More Perspectives on the Summer 2012 Retreat

With the May New Directions writing weekend, Home, fast approaching, I’ve been thinking again about last summer’s Cape Cod retreat. Not long after the retreat, I had written to retreat participants to ask questions:

  •      What were some of the more memorable writing exercises or events for you?
  •      What were some of the more memorable extracurricular outing or activities for you?
  •      What has happened with the writing you were working on since the retreat?
  •      Would you be interested in having some of your summer writing attached to the blog? 

I received responses from five participants — Mary Davis, Ona Lindquist, Sheila Felberbaum, Irene Landsman, and Annette Leavy – and thought I would include their responses to provide more perspectives on the weeklong summer writing retreat.

What were some of the more memorable writing exercises or events for you?

Deirdre and Sheila.JPGSo many momentous events at Cape Cod. I loved the poem “Woman Enough” by Erica Jong. She fed our souls, our hearts, our minds and our stomachs with home made breads and goodies. I loved the generous handouts given to us each day. Prose, poetry, and craft as well as the creative way in which our free writes were offered. We were able to write in the style of wonderful literary giants or to pick from a cornucopia of offerings spread like jewels on a table to jog our memories and imagination. I chose a bracelet made of mahjong tiles and the prose poem “Ma’s Tiles” just spilled right out. I later worked on the poem in my memoir class (during  a weekend ND conference) with Jeanne Lemkau further tweaking and tightening. (Sheila Felberbaum)

 The exercises that required us to use arbitrary rules (words with no e, words with only four letters, etc) were the most interesting and helpful — they gave me a new way of thinking about how we choose the words we choose, which usually (for me) is intuitive rather than truly thought out. (Mary Davis)

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     Deirdre and Jack are the two best hosts I’ve ever known and their generosity infused our week not just as recipients of their hospitality but as writers and seminar participants. There was a tone that somehow mingled with the beauty of the setting to create a unique experience. Deirdre is both vigorous and generous, a remarkable combination in a workshop leader. The writing highlight of the week for me was my participation in her small group workshop. I was very fortunate to be in a group of good writers and thoughtful respondents. The writing exercises are always a more mixed bag for me. However, I valued the opportunity to listen to other people’s writing, both the writers Deirdre and Lauren shared and ND writers. (Annette Leavy)

 I’ve been working on a memoir with a psychological/political slant since my second year in New Directions. I had written about a dozen vignette/chapters and workshopped many of them at New Directions, but I hadn’t found a way to begin the book.  The introductory chapter I drafted for the retreat was something I worked on all week — it was invaluable to spend so much time with it  — getting feedback, working and reworking it and making it substantially better.  From our morning workshops:

  • I loved working on poetry even though my project is prose.
  • I loved being read to — like the best part of a good day in first grade. 

Over the course of the week with Deirdre and Lauren and all my fellow writers, I heard so many little snippets of wisdom:


  • “I know I have a story when I have two stories.” (Grace Paley)
  • “Good writing is hard writing”  (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
  • “Every object, rightly seen, unlocks a new faculty of the soul.”  (Emerson)
  • “When you are tempted to use an adverb; find a better verb.”  

Deirdre read to us from picture books and we used both the imagery and the content to inspire our own writing in surprising ways. 

We got serious about grammar and usage and how, for example, simile, metaphor, extended metaphor, and personification are similar and different and what’s useful for what. 

There were a series of writing exercises that were mind-boggling and mind-bending like these:

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  • “Describe a color without invoking the sense of sight”
  • “Pick a four letter word, list other four letter words that relate to that word, then write a poem using all of those words and other four letter words.”
  • “Write a passage using only words with a single vowel each”
  • “Write a piece of poetry or prose in which the first line begins with A and each subsequent line begins with  the next letter of the alphabet.” (Irene Landsman)

What were some of the more memorable extracurricular outing or activities for you?

·   marsh colors.JPGWe visited the Edward Gorey house and found out why it’s called “Elaphant House”.  Both my kids were big Gorey fans and it was fun to see how deeply weird he really was. I could have looked at the view of the marsh from Deirdre and Jack’s house all day long, through all its changing light and color.  But then I’d have to become a painter and give up this writing business. (Irene Landsman)

·   I loved the walk to swimming in the pond and the bay, the view out my window, sharing a house with Andrea, Lynne and Elizabeth and being happy there… (Annette Leavy)

I didn’t do much extracurricular — my own tendency at things like that is to retreat into my work and be a little bit of a hermit. I was working on my book — the last bits of it — and sent it in to the editor that week. (Mary Davis)

Annette and Mary.jpgI felt energized each morning by the beautiful walks near Deirdre’s warm and magical home. (Sheila Felberbaum)

What has happened with the writing you were working on since the retreat?

