Finding the Muse

| August 1, 2011 | 0 Comments

We arrive at 10:00 a.m., glance around before opening the gate at the side of the house, follow a path around to the garden hideaway. We’re safe, no one saw us. Confidentiality is essential. We take out our notebooks, pens and pencils and begin.

What is this clandestine gathering that takes place on a quiet residential street in Mission Hills? Should Neighborhood Watch be alerted?

Don’t be alarmed: this isn’t a conspiracy of criminals, a cabal of cutthroats—we’re writers.

Judy Reeves, a leader in the San Diego writing community, facilitates these monthly Saturday workshop retreats in a cozy garage-turned-studio. Judy is a co-founder and the former director of San Diego Writers, Ink, and the author of “A Writer’s Book of Days,” a winner in this year’s San Diego Book Awards. Judy is a strong proponent of regular practice writing, especially writing from prompts, to get the creative juices flowing. That’s what we’re here to do.

Each session has a theme—two months ago it was “Wanderlust,” and we arrived to find a spread of maps, post cards and other travel mementos in the center of the table. Previous sessions have focused on beginning and endings, romance (in February, of course), myths and legends, “planting seeds and tending gardens.”

This month is the one I’ve looked forward to eagerly: “Food for the Pen.” The table is laden with colorful fruits and vegetables for decoration, dishes of nuts and candy, chocolate-covered strawberries and a variety of pastries for snacking. In front of each place is a madeleine, a Proustian reminder of the way that food summons up memories. We write about places and the food reminiscences they evoke, about the comfort food of our childhood, about food aromas, food as aphrodisiac. We read Pablo Neruda’s odes to tomatoes, artichokes, salt, a tuna in the market, a chestnut on the ground. And then we write our own; mine is an “Ode to Basil.”

Who are my co-conspirators at this secret assembly? In order to protect the innocent and the guilty alike, so all I can say is that we’re writers. We typically number ten or so, young and old, female and male. A couple of us are working on novels and adapt the prompts to our works-in-progress; others write short stories, essays, memoirs. Some of us are published, others still striving. Most of us have day jobs. Most of us live in San Diego, but one journeys down from Los Angeles every month, another from Orange County, where, she says, there’s no similar writing community.

We write from Judy’s prompts for varying periods—usually ten to twenty minutes—and then those of us who want to read what we’ve written. One of the rules is to assume that everything is fiction, so we can feel safe dredging up our pasts, disclosing secrets, writing from the dark places. No one asks questions or offers comments or criticism—these are practice sessions and this is unedited writing.

We are stimulated by each others’ creativity. At 3:00 p.m. we slip out the gate and go our separate ways, sated and motivated.

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