Wake Up and Write Writer's Retreat Workshop
dialogue with doc
This is my first post on my first blog. Where have I been to only be joining this aspect of social media now? Well, since 2000 much of my time has been spent in a Zen Buddhist community - some in San Francisco, some in Carmel Valley - and in both places, with limited access to the internet and time.
At City Center in San Francisco we got up late – the wake-up bell didn’t ring until 4:50 am, and you had to be in the zendo in less than 30 minutes. That was leisurely. At Tassajara, the monastery in Carmel Valley, during the fall and winter practice periods the wake-up bell was at 3:40 am, and zazen started at 4:20, though you had to be in your seat about 10 minutes earlier than that.
I spent most of the years 2000-2015 on that schedule, with a 3-year side trip to Naropa University in Boulder, CO for a master’s program, and two years in Pittsburgh, PA with my dad while my mother was dying from Alzheimer’s. So I spent 10 of 15 years in what you might call Buddhist boot camp, with not a lot of time for writing, internet, or technology.
I missed the whole unveiling of Facebook – 2004 was the year I went to Tassajara, which is in the Ventana Wilderness. It’s at the end of a 14-mile dirt road that goes from 1500 feet above sea level up to about 5000 on the ridge and back down to about 1500 again. The part from the ridge down into Tassajara drops 3500 feet in 4 miles – no guardrails, mostly one lane, with turnouts to pass. Over the years I drove that dirt road hundreds of times, and that final drop into the valley that is Tassajara literally drops out of one world and into a whole other world, one without social media.
In the 10 years at San Francisco Zen Center I worked at City Center and Tassajara in the kitchen, various offices, cabin crew, the women’s bathhouse, the shop, the library, drove the “stage” for guest season, and lived and worked at Jamesburg (the support/staging area for Tassajara). Although I did, at times, use a computer for my work, I never accessed any kind of social media, though I heard other people talk about it. The other 5 years at Naropa and with my dad, I had too much occupying my time and my mind to focus on anything else.
I’ve been out in the world again for a year and five months, and now that I’m starting this writing workshop, it’s time. I’m taking the plunge, and joining the blogging world in this way. I would imagine I’ll make some mistakes, and I expect I’ll learn a great deal in the process.
What I’ve discovered already is that neither I nor this workshop will have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media, unless someone else writes about us. There was a less than 24-hour period during which I created a Facebook account, set up a page for the workshop, and friended some people. After a brief break for dinner, I logged back on to discover dozens of posts on my personal page, which I’d intended never to use, and that no one had found my workshop page, which was the point of the whole exercise.
That was fixable and I knew it. What wasn’t fixable was how I felt. It literally made me feel sick to the results of my efforts – I didn’t see any way that I could manage Facebook plus other social media, continue with my full time job, and continue to write. It felt invasive, overwhelming, and it didn’t feel as if that had anything to do with what I was trying to share through the workshop.
Not wanting to overreact, I logged off and did some dishes. Then I sat and listened to Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert. Suddenly I was sitting in front of the fireplace thirty years ago in my old Shadyside apartment, a glass of Cabernet in my hand and deep in conversation with a friend. No one I knew even owned a computer at that time.
Do I wish I could go back in time to those days? No way. I learned a great deal in the years since then for which I am grateful, including the wonder of computers and the internet. What came up as I listened to the music was the importance of connection. I want to connect with people through the workshop. I want to share what I’ve learned from Gary Provost and Natalie Goldberg and many of the other amazing writers and teachers I’ve known over the years.
There’s no denying the reach of Facebook and the other social media, and many people use it to great effect. Perhaps if I were trying to get hundreds or thousands to my workshops, that would make it more compelling. I’m not. I have space for 25 people at the November workshop, assuming everyone gets her or his own room. And I can make it work with fewer than 25, but that’s my max.