·  Annette and Mary.jpg I gave the paper “Mourning and Creativity” that I worked on at the Cape in North Carolina. It was well received so worth the 11 rewrites! (Sheila Felberbaum)

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I began working on a story, which I shared with my small writing group.  I have continued to make steady progress on it, although it is not yet finished. I also received useful feedback on the other story I shared, and the feedback has helped me to improve on it and give it finishing touches. (Annette Leavy)

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       My book has come out. (Mary Davis) 

Here’s a link to Mary’s book – Language and Connection in Psychotherapy: Word Matters


The retreat inspired me to set a goal of having my book in a complete first draft by summer of 2014. I don’t know if I’ll quite get there but I’ve written a dozen more vignette/chapters since August, and blocked out more. Our ND Alumni Group began checking in on a weekly basis, and I’m also in a local memoir-writing group that meets monthly. Those things have given me the support and encouragement to keep the nose to the grindstone (or at least the fingers on the keyboard). I’ve also been continuing to write and learn about poetry — it helps my prose and gives me much-needed respite from sometimes painful and always difficult memoir work. Having struggled through Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, I decided I needed more basic knowledge, and now I’m taking an online course on poetry through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies program. I’m at the stage where at least I know much, much more specifically how much I don’t know. I compressed my clinical schedule to make a free day for writing. I think I’m in this writing life so far I couldn’t get out if I wanted to … good thing I don’t want to. (Irene Landsman)

Would you be interested in having some of your summer writing included the blog?


The Aviary

A Sensual Construction

Ona Lindquist

 The grapple bucket

connected to the end

of the strong arm

curls in slow jerks inward

toward the fat wrapped

rubber wheels

spread wide

and is tucked between them

for the night    a cat

in a ball    the haul

of a long day

behind it.


Next the arm detaches             

from the tucked bucket

in a quick change 

with a facile thumb

lurching outward

to grab the rugged

auger with telescoping



And the long arm

of the CAT

curls back again

in slow jerks

dropping the auger

between the wide

spread wheels to nest

in the grapple bucket

and the dark



the blackbirds



The Fall of Fallow 

Ona Lindquist

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I fell out of a closet today  thought

I was dead.

The mice gnawed a hole

in my back

the length of my torso

where they stored acorns

corn flakes and kibble

the hole scarred over  a smooth

thick purple.


I shook myself off the cache spilling

like pay dirt from the mouth

of a slot machine. Betcha’

I was dreaming

of a beast of burden

and my perverse affection

for scars  the once living


the live.


The Writing Prompt

Irene Landsman

Lauren and Deirdre have been giving us challenging and stimulating writing exercises all week.  We should return their generosity, and I have a few suggestions:


Use your non-dominant hand, and your neighbor’s notebook, to compose a reflection on your writing process in the form of a Villanelle.  Only use words with a consonant-to-vowel ratio of at least 5 to 1.


This is a copy of  Canterbury Tales.  Please read a stanza and pass it to the person next to you until we have finished it. 

Think about a journey you have been on in your life.

Write about that journey, in Middle English, using only words with exactly three syllables.


This morning we will consider some selections having to do with water — imagery, symbolism, metaphor and so forth.

First, please read Moby Dick.  You will have 5 minutes.

When you have completed the reading,  go down to the dock, put on the scuba gear you will find there, submerge yourself completely and compose a sonnet in grease pencil on waterproof board.


We all know Tolstoy said happy families are all alike (and boring), and that in his view Anna and Vronsky were the ideal couple.

Enough of that. 

Just pretend you had a happy childhood.  Re-write your life story with yourself as Anna Karenina, and with an upbeat ending.


Beneath your chair, you will find a bottle of scotch, a razor blade, and a dishpan.  Drink the scotch, cut out your heart, place it in the dishpan, and stomp on it.  By now, you will find this quite easy.


