I attended my first “Gathering of Writers” conference in Indianapolis over the weekend and it was quite a remarkable experience for me.
[photo borrowed from the Indiana Landmarks.org website]
The conference was housed in the newly restored Indiana Landmarks Center in the historic district of the city. The Landmarks Center was a former Methodist church and in such disrepair that it was considered a lost cause. The Cook Family of Bloomington, Indiana donated $10 million to have it restored. What was very fortunate for me was that the building was finished six months prior to my visit, and I was able to attend this function in such a beautiful place.
[one of my favorite writing acquaintances. Hi, J!]
Approximately one hundred writers attended the gathering and 14 published authors (some non-fiction and fiction writers and some poets) gave talks with writing exercises for the attendees to participate in. The theme for the 2011 Gathering was “Digging Deeper” and our keynote speaker was Lee Martin who gave a powerful keynote address called The Accidental Memoirist.
One of of the most notable quotables from Mr. Martin was this:
We speak when we have a reason to speak: to understand more fully. A memoir is not about the past but about the future.
…[it is about] resolving past issues
Mr. Martin cautions that writing a memoir should never be “an act of revenge”. One should strive to tell the truth with love, empathy and compassion. Listening to Mr. Martin’s keynote speech, I found it peppered with not just good writing advice, but great advice for living. He quoted from the the wisdom of Miller Williams who penned this poem:
The Ways We Touch
Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it.
What appears bad manners, an ill temper or cynicism
is always a sign of things no ears have heard,
no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on down
there where the spirit meets the bone.
A final thought from Mr. Martin, the writing of a memoir helps us move from
…the tangle of experience to clarity.
I must admit, I was really surprised by what I had learned at the conference and it did live up to it’s theme of digging deeper. I chose two poetry breakout sessions, a session on fictional writing and the techniques of “showing vs. telling” and a session on “chasing the shadow” – employing Jungian psychology to help us give an honest, accurate account of the flaws as well as the strengths as we write to make our characters or ourselves (if we are writing a memoir) have authenticity and credibility.
I went into the writers’ conference fully expecting to learn about the craft of writing. What I also learned were valuable lessons on what it means to be fully human, to be a “human being engaging with the world” as Mr. Martin describes, with all the complexities, the strengths and the frailties of the human character.
To me, they were not just lessons on writing authentically, but lessons on living truthfully, compassionately, and respectfully in this complicated world of ours. This was truly an amazing and uplifting experience about digging deeper into the wondrous complexities of the human spirit.
And I’m so glad I was able to attend so I can share a few pearls of wisdom with you.
Have a wonderful Wednesday.