It’s called the Rainforest Writers Village, but everyone just calls it Rainforest. I’ve heard about it through friends, but only in the last two years has it changed from something on my radar to something I wanted to do, then finally something I set out to do. When I bought my ticket last year, I still wasn’t sure if I would be able to go. Being able to plan and do things hasn’t been within my grasp until the last few years (and it’s something I naturally mistrust for the stranger that it is to me).
That said, after getting back I understand why Patrick Swenson, the all around spectacular human being that runs this crazy/quiet show, has added a third week due to the overwhelming popularity. Seems fitting to be writing and posting this on the last day of the (inaugural) third session.
Going to Rainforest was like taking a hi-res photograph of my life as it is, and running it through every filter the program has and then ‘shopping the hell out of it. Keep the colors, the trees, the water, and the sky. Remove the buildings, unless they are small and their bones are polished hardwood. This extraction opens up more grey, more blue, more green, and moss-covered limbs and grass and mist raking through the teeth of the forest on the other side of the lake fill in the space. Subtract the traffic, the horns, wheels rolling on asphalt, but leave the birdsong, the water against the shore as they are so that the sound of fingers on keyboard, pens scratching on paper, voices hushed in creative conspiracy, take their rightful places.
Take away the Internet, too. As the elusive elk were to the ubiquitous geese, so was the internet to the writer. Odds were good that if you looked up in the Lounge during one of the silent writing periods, you would see a writer with their hand pressed against the building frame to try can catch the wifi, while in the small parking lot a lone writer would hold their cellphone up to the sky in mute desperation.
Take away all the things in your life that you need to fit your writing around and flip it — now all the rest has to fit in around your writing.
The insecurities that had front-row seats with me when I went to Viable Paradise were still there this time, but their tickets were way in the back, their barbed heckling reduced to formless grumbling. I could worry less about fitting in because I knew people there. I was there to write, not have material critiqued.
But I was still worried — would I work? Would I get as much done as I hoped? And what did I really hope to get done?
That was a legit concern. Right before I abandoned writing for about four years, I had asked for a weekend away for my birthday: no boyfriend, no pets, no making dinner, no laundry. I planned to spend the weekend at a remote bed and breakfast and write my novel. All of it, most of it, I couldn’t tell you now what I thought that goal would actually mean. It was an impossible goal, that’s the takeaway. My crushing lack of words, lack of even one damn word, made me feel like such a fool, and sent me scurrying home to bury all my notebooks for a long time.
Rainforest was different in a lot of ways. I am not the same person as that young woman who stared out the window watching snow melt off the rooftop, her insides twisting tighter and tighter. A lot has, thankfully, changed in thirteen years. (I suppose it was my pupa state.)
We arrived Wednesday in rain, and I picked at the Scrivener file that night after our meal. I started early on the Thursday by editing the remaining 18,000 words of a novel I had started and set aside a year ago. Once that was done, I slotted it all into a couple of spreadsheets, listing characters and locations, major plot events, information revealed, and that took the entire morning of the Friday.
But would I write? Really? I set aside all my expectations — do something — and started. And they came. Nearly 2,000 words on the half Friday, 3,300 words on the full Saturday, and another 2,000 on the Sunday morning. 7,300 words all day. Not bad.
And besides the writing, there was everything else. From Viable Paradise, my year and others, there was Kelly and Janice and Fran and Nicole and Tucker and Casey, and I met other writers, too, some I knew from Twitter like Tracie and Amy, and new people altogether. I walked the road with Deborah, she of soups, and Janka, she of yarn hats, to see the elk that would not be seen. I watched a rainbow appear out of the morning mist, one color at a time, and watched the heron watching us from a trio of logs that floated together just off shore. I ate a lot of salmon, until I discovered the hidden menu. I tasted whisky that was smokey and smooth and wonderful. I saw a man don a set of horns, sing and kill on the Ukulele, the whole group joining in. I did my least squeaky fan-girling ever to Nancy Kress, whose work I love, to tell her how much it meant to me to see her, and other women who wrote science fiction, on the old TVOntario show Prisoners of Gravity.
If you see it, you can imagine it and then, if you work at it, can be it.
I even managed to read a little from books I brought for research, watched half a documentary on James Randi (also research), and journaled. Rainforest was profoundly restful and helped retune my antenna. Life should fit in around the writing, that’s the natural order. Now it’s a matter of pushing the blocks around to make it happen.
At Viable Paradise, Jim MacDonald lead off the lectures explaining that novels are a liminal experience. The workshop, too, was a liminal experience — we were all passing through a door from one place into another. It was worth marking, that boundary, because all stories occur within boundaries. Lives, too.
And yet when I left Viable Paradise, I feared it would not be liminal for me the way it would be for the others. I felt like someone had opened the door to the wardrobe, showed a glimpse of Narnia and then returned me back to my tiny room, the wardrobe forever locked. A lifetime of looking in will do that to you.
Leaving Rainforest, saying my goodbyes, I looked around and for the first time felt — knew — that this wasn’t a one-off, it wasn’t an ending. I even said to Nicole in passing that Rainforest felt like part of a continuum this time, part of a discussion, a calling, a community — a life’s work. It wouldn’t end when I got in the car, or later the train. It only ends when I stop.
I don’t know if I will go to Rainforest next year, and not for lack of wanting to go. It’s wonderful, and I will go again I am sure, but there are lessons of living that I can take and put into practice in my life right now, every day.
While Clarion sounds amazing, six weeks writing short stories wouldn’t suit me. I’m a novel writer. Taos Toolbox changed from being on my radar for years to something I wanted to do about two years ago. I think it’s about time that I make Taos Toolbox something I set out to do.