As spring turns into summer, I find myself Googling writing residencies. There’s really nothing like spending a few weeks—or more, if you’re lucky—writing and talking shop with fellow writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers. Last October, I was fortunate enough to participate in the debut Memoir Residency at The Banff Centre, nestled in Alberta’s Rockies. For two weeks, I had the privilege of studying memoir under Karen (Kaz) Connelly, Alison Pick, and Alexandra Fuller—three exceptional Canadian authors who are as warm and encouraging as they are accomplished. The program was directed by the exceptional Devyani Saltzman.
Top row, left to right: Mark Mann, Ann Dowsett Johnston, Rebecca Dingwell, Leona Theis, Wiam El-Tamami. Bottom row, left to right: Karen (Kaz) Connelly, Kate Armstrong, Cameron Dueck, Alison Pick, and me. (I put together an outfit that I thought was “woodsy,” but my god brother wrote me and said, “You’re dressed like Luke Skywalker.” He’s right.)
I learned a great deal from my peers, as well, as we discussed our projects and hiked among the hills. The scenery was spectacular, and so well suited for a writing residency. After hours squinting into a computer screen, I’d emerge into the sunlight and find myself awestruck by the mountains; it was just what I needed after all that intense focus.
My memoir-in-progress, if you’re wondering, is about growing up in Fairfield, Iowa, the nexus of the Transcendental Meditation movement. Like many of my former Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment alums, I’ve found myself reflecting upon those unorthodox high school years spent studying Sanskrit alongside Shakespeare while I lived in Utopia Park—the town’s trailer park for meditators. In recent months, however, my writing—and the book—seems to be shifting in focus as I grapple with cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease. During a weekend trip to Galiano Island, in the Southern Gulf Islands here in Canada, I wrote an essay about my illness and what larger lessons it may have to teach me. That essay, “Wild, Salty Body of Water,” will be published in The Rumpus in the next few months. Meanwhile, I continue to research residencies! I’d like to go somewhere new. My friends at The Luminous Writer are working hard to arrange an autumn workshop in Ireland, near Dublin, so if that comes together, I’d really love to attend. I’m also tempted to return to The Banff Centre sometime. If you’re a writer, a musician, artist, or performing arts professional, I encourage you to look into their programs. I did, and it was life changing.