I spent March 6 to 12 in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains in California at a writing workshop hosted by the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. The experience reminds me of nothing so much as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. What struck me most about that movie was how much I identified with its portrait of Bilbo. He’s comfortable, complacent, a risk-averse homebody – but deep down he’s longing for adventure, for something new and different and exciting. It’s something he doesn’t quite have the courage to go looking for, but all it takes is the nudge out the door to send him running after it.
I’ve had an adventure or two in my time, but when I saw that movie in 2012, they felt like an awfully long time ago. I remember saying to my husband, as we grabbed a hurried bite at a diner after the movie before heading home to the kids, that I didn’t know what adventure would even look like for me now. And if somehow it presented itself on my doorstep, how could I possibly answer its call?
Last summer I watched enviously as people tweeted about Nova Ren Suma’s Books with Bite workshop with the Highlights foundation. If this ever comes up again, I vowed, I am SO THERE. So when Nova’s newsletter mentioned an upcoming YA workshop at Djerassi – and that she’d be teaching less after this, given her new position at VCFA – I applied. I hemmed and hawed and read tarot cards and made anxious social media posts and spent about 24 hours panicking afterwards, but still, in the end, I applied.
And I was accepted.
My friend and critique partner Amazon responded to one of my nervous night-before-the-workshop posts with her usual keen insight: “Amazing and a little scary: That's the definition of adventure, right? You're going on an adventure!”
I was staying in the bewilderingly gorgeous choreographer’s studio, whose vast expanse of hardwood floor ended at a wall of windows facing into the woods; a staircase led up to a loft bedroom.
I was feeling a little shy and nervous about the hanging out with people part, but I could not have asked for a warmer, kinder, or more open crew to spend a week on the mountain with. I’ve mentioned here before how I’d long been missing the sense of connection and community with other writers, and this was the brightest that wonderful spark has been for me since attending workshops as a teenager. We were all writing YA, despite our vastly different projects; we were all fans of Nova’s, so we were all interested in fiction with a magical twist; and we were all thrilled and a little terrified to find ourselves there among our people.
Most days I was the first one up, thanks to the jump between time zones. I was showered and ensconced in one of the comfy couches overlooking the sunrise with a cup of tea and a ridiculously healthy breakfast by 6:30 or 7 every morning, and our two-hour workshop wasn’t even until 10.
And then there was the workshop. Imagine spending an hour talking intensely about your work with ten brilliant people whose work you admire and whose opinion you trust, all of whom love your vision and want to see you succeed. You could take a deep breath and share the work of your heart and – as a classmate put it – trust the group to catch you. The same dynamic was at work in the evening readings. Reading aloud is hard for me when it involves an audience other than my kids, but I knew I could do it here. There was laughing and crying and cheering. And there was even a dance class, courtesy of the boundless energy and generosity of one of our classmates. It was magical.
I’ve been on my adventure, and now I’m heading back again. And everything has changed.