Ma’s Tiles

Sheila Felberbaum

Crack, Bam…

Tiles are thrown and discarded on the oval kitchen table

in our Long Island ranch on North Green Avenue

Dragons,Flowers and Wind able to blow in all directions

North, South, East and West.

It’s Monday, it’s Mahjong day and Phyllis, Harriet and Rose

Have come over to play.

Coffee that’s perked, milk that’s whole and Entenmann’s cake

freshly warmed from the oven join in on the yellow formica counter.

My mother cackles with laughter as the taciturn tiles are swept up

in wondrous waves of ivory.

My bedroom…(I no longer Brooklyn-Share- one -room with at first three then

two of my siblings)… is just outside the kitchen.

In a role reversal 13 year old me yells out…”I have to sleep… you’re too loud!”

“Tough” they yell back, laughing even louder.

Seven years later, now married, I join a Mahjong group

comprised of women living in my apartment house in Queens.

My Pharmacist husband works the swing shift which ends at 11P.M.

I flee the game to feed him, flee what feels like a sadistic, sequential suicide.

I can’t keep up with these women, shouting commands, changing directions,

enthusiastically enthralled in the game.

I feel as if I’m a hybrid of Lucy Arnaz working the chocolate conveyor belt and the

sorcerer’s apprentice with tiles multiplying like buckets in Disney’s Fantasia.

Pass the tiles…is that to the left or to the right? What’s right? How do I meld?

Whose next?

Crack, Bam…

 I have problems ordering things in my mind, negotiating navigation and direction

demands. Mahjong’s a metaphor for my life.

 Fast forward 40 years and my mother dies of cancer.

Yet even death has respites of relief.

I find some surprises cleaning out Mom’s Florida condo as loss empties my emotional

world. There’s

 No cash rolled up in socks No diamond rings, Limoges China

or Persian rugs of woven multicolored threads

No stocks or bonds, cashmere or fancy cars.

 My mom’s treasures are stuffed in kitchen cabinets commemorating events like years

of take -home Chinese food…Thirty- eight compartmented white plastic covered dishes

that once proudly housed egg -foo -yung, vegetable lo- mien, egg rolls and fried rice.

 One day, I too will leave behind a trove of memory- tinged ephemera. Included will be

shopping bags from the mundane Macy’s Christmas motif to the magnificent Asian

Department store Takashimaya’s Origami extravaganza.

 Waiting for me, behind the KitchenAide mix-master is a rectangular, rust- colored

velvet box.I pop the hood and eye -caress the ancient multi-symboled yellowed ivory

tiles. They feel warm, like Mom’s skin. They feel alive.

 Crack, Bam…

 I will play with my mother’s Mahjong tiles in my own way…

I will fashion bracelets and necklaces for myself my daughter,

my daughter-in laws and my granddaughters.

 I will hear my mother’s unforgettable ….uninhibited …irreplaceable laugh.

 Note: Photos by Sheila Felberbaum, Don Chiappianelli and Gail Boldt 

Summer 2013 Writing Retreat

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Wonderful news!
Deirdre Callanan and Lauren Wolk have agreed to once again host the New Directions Summer Writing Retreat on beautiful Cape Cod.
Dates: July 13 – 19
Where: Deirdre and Jack’s house, West Harwich MA
If you are interested in participating, contact Don Chiapinelli at
FYI:  July is high season on the Cape and accommodations get booked early, so if you are considering attending, you’ll want to make reservations for your housing now. 

Summer 2012 Cape Cod Writing Retreat

cape.jpgIt didn’t take long for most of us to realize how smart we had been in having responded to Deirdre Callanan, Don Chiapinelli, and Lauren Wolk’s offer that we might come to Cape Cod for the summer writing retreat. And by “smart”, I mean “incredibly lucky.” Those of us who had the chance to hear Lauren, Don or Deirdre speak at the April weekend, Inspiration in our writing: Who are our heroes? already knew that we would be working with extraordinary teachers of writing. What we didn’t know beforehand was how beautiful our setting would be, how hard Don had worked all summer to prepare all of the details of our time on the Cape, or how generous and gracious Deirdre and Jack Harrison would be in welcoming us to their home.

The retreat started on Saturday evening with a reception on Deirdre and Jack’s back deck, a nice opportunity to reconnect with friends from pervious New Directions events and to meet those new to us, including partners who had also made the trip.

