at the conference in San Miguel, I met a woman who’s almost as good as a twin—playwright, memoirist and screenwriter Amy Ferris. The interesting thing about Amy is that we have all kinds of bizarre things in common (like we both joined a cult when we were teenagers). But the funniest thing is that we look kind of alike—alike enough that people who don’t know us well constantly mistake us for one another. So all last year, when we were at the conference together, people kept coming up to her and with great sincerity, thanking her for writing ... [Continue Reading]