It is almost 10 p.m., and I’m sitting outside an old carriage house in Alamo, Calif., typing away on my computer. I can access the wi-fi out here, and a very friendly pale orange kitty named Rusty (he’s faded rust) energetically rubs against my left arm and the laptop as I write. I am a sucker for friendly kitties, so this is not a problem, though I came out here to work on a poem.
I anm here in my new role (as of last year) as an instructor of new group facilitators for Amherst Writers and Artists (see the Prompts section across the top of my blog). My colleague Chris DeLorenzo and I are training a dozen women in the finer points of leading writing groups in this method. We live and train in what truly was once a carriage house–two of the former horse stalls are bedrooms and the living room is where carriages used to be housed.
Since last November, I have participated in four AWA trainings—two of them here in Alamo at this gorgeous Westminster Retreat Center—up against hills faded yellow with summer grasses and old, old oaks crouched on the steep slopes. I have come to quite like this place and its solitude. Behind us, a good hiking trail winds up Las Trampas mountain. I took it to the top last fall, but I have not yet had time to do so on this visit.
Chris and I spend our days with these dozen women—all of whom will make terrific facilitators—allegedly teaching them. But in fact, as with all collaborations, they are teaching us, too.
What I see again as these new group leaders try their wings in practice sessions is how bright and talented people are, how well they flourish when encouraged and given good attention. I also learn new ways of saying things to writing groups that I’ve said in the same old ways. There are a hundred ways to thank people for their writing, to hold a safe space for writers, to offer a prompt and close the circle when it’s time to end. I am learning from these students who are also good teachers. I am grateful.
Rusty has leaped off the bench now and has gone on to prowl the night. This morning, one of the cats here left a field mouse for Melissa, the manager, near the manor house up the hill where we take our meals. I wonder what treasures, what gifts Rusty and his mates might find in the night. I am eager to see what gifts wait for me—as we say in AWA, what stays with me, what is strong—as the last two days of the training unfold.