A “Writing Group” of friends whose yearly gathering blends solitude, craft, & community
Inspired to create a gathering of your own? Please consult with these women who’ve done it before; they’ve agreed and are ready to answer your questions.
Flamingos Contact Info: www.nineflamingos.com
Please describe your gathering.
Ruth Thompson: The “Flamingos” are nine women writers, AROHO alumnae, who gather every year for a week to write, share work, laugh, cry, dance, cook, and eat together. The focus of the retreat is on writing. So although we may share an exercise or practice with the group during the afternoon “together time,” this is primarily a writing retreat rather than a workshop.
We believe we have found the perfect combination of solitude and community. The mornings are free to write, walk on the coast, refresh our spirits with silence and the natural world. In the afternoons, there is time to share writing exercises, talk craft, and write together for those who want company. Before dinner is free time — some continue writing, often a group will go for another walk or drive into town to shop. In the evenings we cook together, share food and conversation. Each night two women read – often something new or something they want feedback on.
We have come, for the most part, to think of ourselves as a writing group – we stay in contact through email and see one another when we can, we share work and trust one another’s astuteness and generosity as readers, we support one another professionally in every way we can – spreading the word about publications and readings, showing up to cheer one another on, offering a bed and even a ride when needed. Beyond this, some of us have become true sisters, the closest of friends.
Sandra Hunter: Since we met in 2011, nine of us AROHO-ites from California, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Hawaii have been meeting annually at Sea Ranch on the Mendocino Coast. As well as the most important stuff – sharing good food and friendship —we share our writing. The schedule is fairly loose. Mornings are for individual writing and afternoons are for optional writing prompts. Evenings are for sharing our work not for critique but for rousing support.
How do you feel your gathering is AROHO-inspired?
Ruth Thompson: We met at AROHO Ghost Ranch 2011 and most of us continue to be involved in and deeply committed to AROHO. We look forward to seeing one another at the Ghost Ranch retreats and usually room together.
Originally we even called our annual retreat a “mini-AROHO.” We intentionally framed it in terms of what we loved in the Ghost Ranch retreats. We kept the egalitarian, peer-to-peer spirit of the 2009 and 2011 Ghost Ranch retreats. We added more solitude and time to write in the mornings. We also made time to read to one another from work in progress. We eliminated formal workshops and teaching.
Sandra Hunter: It’s also an AROHO tradition for women to support and love one another, and this little nucleus of loving kindness is what we’ve created at Sea Ranch. We bring the best of ourselves, in the quality of our work and our friendship for each other.
We also adopted the AROHO evening readings, but since there are only 9 of us, we can read for much longer! We also have the luxury of providing detailed feedback to one another. This is another way in which we strengthen our bonds.
What was your original goal and did you accomplish it?
Ruth Thompson: Our goal was to continue the mutually supportive writing friendships and (for me, anyway), keep the writing momentum going after coming home from Ghost Ranch. The group, and especially the annual retreat, play a very important role in my writing life because I am so isolated in Hilo.
Originally the group was intended to include California writers, but many moved! In retrospect, and thinking of others who might like to form similar groups, I believe it might have been beneficial to leave group membership more fluid for the first couple of years, perhaps ending up with a slightly larger group. But there are pros and cons for both options.
Sandra Hunter: The original goal was to create a mini-AROHO. I think we’ve gone beyond AROHO because of the way we continue to nurture individual relationships, supporting and enriching each other’s lives.
What about your gathering makes it unique?
Ruth Thompson: I don’t know of any other offshoot from AROHO that has continued for so many years as a group with the same members, going on retreat together every year, constituting a writing community. So its longevity is unique. As some of us have moved far away from physical community with other writers, this community has become a true lifeline.
Sandra Hunter: Throughout the year we chat via Skype, email, and phone. We share successes and sorrows in equal part. Each of us knows that any of the others is only a phone call or text away. We love each other into facing yet another blank page, make each other sit down and rewrite even if we’re still smarting over numerous rejections, and encourage one another to keep submitting.
These communications are given further dimension when we see one another. There’s nothing like laughing so hard that you’re holding each other up, like being moved to tears by a piece that reaches into the place you’d forgotten was sore, like being transported by watching someone read their poem, like having friends who really listen to your work.
We arrive at Sea Ranch for our yearly soul-load of love, inspiration and a lot of laughter. And when we leave we’re ready to return to our daily lives, including our writing lives, recharged and ready to write and submit and face down those rejections!