So I am settling back into my life as a writer working out of my home where I am alone most of the time. It is not a lifestyle that I dislike. In fact I fought hard to make it happen, and at this particular time of my life it suits me well. I have had to put a considerable amount of effort over the last few years in figuring out how to manage the lifestyle, and in protecting my writing time and space from encroachment. It really did take several years to figure it all out. The only thing that the lifestyle lacks is community. You can feel isolated, walled in.
Community is a beautiful word, but is, I believe an essential concept, an essential component to healthy human living. We do not thrive without it. We might survive, like a random wildflower bursting through a sidewalk crack, but we will not thrive. Not to our maximum potential. Last week I found my community. It is called AROHO, short for A Room of Her Own.
AROHO is non-profit foundation that seeks to support female writers and other artists in a variety of ways, most especially with financial and emotional support, and with a biennial professional writing retreat for women in the mountains of New Mexico (though oddly I found many connections with my home state of New Hampshire). In their own words the organizers say, "Since 2003, the AROHO Retreat has gathered women writers to exchange ideas and develop their craft in New Mexico’s magnificent high desert, nourishing a unique esprit de corps. Nestled in the red rocks of Ghost Ranch that inspired Georgia O’Keeffe, AROHO Retreat participants enjoy abundant time to write, reflect, and establish critical and often life-changing alliances with other professional women writers."
"The organic and evolving AROHO Retreat program is best defined as co-created by the women who participate, with utmost respect for the individual’s capacity to challenge herself and others, and to mold each day to her needs. "
While I was there I kept finding myself thinking, "These are my people." An interesting feeling in that the 100 writers chosen to attend AROHO represented the most diverse group of women I have ever been assembled with. Certainly that added to the beauty of the experience, and beauty is what happens when diverse minds mingle. But the inspiration goes beyond the participants present and how we impacted one another. In addition to connecting with the people present, you feel yourself connected to past participants of AROHO retreats whoever, where ever they are. You feel yourself connected with Georgia O'Keeffe whose vibrant art sprung from the dusty land you're breathing in and whose presence you can feel out among the hills. You feel yourself connected with Virginia Woolf whose words inspired the founders and whose presence you can feel especially at the quiet rivers edge. You even feel connected to the nameless, faceless spirits that have always been thought to inhabit the vast space of Ghost Ranch. There really seems to be, in this place where dinosaurs are excavated from ancient rock, an unearthing of organic inspiration that happens here in ways it does not elsewhere.
For me, beyond meeting and learning from many amazing women I would not otherwise have met, my retreat involved quite a bit of personal reflection and future planning that I wasn't expecting. Another way AROHO might differ from other retreats is that I found while there that I was not just concerned with my own work, but also in how I could serve other women writers while at the ranch and upon returning home. It is not a one week community, but one with legs. Legs to carry you forward across all kinds of terrain. Beautiful lady legs. Glamourous gams.
In my writing last week I was surprised to find that I was not focused on quantity, the word count I'd been yoked to at home, but on quality. A few key scenes in my novel-in-progress were polished til they glistened like the stars that make Ghost Ranch feel like it is situated at the very top of the world, where if you climbed a kiva ladder you could in fact touch the tippity-top of the heavens, the very apex of the universe ~ because it is within your reach.
That is what AROHO does for women.
That is what AROHO did for me.