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The writing began Sunday morning, as we gathered in Deirdre’s dining room around her expansive table – actually a reclaimed worktable from a local high school library.  Each morning, Deirdre or Lauren began by reading a poem or an excerpt from a novel or short story, a work of non-fiction or even, to my delight, a picture book.  They led us in discussions of particular features of the writing, followed by exercises that alternated between devious and delightful, that produced groans and laughs and surprising writing. 

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Take Lauren’s requirement that we write using only four letter words. I suspect that I am not the only one who came to the secret conclusion that surely she did not count “the” or “and”: 


Day’s work done
Wild boys trod the hard path, tall corn left and right.
July heat.
Cows look over, chew sour oats, sigh, move away.
Pants, socks, tees rank, cast off.
Boys dash then, hurl from dank pond bank,
soar, arms and legs skew.
Fast, cold pain,
Yelp, gasp.
Swim into life.


Lauren pushed us to think: Is this the right word or the easy word? 

Sleek and elegant in its Upper East Side certainty, the computer refused to notice the pencil.

How does everything in the scene tell the story?

Hunkered down in the most comfortable chair, which wasn’t saying much, her concentration all on that new phone, sending and reading texts, stifling chuckles. Glancing up only occasionally, sliding her eyes across the scene then back down.  Her brother leaning into the door frame, decidedly not in the room.  Her sister at the side of the bed, quiet then loud.  The scorned second wife, assigned to a corner, ignored.  It was late, and the coroner was slow to come.

But it was Deirdre’s questions that took me by surprise:

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What were your childhood’s buried treasures?
What were your childhood gems?
What was precious to you?
What were your rules and what rules did you break?
What fights, play or real, do you remember?
What from your childhood would you never forget?
What did you keep in your first important place?


I had come certain I knew what I wanted to write about, until Deirdre asked, “What did you build, create or imagine as a child?” and something completely unexpected took flight in me. 

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Wheeling and swooping, three flocks of cousins glide in from different parts of the old farmhouse and somehow, inexplicably, converge in the kitchen, heading for the front door. 
Earthbound, their grandmother bellows out to them as they pass, voice thick with irritation:
“You kids stay out of that barn!  You wreck those hay bales.  That hay is for cows, not for kids!”
To the flock, her words are no more than distant cries.  They pause, hover for a moment, puzzled by the sound, then answering a different call, they pivot in midair and plunge through the porch and out into the freedom of the yard.  Soaring across the wide gravel driveway and around the tractor not yet cleaned and stored for the night, bounding over the metal fence that separates people territory from cow yard, they flit across the mud and manure, still deep and thick from the morning’s rain, and land in the hardpack dirt of the barn floor.
IMG_0578.jpgLater each morning, we broke into four smaller writing groups.  Besides working with Deirdre and Lauren, we now had the chance to work with Don and with Catherine.  In these groups, we began the work on the pieces we had each brought to the retreat as our primary focus for the week, although some participants worked on new pieces created at the retreat in these groups.

Cape Cod_0688.jpgI was assigned to Catherine’s group, which was put together for those of us who wanted support for professional writing. This gave me the chance to work closely with Anne Adelman, Billie Pivnick, Sheila Felberbaum, and Mary Davis, who provided an outstanding audience for a book chapter I was revising.  These groups met for four of the six days, and on the other two days we were split up and had the opportunity to work with other teachers and participants.

Cape Cod_0595.jpgIn the afternoons and evenings, we had the option of writing or of enjoying the many tourism opportunities the Cape has to offer. For me, this meant trips to the beach, to Provincetown and to art galleries, and a nearly constant consumption of seafood.  If lobster could somehow be incorporated into a dish, I’m sure I ate it.  Early mornings likewise offered opportunities to enjoy the Cape. Several participants gathered regularly for morning walks through the Harwich Conservation Trust. For Billie, Don and I, early mornings meant unforgettably beautiful swims across Sand Pond.    


Our final night was spent as it should have been – celebrating with photos and toasts and with a wonderful potluck, followed by a reading in which each of us had the opportunity to present a portion of what we had been working on during the week. I think Deirdre and Lauren must have been asked more than a few times whether we could come back to the Cape for the Summer 2013 New Directions Retreat. 
Photos by Don Chiapinelli and Gail Boldt
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