The Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat / Defining the Advantages of a Retreat Versus a Writer’s Conference


Have you ever plunked down a bunch of money on something, and immediately
felt buyer’s remorse afterwards?

Such was the case when I completed my three easy payments for the Wild Mountain Memoir  Retreat, which happened last weekend. In hindsight, it really wasn’t that expensive- given transportation, food, housing, and classes- were all  inclusive, I’m just super-cheap.

Photo by Holly Andres on behalf of Oregon Cultural Trust

But I simply couldn’t help myself. With names like Wild author Cheryl Strayed, Theo Pauline  Nestor, Suzanne Finnamore,  and Hip Mama’s Ariel Gore, I knew I had to be there.

I’ve gone to local writer’s conferences before. Alaska actually has a few good ones, like the Kachemak Bay Writer’s Conference, the Alaska Writer’s Guild Conference,  a Forensic Foray sponsored by the Arctic Cliffhanger’s Mystery Writers, and the Wrangel Mountain Writing Workshops to name a few. 49 Writer’s also has inexpensive and writing workshops and retreats in Alaska, and I’ve enjoyed them a lot.

But nothing compared to this.

Perhaps I should have realized the obvious differences between a retreat and a conference.
My own experiences with writer’s conferences are varied.

At the Kachemac Bay conference, the guest staff have been sharp professionals (agents, writers, editors) with vibrant careers. Both times I’ve attended, I’ve felt like a person who’s showed up at the country club uninvited. There’s a lot of competition when you get a group of hopeful writers together who are hoping secretly (or openly) to be discovered.  You can feel it in the air. You can hear it in the questions at Q and A time.

        Q. Hi! I’ve written a book about when I fell of my bike and nearly died.


        A. Is there a question attached to this?

At the Guild’s conference, the business of writing is emphasized, and the guest staff ranges between pro’s on marketing, editors, and agents. More editors than writers, but in all, it’s a friendly, folksy bunch.

This was my first writing retreat, but the differences between a retreat and a conference were great.

At the retreat, all energy is spent on rejuvenating the writer. The art of writing is emphasized and taught in small classrooms. The staff is empathetic, behaving more like coaches than gurus. The atmosphere is relaxed, not competitive or judgmental.

At the Sleeping Lady Lodge, where the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat was held in the Washington Cascades, we were fed locally grown and farmed foods, housed in cozy, warm cabins, and schooled by a small group of women writers who were clearly invested in furthering their student’s writing goals.

And did I mention what neat friends I made there?

All things considered, the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat was a terrific bargain. I came home more rested, invigorated, and hopeful than I’ve been in awhile.  In fact, I feel like I returned as a better version of myself, and it’s been a week since I’ve returned.  Priceless, right?

If you get the chance to take a retreat in a field of your own interests, I hope that you do.

And on an unrelated note, here’s my favorite You Tube of the week. It’s a great reminder to treat other’s as you would like to be treated. Or else.

Salma Says No to Domestic Violence/ Headlines Around the World

I hope you’ve had a great week.

With any luck, I’ve pre-set my computer to post while I’m away at the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat.
Here are some of my favorite headlines from around the world this past month.

Domestic Violence

This week, Salma Hayek used her celebrity to raise awareness about domestic violence at Avon’s Communications Awards.
Yes, it’s sort of sad that it takes a celebrity sometimes to get our attention to a problem of epidemic proportions, but if it works, terrific!

Child Abduction

Do you ever watch Dateline?  I was mesmerized by an episode called Lost and Found a few years ago, and saw it has since been updated twice. I just saw the last one on TLC two weeks ago, though it’s likely a re-run. The Lost and Found episode is about a woman who was snatched from her parents and lived in hiding with her female abductor, who died before allowing the victim know her birth name or more about her parents. If  you get time, I suggest you watch all three for a the sweet and complete ending.
Dateline Lost and Found 
Speaking of child abduction, I generally assume adult children separated from their families have been child kidnapping victims, like me. Not true.

Finding Missing Loved Ones

The article below tells the story of a man whose hospitalization due to his serious mental illness led him to more than a 20 year separation from his kin. Read how the hospital staff rallied to reunite him with his roots.

What’s caught  your attention lately?

