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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

The Fellowship of Other Creatives: Onward to Italy with Beth Gilstrap

Nancy and I are so looking happy that Beth Gilstrap will be joining us in Casperia for our Springtime in Italy Retreat this May! Beth generously took some time to chat with me. 

 Hi Beth! First, will this be your first visit to Italy? 

 This will be my first trip to Italy. I’ve been to Turkey, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Scotland, Canada, and Mexico but never Italy. I am so excited as it’s a long time dream to visit.

 What are you most hoping for, for the retreat this May? 

 Travel and getting out of my comfort zone are always great for generating new material. I hope to focus on starting a new collection and building relationships with fellow writers. I live in Charlotte, NC, which though it has its perks, isn’t a great city for writers. Anytime I can take a break and bond with my people, I find it helps me make it through the rest of my time spent in a banking town.

 We’re gathered at Palazzo Forani, a bunch of writers from all over the world, communing over pasta and freshly baked bread and local wine…who is your dream guest or dream ghost that’s there with us?  

Oh goodness. Aside from an Italian grandma who I’d beg to adopt me and teach me her ways, I’d have to say Anthony Bourdain if we’re talking ghost. And if we’re talking guest, Samin Nosrat of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. I’m obsessed with words and food and would follow those two anywhere though I doubt they’d want me as a sidekick since I’ve been vegetarian most of my life.

 Ah, great choices. What fun Anthony Bourdain would be. I’m sort of obsessed with Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat too! Switching gears now, I’m interested to know what’s your favorite story, poem, essay, flash, that you’ve written and why?

I still love this old one about the kind of fellowship you only find amongst other creatives. It’s calledSpaghettification.” I love to read this one because the rhythm becomes almost feverish.

Beth, this is gorgeous. I love this:   

Now…can you tell us something about you that’s wonderful, weird, unique, funny, endearing…whatever? 

One time I volunteered for a local cat shelter. I bottle fed some orphaned kittens and wound up keeping them. I have four cats and two dogs and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Aw, I love it. It says a lot about you, Beth. We’re so looking forward to seeing you in Italy this May. Thanks for chatting with me!

Beth Gilstrap is the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Man’s Wild Laura (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. She serves as Fiction Editor at Little Fiction | Big Truths and a reader at Creative Nonfiction.Her work has been selected as Longform.org’s Fiction Pick of the Week and recently selected by Dan Chaon for inclusion in the Best Microfiction Anthology. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Minnesota Review, Hot Metal Bridge, and Little Patuxent Review, among others.

Note: Our “Springtime in Italy” Retreat is sold out, but we’re taking registrations for our Flash Fiction Summer Camp in Grand Lake, CO this August and have just opened registrations for Writing Wild in Costa Rica in March, 2020! We’d love for you to join us!

Interviews

Of Communion and Co-Creation in the Rockies: A Conversation with Kristinha M. Anding

Nancy and I are very excited that Kristinha M. Anding will be joining us for our Grand Lake “Flash Fiction Summer Camp” in August. Kristinha is a fascinating person and I very much enjoyed our chat.

Hi Kristinha! First, have you been to Colorado before? 

I did a wilderness vigil last year in Colorado. I spent four days and four nights alone on a mountain, fasting and leaning into the slow, resilient conversation of stone and pine and sky. I came away feeling humble and heartbreakingly welcomed.

Wow, that sounds amazing and so beautifully put. And what do you most look forward to at our retreat at Shadowcliff Lodge?

I am eager to listen to the work of others and co-create the shelter of a temporary human writing community, informed and supported by the larger ecological community of the Rockies.

Yes. I love the sorts of connections that are forged in this way, too. It’s one of our “missions” for these retreats actually.

So in your reading life, what sort of stories so you find yourself drawn to?

I love stories that involve mythic sensibilities and seem to emerge from the deep-time dreaming of the land, stories where you can feel the pulse of what Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls el rio abajo rio, the river beneath the river. Terry Tempest Williams, Jay Griffiths and Sylvia Lindsteadt are a few of my favorite writers. As we are in dire times climate-wise, I find myself increasingly drawn to works of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry that touch ecological themes in some way.

What is your favorite story of your own?

I write a lot and had a past life as a journalist, but admittedly stink at submitting my creative work. Here is something I did manage to get published:

http://unbrokenjournal.com/2018/04/deer-crossing/

Oh wow, I’m so struck by the rush of feeling in this piece. So beautiful and haunting:

“It doesn’t make sense Renee and I said barely meeting one another’s eyes and the couple behind us stopped now asking if we needed help telling us they had seen you too without them I wouldn’t have known this was real their witness the only thing keeping me from believing you had been a ghost at the edge of the road staring me in the eye before choosing collision teaching me something I have barely begun to hear leaving me holding nothing and everything.”

Thanks for sharing that, Kristinha. Is there something about you that you’d like to share that is surprising/funny/endearing/strange whatever? 

I don’t know why, but this completely random tidbit comes to mind: I used to have an unusually deep belly button. How deep, you ask? Well, there is a cave in Ireland called Oweynagat, whose engulfing maw is said to be a portal to the Otherworld. About that deep. Removing lint felt like an archeological dig. That deep. I held a severe interiority.

But that changed after my pregnancy with my second son, who extruded my abdomen and then emerged from me, 10 pounds of raw, reaching human. As my postpartum body settled into its new shape, I realized with a shock that my hallowed umbilical cave was gone. My child and this tectonic shift of motherhood had erupted me into an “outie.” (I think I’m still adjusting to that.)

Ha, I love it! Can’t wait to meet you in person in Grand Lake, Kristinha. Thanks so much for sharing!

