I’m just back from the Association of Writers and Writing Program conference in Tampa, FL, and I’m stumped for words to describe the panel I participated in. Best approximation = Powerful. Stunning. Brilliant. Here’s the description of the panel in which I was honored to be included:
About Grief, Trauma, Loss: The Facing, the Writing, and the Healing. (Wendy Barker Moderator, Patricia McConnell, Joel Peckham, Cynthia Hogue , Emmy Pérez) A reading by poets and prose memoirists who have confronted past traumas ranging from sudden, violent deaths of family members to sexual and medical abuse. Each of these writers, who are at various stages in their careers, will also briefly discuss how the writing process itself, followed by publishing, giving readings, and speaking to a variety of audiences, has not only helped them to heal but has encouraged others to give voice to—and ultimately recover from—their own traumatic experiences.
I was invited by the acclaimed poet Wendy Barker to join the panel and it was a wonderful, powerful experience. (Wendy happens to be my sister and is amazingly talented. Yes, okay, she is my sister, but I heard it over and over again at the conference. Lucky me.) The best summary of the panel’s readings came from a man in the audience who said “I’m literally just a “walk in”. I was strolling around outside and saw all these people with name tags on and wondered what was going on. So I came into the hotel and wandered into this room and I have to tell you, this was one of the most powerful hours of my entire life.”
Yup. Well said. Mix the topics of grief, loss and trauma with a group of brilliant writers and readers and that’s what happens. The panel members talked about profound losses, rape, murder and medical abuse. We talked about recovery and resilience and the power of the human spirit. I left inspired and humbled and full of gratitude for all that is best about our strange, horrible, wonderful species.
I was so overwhelmed by the entire experience that the only photographs I have of the entire conference are two that I took the day I arrived. One is of the fake palm trees ($25,000 a pop) in the lobby of the Marriott Waterside Hotel. I so wish I had gotten photos of other members of the panel. I am reading Joel Peckham’s book, Body Memory, right now, and it is breath taking. My god I love good writing, especially the honest and authentic kind. Here are the palm trees, which are the antithesis of…
Nothing stopped me from taking photos in Mexico however, when I was there to speak at the CICA conference in Mexico City. It was another amazing experience; also hard to describe because it was so rich and full that I haven’t begun to process it all yet.
Jim and I joined colleagues Pam Reid, Roger Mugford, Steve White, Kelly Gorman Dunbar, Mark Hines and Bonnie Brown-Cali at a three-day conference organized by Darwin Angulo of Bravo Perro. Darwin, and all at Bravo Perro, are dedicating to supporting progressive, benevolent and effective training in Mexico. There were a number of fantastic talks, but I’ll skip the details this week and write about some of the topics in posts to come. This week I’ll offer photographs, while I get my paws back on the ground after being gone for two weeks.
Going backwards chronologically, the CICA group’s last day in Mexico was spent at the Piedra Harrada Monarch Sanctuary. (Spanish for butterfly is mariposa—how sad I grew up in Mariposa County in Arizona, and no teacher ever mentioned what the word actually meant.)
Jim and I are so lucky to have experienced the wintering grounds of the monarch butterfly. As many of you undoubtedly know, monarch populations are plummeting. Habitat loss accounts for much of that, but pesticide applications in Mexico AND in the U.S. appear to be a major, if not primary, factor. I find it heartbreaking, but also felt driven to see what was left of them on their wintering ground sometime in my lifetime.
We were there at the end of the season, and many of the butterflies had already begun moving north. But it was still an awe inspiring sight, and I am so grateful that Darwin arranged the visit, and that my colleagues put up with my obsessed desire to go. Not only were the butterflies a joy to see, but I was gloriously happy to be out in the woods for half a day. The time we spent in Mexico City and Valle de Bravo was wonderful, but after two days in a city I began longing to be outside in the country. Bonus: Horses. The trail up to the butterflies is steep; you can either walk all the way up or take horses part way. Any excuse to get on a horse is good, and besides, it provided income for the people who owned and acted as “guides”.
Left to right: On the trail with hard working guide Ignacia and the ears of my horse, Rio; Pam Reid mounted up and getting ready to head out; an example of male (left) versus female (right) butterflies–note the black spots on the hind wings of the male, his darker color and the female’s thicker black veins); the tree came alive as the butterflies flew up off the tree, where you can see them perched on the bottom left.
There is so much to say about our visit to Mexico itself, but my primary impressions from our short visit is that Mexico is perhaps the colorful country I’ve ever been in, and is imbued with a rich cultural history. We ate some stupendously good food, met some kick-ass talented people, had laughter-filled dinner after dinner organized by our host Darwin, wandered around the Coyocan area of Mexico City, explored Valle de Bravo for a day, and relied on the ever helpful and cheerful Pepe who acted as guide, driver, co-host, friend, companion and all around great guy. (And just so you know: Do not go shopping without Vero along to advise and bargain for you.)
More on the CICA conference later in future posts, but Darwin Angulo did an amazing job gathering some truly talented people to speak on a range of issues, from the way puppy classes should be run (Kelly Gorman Dunbar), to medical alert dogs (Roger Mugford), to training scent detection dogs (Steve White), to the ASPCA’s behavior rehab program (Pam Reid) to the ever wonderful Kong Toys (Mark Hines), and to training service dogs (Bonnie Brown-Cali). I spoke about ‘reading” dogs and understanding trauma in dogs and how to treat it.
Here are some photos, more to come in the future–From top left clockwise: Outside the Frida Kahlo Museum, Valle de Bravo; street dog art; again from the Kahlo museum–a snap of the colors she used in her paintings; blue wall w/ red flowers; Valle de Bravo, beans in the public market; colorful food; one of our ridiculously extravagent dinners out (that’s Darwin standing on the right); and in the middle, a reminder that black tea is practically non-existent in Mexico.