Black and Missing More Alike than Not

This week, I’m prepping to attend the Wild Mountains Memoir Writer’s Conference in Washington state, where Cheryl Strayed and other amazing staff members will (hopefully) help me improve my craft.
Given that, I was sure I might skip posting something for the blog this Sunday.

Then tonight, I stumbled upon a very sad story from the Black and Missing Foundation’s blog  at

Maayimuna  N’Diaye, Dr. Noelle Hunter’s daughter  from Kentucky,  went missing  in 2011 by her father and taken to Mali.

Who is the Black and Missing Foundation? I wondered.

According to the website, the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc (BAM FI) has been established as a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring awareness to missing persons of color; provide vital resources and tools to missing person’s families and friends and to educate the minority community on personal safety.

Founded in 2008 by a veteran law-enforcement official and public relations specialist, BAM FI will create public awareness campaigns for public safety and provide parents and loved ones of missing persons with a forum for spreading the word of their disappearance, with pictures and profiles of missing individuals. BAM FI will use a variety of media, including print, television, and the internet, to help locate missing persons of color for this severely under-served population.

Despite me being a white woman located in Alaska, I instantly felt a bond with Dr. Hunter.We’re much more alike than different.

*We are mothers of internationally abducted children.

*We are writers.

*We are from Kentucky.

*And we are STUBBORN!
 Dr. Hunter is using every type of social media and resource available to her to bring her daughter home. 

A people-pleaser, faced with the conundrum of an international parental child abduction, will not succeed in bringing their child home.
And that’s the good news about being a human who experiences a crisis. You find more connections than ever with people you might not have met otherwise.

Best wishes to Dr. Noelle Hunter, and all of the parents who are seeking the return of their children.
And wish me luck at the conference.

See you next week.

Looking Back and Looking Forward/ What I Wish I Had Known

Do you ever look at old pictures of yourself and feel compassion for the younger you?

I’d been thinking of my youth this week even before my sister posted this picture on her Facebook account from 25 years ago.

Me with first daughter, 1987.

March is always a reflective month with important anniversaries for me.

*March 5, 1990– I fled my marriage with two toddlers in tow and stayed at a battered women’s shelter.

*March 13, 1994– my little daughters left to see their father for a weekend visitation and disappeared to Greece.

Precisely two years later, I journaled from my hotel bed in Greece.

*March 5, 1996

 Today it is six years to the day that I left my husband. Since then, I’ve been on welfare, raised two children through diaper hood, got my head screwed on straight, earned my degree, found a niche in my job, got a  promotion, bought a fixer-upper home, fixed it up, made incredible and interesting friends. And had my children abducted.

*March 27, 1996– I was reunited with my now non–English speaking daughters in a small village in Greece.

No, I can’t say I miss much about being young.

While it’s true we’re genetically superior in our youth, with more vitality, more hair, less weight, less wrinkles, it doesn’t translate to anything useful as far as I’m concerned.

In the documentary I’m Your Man it, a now-old  Leonard Cohen says that it’s the acceptance of what we hoped for ourselves in our youth versus what actually happened in our lives that is the essence of grace (paraphrased).

My daughters are now in their mid-twenties. More educated that I was, more sure of themselves, I still see the angst that comes from being newly grown, living in a big mean world that threatens to eat them up. Disappointments with relationships or disappointment with not having one. Anxiety about finances, education, jobs, peppered with the inevitable heartbreak of an unexpected trauma here and there. Things we’ve all faced.

I find myself wanting to tell them and their young friends what I wish someone would have told me.

Dear Young Person,

Though your circumstances appear dire at times, they will inevitably improve. Those things you feel are awful impediments to your dreams? They’ll be what shapes and reveals your character, flaws and all. And those dreams that have come true for you?  Count them as blessings, not entitlements. Remember, life’s a marathon,  not a race. Slow down. With a little time, some faith, and a lot of hard work, it will all come together. You’ll be fortunate if you can become the old, saggy person you’ve secretly dreaded being. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from the elders in your midst. We’ve been there.


Another Old Saggy Person in Training

What do you wish you had known when you were young that might have made a positive difference? I’d love to hear from you, but if you don’t share it here, share it with a young person in your life.