Virtually Normal: What Will Change in the Writing World

May 15, 2020 § 22 Comments

priddyBy Jan Priddy

Twenty years ago this June, I attended The Flight of the Mind, a generative writing retreat for women. Two of the founders, poet and memoirist Judith Barrington and publisher Ruth Gundle were the driving force behind two week-long summer workshops, small groups of about twelve to fourteen women who were privileged to work with genuinely famous writers. I was fortunate to be accepted for five summers in a row. Dorianne Laux, Gish Jen, Allison Joseph, Grace Paley, Judith Barrington, Helena Maria Viramontes, Marjorie Sandor, Barbara Wilson, and Alienda Rodriguez led groups in poetry, memoir, and fiction during one of the two weeks in 2000. Every morning we met in our groups, and in the afternoon we wrote or hiked, ran or watched the river flow by. There were evening readings by each of the mentor-teachers, and also readings by students. For a solid week, eighty women talked of nothing but writing. It was glorious.

The workshops were wonderful, but so was everything about those weeks. The site was a “Dominican Order’s rustic retreat center on the McKenzie River.” Simple rooms with a desk. Incredible food—various and freshly made on site. No cell service (if we’d had cellphones), no television or internet, only one phone with a single short call allowed only once a day, and the newspaper available down the road. Communal showers blasted us clean. Hikes led to a massive waterfall and pool of glacial water too pure to support fish, a hot spring, and mature forest all around.

The pace was focused, refreshing, and wildly productive. Everything was impeccably run because planning continued nearly year around: find writers to lead workshops, review student applications, seek funding for scholarships, hire cooks and bakers, arrange for transportation and menus and supplies. Work for the next year began immediately after the summer session, and it seemed like full time work when I talked to Ruth Gundle. She had cooked meals to order for the first year’s small group, seventeen years earlier. By the time I first attended, talented bakers and chefs took vacation time in order to feed eighty women and bask in the rich creative atmosphere.

It was a nonprofit, it was divine, and it benefited hundreds of women writers. I was fortunate to have five years at Flight, including the last.

The 2000 application packet announced there would be a break after that seventeenth summer. The eighteenth year would be a “Jubilee year” and Flight would return in 2002. “Rest assured, we will continue, just as before, or perhaps with greater energy, in 2002.” I immediately feared this was a promise they could not keep, and this was part of the reason I sat down in my garage with my acceptance packet in my hand and cried. Once they had a year off, I felt sure it would be impossible to face the task again. And so it was.

Recently journals and writing events have begun moving online. Like The Flight of the Mind, I have no faith that after a year we will return “back to normal.” Publications are quicker, simpler, cheaper online. Massive conventions that always were intimidating to some of us may begin to look foolish if not downright dangerous to many. We will adjust for the time of our necessary isolation, and at the end of it, what we accepted as inevitable just last year will have been proven otherwise.

The last meeting of The Flight of the Mind week always concluded with a gentle warning from Judith Barrington. Flight existed as a sort of writers’ paradise, she’d say in a voice both powerful and soft, and reentering world beyond we should be kind and patient with ourselves. Take the time, breathe and remember who we are.

I drove alone several hours to get home, and I did take my time, pulling over now and again to think of what I’d left behind at Flight and what I had to look forward to at home.

I think we will be okay because ideas and imagination and experience remain. Much will change and refuse to change back, but we will write. We will read. We will re-balance our lives and recreate our world, because creation is what we do best.

Jan Priddy’s work has earned an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship, Arts & Letters fellowship, Soapstone residency, Pushcart nomination, and numerous publications. An MFA graduate from Pacific University, she shelters in place in the NW corner of her home state of Oregon, writes, weaves, walks, and blogs at IMPERFECT PATIENCE.






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§ 22 Responses to Virtually Normal: What Will Change in the Writing World

  • amandAVNiekerk says:

    On reading your post I felt a mix of sadness and hope. And the following quote, attributed to a Zen Buddhist monk or teacher, came to mind: “Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water… after enlightenment chop wood, carry water.” Change is one of life’s few certainties and is often unwelcome because we are quick to judge, to put a name or a label to it. It’s often better to try and take change in our stride. I’m quite sure we will carry on regardless with our writing and creating! Have a lovely weekend.

  • Thank you for this, Jan. I love the ending: “I think we will be okay because ideas and imagination and experience remain. Much will change and refuse to change back, but we will write. We will read. We will re-balance our lives and recreate our world, because creation is what we do best.”

    • You are so welcome! I was reading just yesterday that Twitter has made the decision to allow its people to permanently work from home, if they choose. And, truly, writers have always had that option. Even when we write elsewhere, we are socially distanced. We will find a way.

  • That was lovely, thank you.

  • My father always says, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Each epoch earns a name, and I feel we are to become the Corona Era, with Gen Z followed by Gen C.

  • Rae Longest says:

    What a post! It spoke to me somehow of conventions, workshops etc. that may disappear with whatever social distancing we may be forced to continue. Summer music camps, youth retreats, which were an important part of my teenage hood and upbringing may not be held ever again–sigh…

    • Thank you for this reminder that some of our most precious memories are tied to events that may not always exist in our future. How to provide the richness of a summer camp? I wish I knew.

  • ninagaby says:

    I had been looking forward to a medical conference in March, a visual art residency in April, and a writing retreat in May. All my bases covered in preparation to turning 70. I refused to slow down just because I’m hitting this milestone. So of course, another type of resilience has been summoned. Your blog piece reminds me that while yes, we will go on, it may look very different than what we had planned.

    • An academic friend has tried to limit flying in recent years out of respect for environmental impact. She explained that the conferences she attends require in-person attendance and are essential to her work. Now I wonder if some of these events will find a way to manage at a distance? (I will be 68 in October, and I do not expect to fly anywhere. I look forward again to a train trip some day . . . )

  • Ann V. Klotz says:

    Oh, Jan–this was what I needed today. Thank you. “I think we will be okay because ideas and imagination and experience remain. Much will change and refuse to change back, but we will write. We will read. We will re-balance our lives and recreate our world, because creation is what we do best.” How I wish I had experienced flight.

    • Flight was essential to my life, not just for writing. Even my husband saw it when I came home from that first workshop with Charlotte Watson Sherman. He hated when I was gone, but immediately said: “You should go again.” So I did. Flight gave me courage.

      I worked with Charlotte (1996), Janice Gould (1997), Lynne Sharon Schwartz (1998—she took the gig to get airfare to the west coast to see family and cried when we said goodbye), Molly Gloss (1999), and Gish Jen (2000). I have applied many times to Hedgebrook, but not so far.

  • Sandra says:

    When the Muse and the Marketplace in Boston was cancelled this year, I was brokenhearted. This year, I less interested in the workshop sessions than the connection. I think we are all hungry enough for it. Starved even. And when you talk about creation, I think that will include the continuation of creative spaces to meet–in person. Really thoughtful piece.

  • rgundle says:

    Loved reading this.

  • Mudassar says:


  • Sandeep says:

    I am interested in writing

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