Over The Picket Fence

Dance. Always dance. And sing, too. This time last week I was adding up reasons I should probably cancel my registration to the workshop I’d signed up for.

And the thought of how close I’d come to missing out on that empowering, inspiring and soul-lifting experience was the first thought that came to my mind as I drove away from the Writer’s Retreat cottage on Folly Beach yesterday afternoon.

The urgency of that message filled my head as I instinctively dialed my daughters to impart that rehashed, I-just-want-to-be-sure-you-hear-me message.

“I’m just saying, always open the door and walk in with your head held high. When you see a chance, take it. Don’t settle for the sidelines. When you have the choice to sit it out or dance, dance.”

I was nearly breathless.

“Mom, I’m the one that told you should go when you were making all kinds of excuses,” said my older, pragmatic daughter.

“You’re right. I just wanted to let you know I learned my own lesson and I’m so glad that I went. It was fabulous.”

My younger, easier-to-draw-a-compliment-out-of daughter’s response was equally as predictable.

“Mom, you always tell us that. You’ve set a good example of that.”

Oh, sweet. You think? Then actually, my new message is double that: To dance and sing. Like one of the women that I shared a cottage with this weekend. Like Joan.

I met Joan on Friday. She and I and 12 others, including Mary Ann, our instructor, gathered from locations far and near for a weekend workshop for writers, wannabes and I-think-I’m-a-writer, but-I’m-not-quite-sure hopefuls — to test their craft, get inspired, find their voice, put pen to paper, reach into their soul, open their heart and spill what’s there onto journals, laptops or notepads.

We sat in a mish-mash of chairs that circled a glorious screened porch just two short blocks from the beach and reached deeper into our beings with each exercise.

With the exception of one, we had all learned of the workshop from the September issue of “Ladies Home Journal.”

There was a snippet story about learning vacations and the page I tore from the magazine described three options: One was the John C. Campbell Folk Art School in North Carolina that I’d heard about and had already put on my bucket list. The second was for Second City, an improv and stand-up comedy workshop in Chicago that I’d never have the guts to try. The third one was for the Low Country Writer’s Retreat led by creative writing instructor Mary Ann Henry on Folly Beach just minutes from Charleston, S.C. Her workshops range from short-story boot camp to beginner workshops to one-on-one literary guidance.

I was the only one who hadn’t booked months ago. I’d called just after a cancellation and was put on the list barely more than a week in advance.

Our backgrounds and our interests ran the gamut and covered everything from blogs to non-fiction, to novels to short stories to memoirs.

But it turns out, there were no exceptions to the talent, the depth and the inspiration of that circle.

Turns out, we are all writers. Mary Ann called us that on the second day and you could almost hear the collective shoulder straightening to attention.

Between us, our written words brought about laughter, tears, forgiveness, healing, inspiration, empowerment and every emotion in between.

Some seriously breathtaking, finely crafted prose went wafting from that screened porch on East Hudson Avenue and into the palm trees, live oaks and our hearts.

It was a short, less than 48 hours in total, but in that time we each found the courage to share the voice inside ourselves. And we all found pride in what we brought to the surface. We shared special moments. We became friends.

I got what I was after: The encouragement to continue the novel I started eight years ago and have added a chapter or two to every year since.

But I got a whole lot more. I found friends from cities across the country that I truly believe I’ll see again. I found confidence in the voice that I’d put in the protaganist of the story I call, “Jaybird’s Song.” And I re-learned a truth that reinforces itself everytime I put myself in the presence of strong, creative women: Female friendships are essential to the wholeness of a woman.

But I learned, too, that it’s time I pushed myself even further: I’m going to be like Joan.

Joan saw the “Ladies Home Journal” article and registered for the writer’s retreat and the improv/stand-up comedy class. She’s a retired teacher who’s never had an acting class, but she’s headed for Chicago in January.

Get ready, daughters o’ mine. Joan’s reset the bar, and I’ve got some revved-up words of wisdom to impart.

Got the shopping bug? The 22nd annual Holiday Festival at Dunwoody United Methodist Church always starts the season off brightly. The festival is this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Shop for unique gifts from more than 100 artisans and make your bid for any of the wonderful silent auction (bids close at 1 p.m.), attic treasures, casseroles-to-go, gourmet treats and a special kids zone that includes a game truck and an inflatable “hamster ball.”

Come early to enjoy a pancake breakfast at 7:30 a.m. All of the proceeds support Atlanta Habitat for Humanity.

Mount Vernon takes on Seeds. MVPS’s Upper School will tackle the complicated story of the 2004 Canadian Supreme Court showdown between a Saskatchewan farmer and a multinational biotech firm. In its American stage debut, “Seeds,” examines thec omplex ethics of genetically modified crops via part courtroom docudrama and part social satire.

Intrigued by its direct link to this year’s 9th and 10th grade transdisciplinary project surrounding genetically modified organisms, theater director Clark Taylor sought permission to bring the play to Mount Vernon Presbyterian School from playwright Annabel Souta.

Performances are scheduled Nov. 7-9 at 7 p.m. in the MVPS Black Box Theatre. Learn more at mountvernonschool.org.

picketfence@bellsouth.net

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