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On Happiness & Choosing the Creative Path by Chris Bowen

Writer/chef Chris Bowen joined Nancy and me for our first ever flash fiction retreat last summer in Breckenridge. (Read Nancy’s interview with him here.) We’re thrilled he’ll be joining us again in Grand Lake this August. We thank him for sharing his reflections and insights on his creative path since Breckenridge.

 

It was nearly a year ago I took part in Nancy and Kathy’s inaugural Breckenridge, Colorado writing retreat. It’s been three or more years since Nancy invited me to Denver for the first time, reading for the FBomb reading series then and even further back, it’s likely been ten years or more since I first met her at a reading in NYC.

But life wasn’t always this much fun. Just recently last year, I lost faith. I lost faith in my career as a chef, living and working in an isolated part of Pennsylvania at a college for almost three years, having left my family and anyone I knew two hours away in Cleveland for corporate salary.

Life isn’t always fun, but it damn well better be meaningful.

Moving home to Cleveland then and taking less responsibility with my employer last fall, I was determined to ‘take a step back.’ I had turned to Nancy in Breckenridge even that summer on where my life was going, the fact that I was so unhappy and had been for awhile. I still remember the gray, weather-worn wooden picnic table we sat at in the mountain backyard when I told her that, the kind you look for rusty nails sticking out of before you sit. The heat of the afternoon sun. I had joined the retreat to cook for authors and attendees and aside from sitting in on a couple craft talks between prepping meals, this conversation was the only thing I ever needed.

We talked about happiness, France, doing things by and for yourself. Because anyone only has so little time. Between the talk, it was clear I needed to re-evaluate my life somehow. So, I ended up moving home to find retreat in the only thing strong I really knew I could: my family.

Six months in, I’m a part-time student finishing my bachelor’s degree, but more importantly,  have settled in Denver near those mountain. And writing.

There’s something intimidating about these vistas, how they were formed, how strong they are, how difficult it is to reach them as if ghosts just out of reach.

‘If you can’t inspire yourself, how can you ever expect to inspire others?’ they whisper to me.

I think of the ending to Robert Redford’s movie, ‘A River Runs Through It,’ his voiceover at the end:

“Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops, under the rocks are the words. And some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

I see mountains every day. They remind me of how little I am, how short of time we all are. I don’t know if I’ll live here forever or climb a mountain, but I do know whatever I choose, it will be because I wanted to and because it made me happy.

Christopher Bowen is the author of the chapbook We Were Giants, the novella When I Return to You, I Will Be Unfed, and the non-fiction, Debt. He blogs from Burning River and has traveled throughout the U.S.  

Note: A few spots remain in our August High Altitude Inspiration Retreat in Grand Lake. Consider joining us! We’d love to have you. 

Interviews

Volatile Daydreaming: A Chat with Chris Bowen

Kathy Fish and I are thrilled that Chris Bowen will be joining us in August for our first flash fiction retreat! This will be Chris’ second time coming to Colorado; I hosted him at The Fbomb Flash Fiction Festive in 2016.  Chris agreed to chat with me beforehand about writing and playing and daydreaming…

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Nancy: The biggest challenge most writers (that I know) have is finding the time to write amidst the daily demands of life. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?

Chris: I’ve honestly found it kinda difficult lately, Nancy. There are a number of tools I sometimes use, however, like meditation. Things like modern and eclectic folk music playlists, audiobooks, or inspirational movie or lecture tracks that I carry on my phone and play at home and in the car, often repeating them. This is meant to relax. Long drives in the car have the same effect. I’m able to reflect on how I consider my life to be in those moments. These are the things that carry me away where I can creatively think about my future in a positive light.

Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it?

Chris: Probably the one I’m most proud of as a whole, at least right now, is the novella I wrote a few years ago, When I Return to You I Will Be Unfed, that can be found on my author blog or Goodreads. It was my second book and even though my first, a chapbook of flash, worked really well with theme and mood, I still find myself rereading the novella the way I do other authors, poets, or books from time to time.

A close second is the short, “The Farmers of Shangri-La”, which was picked up at Stirring a long time ago and also ran in an interview I did with Gay Degani. It talks about rural Midwestern life and family.

Nancy: You are also a professional chef (and will be feeding us during our Breckenridge retreat)! What’s it like to be a chef? Does your work in the kitchen ever spill over onto the page or are they separate endeavors?

Chris: Being a chef can be intense, no matter what kind of kitchen you’re in. My physician father sometimes compares it to being in an emergency room with how I’ve described my workdays.

I was lucky enough to sign on with a major national food service corporation in the last couple years. The income and consistency of my employer’s expectations were a relief of stress in many ways, but have also brought on a new level of commitment I’m not quite sure I’m comfortable with yet. I believe my writing is the opposite of these things. It’s unexpected, surprising, volatile to me. It can come at any time and it can be whatever it wants to be. I sometimes wonder if the kitchen is really where I’m meant to be for the majority of my life when I catch myself daydreaming like that.

Nancy: React to this quote by Carl Jung– “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”

Chris: That reminds me of a non-fiction book I read once about comedy as survival and play ethic. I think the root of the book was the endurance of being light-hearted throughout life. I think spontaneity, being adventurous and curious are all parts of a well-lived life and having that is extremely important to me as a person.

Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Chris: I once read Dr. Seuss at a literary reading.

Nancy: Anything else you want to add?

Chris: I’m honored to be a part of the retreat, Nancy. I really am. I often cook, serve and feed people that I don’t know, people whom I’m not sure make an impact or sometimes are even grateful themselves for the laboring. A chance to do this for you and Kathy, for other writers, gives me meaning in that work.

chris 2Christopher Bowen is the author of the chapbook We Were Giants, the novella When I Return to You, I Will Be Unfed, and the non-fiction, Debt.  He’s an acting intern for Sundress Publication’s CookBook and has traveled and spoken throughout the U.S.