Note: A few spaces remain for “Flash Fiction Summer Camp” in Grand Lake in August. More information HERE. 

Interviews

Flash Fiction as an Explosion of Emotion: Insights from Leslie Archibald

Hi Leslie! Nancy and I are so excited that you’ll be joining us in gorgeous Breckenridge in August for our retreat! What has been your writing workshop/retreat experience in the past? How do you find ways to honor your writing in your day to day life?

 I am so excited to meet Nancy and work with you again, Kathy. My workshop experience has always been positive and nurturing. I feel like the most important feedback in critique groups is not the editing issues (there are always a couple editors in the group), but content feedback where a particular aspect of the piece may not be clear to the reader. I appreciate when someone takes the time to really read the piece and says, “I wasn’t sure about this thing” or “maybe this could be clearer.” This feedback gives me the opportunity to go back and think about changing or adding (even one word) to clarify and make it readable. I feel like I have become a better reader through this experience, and I try to give feedback as a reader, not an editor. The best way I can think of to honor my writing is to keep coming back to it. Making time to write and to continue to develop the craft of writing. I take quite a few workshops specifically to make time to write.

I agree so much that the best way to honor one’s writing is to keep coming back to it. And the huge value of peer feedback as well! Please respond to this quote by Martha Graham:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” 

I love this quote. I feel like action comes from engaging others. Whether it is literary, visual, or performing, art engages and creates a connection within. Words evoke empathy and emotionally connect a reader to the piece. Empathy inspires action. I just finished the novel Forgotten Country, by Catherine Chung. The depth of her characters was so engaging for me, I became emotionally invested in the family. I think that is why I write Flash. Flash, to me, is like an explosion of emotion that stays with you long after you have experienced that initial moment.

Flash as an “explosion of emotion.” Wow, I love that, Leslie. Thank you! Can you tell us what is your favorite story that you yourself have written (“favorite” doesn’t have to mean “best” or more successful or whatever). And why is it your favorite?

Most of my pieces are based in memory so I have a close connection to each. I have recently tried to focus on complete fiction. I have found that adding a fantasy element into a real situation gives me an opportunity to stretch my mind. I have recently written a piece about a siren who falls in love with a human who dies, of course, and she is left to live alone. I focused on the emotional element of loss and anger but also added the mystical elements of a Siren.

Have you been to Breckenridge before? What are you most looking forward to as a writer retreating to this incedible place? 

I have not been to Breckenridge and am looking forward to the scenery. I hear it is beautiful. Mostly, I am looking forward into immersing myself into writing. Living the life of a writer without the distractions of the day job. Many times I will feel a need to write that is stifled by the day job.

Is there something we don’t know about you that you’re happy to share? 🙂

I love sappy 70s songs (Andy Gibb, The Carpenters) and Murder She Wrote.

Ah, this is great! Thanks so much, Leslie! August can’t get here soon enough!

Leslie Archibald is a graduate of the University of Houston, majoring in English, Creative Writing with a minor in Women’s Studies. She currently works at a full-time office position while continuing to write and edit part time. Leslie is the volunteer coordinator at Writespace, a local Writer’s organization in Houston, Texas and is the winner of the 2017 Spider Road Press’s Spiders Web Flash Fiction Prize for her piece “Sherry Baby.”

NOTE: Our Breckenridge retreat is sold out, but some spaces remain in our upcoming Costa Rica and Italy retreats. Check them out! We’d love for you to join us.

Interviews

Max Hipp on Writing, Retreating, and “Getting Messy”

Hi Max! You will be joining Nancy & me for Create in Costa Rica in January. Thanks! We’re so excited for this retreat. What, if any, has been your writing workshop/retreat experience in the past? How do you find ways to honor your writing in your day-to-day life?

I did a Barrelhouse Writer Camp last summer in rural PA (Barrelhouse does great work for writing culture—not only do they publish a journal and many books, they also offer a grant for up-and-coming lit journals!). A creek ran through the property and we’d all get together, a few dozen writers and editors, to eat dinner and watch a terrible movie. I was able to get a lot done.

I make time for writing every day, at least a couple of hours. If I can’t do that, if I don’t have time to even sit down, I’ll write things on my phone. Even if it’s just a paragraph or an idea.

Respond to this quote by Brenda Ueland: “So you see, imagination needs moodling – long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”

This is from one of the four million books on writing I’ve read that I wish I owned. Of course I agree. Personally I’m trying to spend less time “dawdling and puttering” so more of it has an end result.

What is your favorite story that you yourself have written (“favorite” doesn’t have to mean “best” or more successful or whatever). And why is it your favorite?

The truth is my favorite piece is whatever I’m working on. I’ve got a few new things bouncing around, though, that I think are pretty good. Even though nobody has taken them yet, the rejections from journals have been complimentary and specific rather than boilerplate, so that’s somewhat encouraging.

Tell us something we don’t know about you that you are happy to share. AND/OR What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming retreat in Costa Rica?

I write songs, short stories, flashes, and aborted novels. I used to compartmentalize the forms because I was thinking they should all be made so differently. Now I get messy and let them leak all over each other.

I’m looking forward to a community of writers in a new place. It helps so much to read works in progress with other writers and editors–people who are great readers–and just talk about what you’re making.

I love what you say about allowing different forms to “leak all over each other.” And I agree wholeheartedly about the value of community for writers! Max, thanks for taking the time to chat. Nancy and I look forward to creating in Costa Rica with you!

NOTE: A few spots remain for Create in Costa Rica in January! Join us!

Bio: Max Hipp is a teacher and writer living in Mississippi. His work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, New World Writing, Unbroken Journal, and Five 2 One. Follow him on Twitter: @maximumevil