People used to come to Fairplay for the gold. This weekend, at the Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop Retreat, I discovered they still do.
My CRV wagon traversed the same Colorado territory that had been traipsed upon by oxen and burros and horses more than a century ago, hauling splintered wagons with dreams in tow. I had butterflies instead. In an earlier era, folks rode covered wagons without luxury of asphalt, nor distractions like ‘Us and Them’ by Pink Floyd cranked full bore on the stereo through my smart phone, not even my iPod anymore. How times have changed.
Biting my lip, I crossed the dashed-yellow line, passing the Safeway truck on a curve at dusk; but that’s not what elevated my heart rate on my way up to a weekend full of writers. I wondered who would be there, how I would fit in, what people would think – all the same things I’ve wondered about my whole life, really – but also if I brought the right whisky along with the provisions and the feed.
Power lines stretched into the sunset slicing razors through the clouds, bowing downward as if drenched in the platinum of the falling light of day. But I digress. Simplify. Simplify the language. Let the dialog frame out the story.
“Hmm…” I noticed something curious ahead.
About ten miles out, two clouds in the sky above Fairplay formed into the shapes of an inkwell and a quill. I held my gaze as the music changed. A Peaceful Easy Feeling (by The Eagles) filled the car. I blinked, gathering another look at the page in the clouds, written in a language called sunset, making sure to understand. I realized then that I was bound for a destination where I knew I would belong.
My gut grumbled as we passed the truck stop with the Hunt Bros. Pizza sign. I couldn’t wait to get to the historic Hand Hotel and my gut can’t afford anything anyway. As I sidled in along the wooden sidewalk, tethering my SUV to the pavement with the squawk of a foot brake, I grinned at the small little inn haunted with western charm, and knew instantly the Bulleit Frontier Whisky was a most appropriate choice. (Writers were known to bring wine to these things, but the sulfites, I thought, and the 10,000 feet of altitude; it wasn’t worth the risk.)
Taking risks became the theme of the evening. First, we introduced ourselves with our one-sentence construction, a blurb that summarized, in some cases surmised, the entirety of our manuscripts that we had worked on for a collective 108-plus years; all without becoming a run-on –- ( by the way, the same assignment sent to attendees less than 48-hours earlier in an email suggesting we somehow compose it while driving up from Denver) -- and, also in a manner so as not to die in a fiery crash nor embarrass myself in the presence of strangers, nor the two credentialed and accomplished authors and the marvelously astute former literary agent-turned-editor; all three of whom sat directly to my right as they peered at me to go first; with me never expecting how the sentence might morph into such a run-on, almost, paragraph-long type of construction.
Then again, this was a frontier I had chosen to explore. But still. Me first? My sentence was fine maybe. A bit fragmented? Reluctant. Coy. Maybe choppy too. But at that time, there were only wine bottles on the table. The bottle I brought laid resting on the shelf in the closet upstairs, hopefully still hidden in my haunted room.
With room names like China Mary, Grandma Hand, and Silverheels; they had to be haunted. My oldest daughter Megan reassured me that ghosts can’t hurt you and that if you do see one, then just say, “Hello. I can be your friend.” And it will be okay, just like Casper, you know? Then I was told of the little boy ghost and his little dog ghost who lived in the cellar. And the Grandma Hand ghost didn’t like it when guests put their things on her rocking chair, and sometimes the chair would rock. As for Silverheels, they never found her, the dance hall girl-turned-nurse to smallpox-ridden miners. That was my room, Silverheels. They never found her.
“My room is Silverheels,” I told my wife on the phone a little later.
“Oh yeah, Silverheels. How funny.”
“Yeah. That’s the one that Hannah likes. Remember? The story. How she helped the miners. She was writing about it. She still might be.”
Hmm… I thought.
Soon the first six writers would read their first five-hundred words. But I dwelled on the legend of Silverheels, and how it captured the imagination of my younger daughter, now majoring in English because she wants to write, and I pondered how three souls could be so randomly connected.
Throughout everyone’s readings, it became evident that things were not so random. Finding myself in nuances of another writer’s character, vague but familiar settings, similar yet divergent circumstances, subtle patterns of speech, the same internal dialogue coming from fictitious characters ringing so true in my own mind. I got it. I knew I had arrived, but more so, that I belonged. I didn’t need the whiskey but it was nice to have along.
Even during the sessions where others jumped in to workshop some aspect of their piece, and I thought that maybe I should have jumped in sooner thus making me a twinge annoyed; I quickly realized more about my own work through the works of others. I tried to listen for the cadence of how the universe speaks, no matter how you name it.
Through experiences with others is where I find my voice. Good or bad, that’s life. Sitting in a group of more than a dozen immeasurably talented writers, I tried not to consider the odds set against everyone there. Somehow the meaning ran deeper than what imprint is on a book, if a book at all. The imprint we make is the one we create, and that’s something that can’t be yanked off the shelves.
Our topics ranged from the hauntingly real to the wittily imagined, the normal to the paranormal, the tragic and the redemptive. I believe it is no random coincidence the circles we land in, the paths we cross in a certain time, with people we do not know, yet with whom we hold so much in mind. A brief yet lasting fellowship, like-minded people sharing a passion for the pen and word, I can draw from that.
Sometimes the infinite palette we all draw from shows up in the weirdest of ways; a simple image of tools of the wordsmith appearing in the clouds, forming the shapes of an inkwell and a quill painted on the horizon layered in gold.
For that’s what people came to Fairplay seeking, and I’m sure there will be more.