This past Friday and Saturday my wife, Amy, & I attended a Writer’s conference in La Crosse called, “Awakening the Soul of the Writer.” The Conference was sponsored by the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse and the La Crosse Women’s Writer’s group. They did an impressive job of organizing the conference—everything was done first rate.
We arrived on Friday morning just in time to catch the last part of a presentation by Ellen Kort called “The Poet/Writer as Healer.” I had one of those scary experiences of unknowingly walking into a room full of people. Thank goodness they all had their backs to me. I was very surprised by the large number of people who attended that session—I would guess 150. I had never heard of Ellen Kort before, but she made some statements that were meaningful to me. She said to search for the truthline in a poem and to know what we stand for as writers.
After that talk we were hustled into the Franciscan Spirituality Center where the workshops were held. I attended a workshop called “The Agony of Near Defeat: Techniques to Meet the Deadline.” I signed up for the workshop because I had faced deadlines for 16 years when I was preaching weekly. Anne O’Connor lead the workshop. She is a writer for a monthly newspaper in La Crosse. She started us off by giving us a minute to write 15 words about ourselves and then 15 words about her. We talked about our experience of meeting this imposed deadline. Anne O’Connor then talked for about 80 minutes on meeting deadlines. Some of what she said was helpful to me:
· She said that the more we care about something the harder it is to write about it on deadline. We have to prioritize our level of care about something.
· She said we can write a lot in our heard before sitting down to the keyboard to write.
· When we have a problem writing on deadline she encouraged us to find an audience of one, that is write for the one person in the world who loves us and accepts us.
The best line of the workshop was when she said, “I am certain when I’m on deadline that there is a closet to clean.”
In the afternoon I attended a workshop on journaling by Carl Koch. I got to know Carl through Amy. He was head of the servant leadership program at Viterbo when Amy attended.
Later on in the day I attended a workshop called “The Art of Writing” by Sara Sprister, a local Junior High writing instructor. She had us participate in a number of writing exercised. In one exercise we looked at a painted portrait. We were asked to write down 10 answers that Sara Sprister asked us. From that material we then each wrote a short story about the person in the portrait.
The highlight of the conference was the talk given the next day by Kathleen Norris. She is the acclaimed author of six books of non-fiction. Her best known works are “Dakota, Amazing Grace, and The Cloister Walk.” She recently finished a book on Acedia called “Acedia and Me.”
Acedia is a spiritual condition. She described it as a demon. Acedia is not caring about the world—and not caring that we don’t care. It’s part boredom, sloth, listlessness, and restlessness. The opposite of acedia is zeal.
Kathleen Norris talked about first coming across the idea of acedia when she read Evagrius, a 4th century Egyptian monk. In her book she described how she first suffered from acedia as a teenager.
For such a depressing topic Kathleen Norris did an excellent job of pulling off her talk. I was particularly impressed with how she handled questions.
The two days were fun because it was something new; I hadn’t attended a writer’s conference before. I enjoyed the talks I had with people during the breaks. I got to know a Lutheran pastor who just came to his church; I enjoyed a conversation with a woman from Eau Claire who is organizing an event this Tuesday by Harold Kushner.
I was particularly impressed that this small group of women who make up the La Crosse Women’s Writer’s Group could pull off such a big event.