PeerSpirit Newsletter – The Owl and the Tree March 2022
Storycatching Through the Decades
by Christina Baldwin
In the summer of 1990, I began teaching a five-day seminar called “The Self as the Source of the Story.” (Often referred to fondly by alums as SAS.) The course focuses on helping journal writers make the leap from our chronological ramblings, to crafting pieces and books to share through the genres of creative nonfiction: memoir, autobiography, and personal essay. While the seminar and I have certainly grown over the years, the basic format has remained steadily the same, and every session fills me with humility to witness and guide so many personal stories that people lift from their private hearts into the light of day.
Always in small groups of 10-16, one to three times a year, SAS has supported a range of writers — some coming because their children wanted life stories, some carrying a life-changing event that needs articulating, some with a passion to get their experience published. The circle always works; everyone makes an exponential leap in their skill and confidence. Thirty-two years probably equals 750-800 writers, over 150 books (I’ve lost count) — alumni groups that have gone on for years, people returning to finish projects started years earlier, sometimes couples, sometimes parents and grown children, gentle men, and mostly women coming into voice.
People have flown in from faraway, gotten out of cars after a long drive, inhaled the sea air crossing to Whidbey Island from mainland busyness. I have watched again and again, the first breaths of calming energies as we enter the grounds of The Aldermarsh retreat center and step into the gift of five days sequestering with each other and our narrative dreams. Midwifing these stories has been one of the major gifts of my life work: both what I have had the opportunity to offer and been offered in return. My life has been deeply informed by these experiences and it is truly heart work. And now, after 32 years, I am letting this course go at the end of 2022.
I turn seventy-six this April and am in the process of doing final revisions on a novel I have been working on for ten years, and which has been my primary focus for the past four years. The editing process continues toward final draft. My literary agent is committed to selling it; I am committed to supporting and promoting it in all the ways I know will be necessary. This will be enough — along with our community and family commitments and needs to stay available as elder voices and activists in this wobbling, wounded, warring, and still wonderful world.
This is also the year we will close out our company, PeerSpirit, Inc. which Ann and I founded in January 1994 to carry our circle work into the world as well as house the writing and nature workshops we were each doing when we met. This letting go is a process full of attendant emotions: an admission that we have come to completion of a cycle that has been central since we met in Self as Source in July 1991. The story of our work is housed in the preface to The Circle Way, and in the foreword to Life’s Companion.
We have gifted and passed on all the materials from our circle facilitation work to www.thecircleway.net, a 501.C3 collective of next generation diverse facilitators, trainers, circle coaches, and practitioners. We have written ten books that support this work and remain in print (thank you publishers!).
We will continue writing our blogs, and this newsletter will appear quarterly, as always with the fine hand of Debbie Dix. We continue to explore options for on-line presence, for housing podcasts and interviews, and there will be a new website focused around the novel.
We are simplifying. We are discerning what it means to move with vigor through the decade of our seventies. We are examining our priorities in a dance of what seems possible, practical, and ethical. More about this as the year progresses, the book sells, and things become clearer.
Meanwhile, we pray for peace, for national and global leaders to be able to de-escalate what is happening in Ukraine and Russia. To honor the tenderness of this historical moment, we also want to hold up three blogposts from friends that have come to us this month:
- Katharine Weinmann’s A Wabi Sabi Life,
- Trebbe Johnson’s Radical Joy for Hard Times, and
- Harry Hitzeman’s beautiful photography of the Ukrainian Church in his native Chicago, an honoring devotion.
On those days when the spine or soul become tired, imagine all of humanity whispering a twelve word prayer inside your ear: “we are not the children nor the descendants of a weak people.”
In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty