Last week I spent time at a magical writing place called Cirenaica. I came home with 2 chapters solidly workshopped and revised, 2,700 brand new words, a bunch of word nerd friends and my very first literary award.
Cirenaica, which in Uruguayan means “siren of the sea”, is the name of a cabin in central Wisconsin. The owner of the property thought the name would symbolize the alluring sensation writers (and other artists) feel when their work pulls them away from the responsibilities of their daily lives. I agree, it is the perfect name for a creative retreat, and can attest that it accomplished its goal.
For the past three years this oasis in the woods has been rented by the Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild. Each summer, for five weeks, a writer in residence and ten other word nerds gather for four days of writing, work-shopping, and camaraderie. The summer of 2018 retreat series has seen the likes of Nicholas Butler, Michael Martone, Lindsay Starck, Holly Hughes and Karla Huston.
With Lindsay, author of Noah’s Wife, an allegory tale depicting a modern village’s trouble with constant rain and a flooded zoo, we worked to add tension to our novels and short stories in progress. Here were a few of my take aways from my time with this Augsburg MFA teacher.
On the final night of each session, the retreat participants host a reading for the general public. After each writer shares their piece BJ Hollars, director of the Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild, gives a few thank you’s and then, announces the winner of the coveted Toilet Seat Award. The award, created earlier in the summer when a writer went above and beyond to fix a cataclysmic bathroom catastrophe, is meant to honor a person who “embodies the spirit of Cirenaica”.
And last week, that person was me! As I stood proudly before the small crowd, tightly clutching the unusual traveling trophy, I confessed, “This is my first literary award!”.
You might be wondering, Amanda, how did you earn this prestigious honor? Let me tell you the story.
We were moments away from dinner. Chef Michelle was making the final meal preparations, wine had been poured, the record player was rocking, BJ and Lindsay were tenaciously battling the wireless printer and I had an idea. Rather than sit spread out among the room, deck and kitchen for dinner, occupying random chairs and eating off our laps, I wanted to eat dinner with my new friends. All of them. At the same table. How could we spend our last dinner together scattered about the cabin and property? In my mind this simply wouldn’t do. I wanted us to be together.
So, I set about gathering extra tables and instructed others to grab some chairs. Within just a few minutes, we managed to assemble an eating space large enough for all fourteen of us. And even though our presentation may not have done Martha Stewart proud, it looked great, with each and everyone of us sitting around it, together. Apparently this is the first time in three summers this feat has ever been accomplished, and because the retreat I attended is the last ever Cirenaica retreat, we dubbed this “the last supper”.
For me, this picture exemplifies the magic of opportunities like the Cirenaica retreat. BJ had told me many times about the power of this place and the amazing things that happen here. And for me, the coming together, the creative community all at one table, is as magical as it can get. I am thankful the Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild not only recognizes this form of magic but works diligently to create and support it. Thank you, BJ, not only for the award, but also for seeing my small action as something more than arranging furniture. Thank you also to the Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild for the opportunity to be a part of your magic. I look forward to the next time I can write with you and create more of it.