For years, I’ve been hearing gushing, amazing, inspiring testimonials about Image journal’s annual Glen Workshop. My friend Denise has participated as a part of the Seattle Pacific University low-residency MFA program, and has continued to do so since graduating in 2009. I have lost count of the number of times she has encouraged me to come and participate. To be honest, I didn’t think I ever would.
But here I am!
Glen East takes place in June at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and Glen West takes place in August at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Glen East would be the more geographically accessible destination for this Pittsburgh native. But Glen West is where I find myself this week, experiencing the high desert beauty of New Mexico (a place I’ve never visited before now), in a community of open-hearted artists. Poets and painters, novelists and musicians, photographers and essayists, all gathered to explore the intersection of faith and art and their own giftedness in those areas of creative expression.
I am one of 14 participants in the “spiritual writing” workshop, which many of us agree would be more aptly titled “creative nonfiction,” since all of the writers here are doing “spiritual writing.” We have been shepherded through this experience by Susan E. Isaacs, actress, comedienne, and author of one of my favorite spiritual memoirs, entitled Angry Conversations with God. She is performing her one-woman show of the same name tonight after dinner.
It has been a humbling, encouraging, scary, rewarding journey. We all read each other’s work before showing up to our first class Monday morning, and given the personal nature of our essays, it’s safe to say we knew more about one another than one would expect to know on a first meeting.
With her screen-writing background and experience as a memoirist, Susan has guided us through to helpful exercises, including mapping our stories (and our lives) with Post-Its.
Throughout the week, we have each had an opportunity to read our work aloud in class and to receive feedback. Given the vulnerable exercise of not only laying our writing out for critique, but the stories (often poignant and sometimes painful) of our very lives, it’s been a blessing to feel cared for and encouraged by this diverse group of people, even while receiving constructive critique and suggestions to make the work better.
Today, the final readers read, and we celebrated afterwards by dancing around the room to “Love Train.”
Tomorrow morning is our final session together, and tomorrow evening, Over the Rhine performs a closing night concert. I’m not sure what could be more amazing than that.
Sunday, my friend Jen and I head south to Albuquerque to prepare for our journey home to Pittsburgh. I will be processing for quite a while the gift of this week. Not only has my own writing (and desire to write) been rekindled, but I have been given the gift of the stories of these people, most of whom I did not know a week ago at this time. It is a valuable gift indeed.