Camps and Causes in the Time of Covid

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Virtually - Definitions:

      1: nearly, almost. (Synonyms: as good as; pretty much; not quit; for all practical purposes; in effect; well nigh)

      2. by means of virtual reality techniques

I’m up early this morning – 4:30 a.m. to be exact – thinking about the two definitions of the word “virtually.” And who among us hasn’t found ourselves in this very position at least once or twice? Don’t answer that, I know this is a club whose meetings are sparsely attended. So here I am, parsing out the meaning of the word in the early morning darkness with only a sleeping dog and the hum of night insects for company.

So much of life is being lived via the second definition of the word right now in the time of Covid. We meet for coffee, for cocktails and conversation, for work and for classes, in the virtual spaces made possible by technology. I cannot imagine how much lonelier this would all be if we couldn’t, and I’m grateful for the technology. Smarter people than I could probably explain why interactions in that 2D space are more exhausting than ones that occur in physically shared space, but as for me I think it has something to do with the over-reliance on just two of our senses – seeing and hearing – unlike an experience in a shared physical reality that includes smell and touch. We might be facing one another on the computer screen, taking sips from our own cups at the same time and talking just as we would have in the Before Time, but the scent of your peppermint tea and my chicory coffee is messing from the scene, the breeze coming through the window beside me isn’t brushing your skin while we talk. It’s almost like we’re together when we meet on-line, isn’t it? For all practical purposes we are, but my intractable impractical side gets a bit antsy after a bit and that when I find it virtually impossible to sit still no matter how much I enjoy the other’s company and I need to disconnect for a bit, go for a walk, stretch out on my hammock swing and just stare at the clouds for a bit.

Speaking of my intractable impractical side, I sat down here to tell you about going to camp this week – Cause Camp that is – and yet here I am going on about anything but. Writers, I tell ya. We’re a bunch of those proverbial un-herdable cats.

Cause Camp is a national nonprofit conference that cover topics including diversity, stewardship, donor experience and self-care. Julia Campbell, author of “Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits” served as the host this year. For a newbie group like Larksong this was an outstanding opportunity to learn about what we’re getting into.

Originally scheduled as an immersive in-person event in April it, like so many events, was postponed and eventually converted to a virtual experience. I’m not going to say it was as ggod as the original plan, but it was in effect and amazing learning opportunity. We learned things we need to do, can do, should do, and try to do. Maybe the best part for me, since I can always use a little validation, we learned what we were already doing right as we build Larksong into a community organization that can last, virtually and actually.

Going to virtual camp, even one as inspiring as Cause Camp, isn’t the same as gathering together in a big room to talk and listen and learn and network, but I still have to say, I’m really glad I stayed home for this one. To have so much inspiration and wisdom delivered right to my study was virtually priceless.

Monarchs and Perseverance

Karen Shoemaker

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The monarchs migrated through our patch of the plains this week. My husband and I met them on the walking path near our house. At first it was just 3 or 4 fluttering around us, but when we walked through the small grove near the park a few became many and their presence broke through our conversation. We stopped to see if they’d found a resting place for the evening. In years past they chose to overnight in our yard, but a windstorm or two took down their favored trees, so we’ve not been so lucky recently. We stood and looked up into the patch of sky above us and saw dozens of fragile beautiful determined butterflies doing what butterflies do so well – fly with what appears to be drunken abandon, floating on unruly air as if to offer evidence of the power of perseverance and determination.

A day or two later, after a front came through and turned our area decidedly from late Summer to Fall, I went for a walk with friend and colleague Lucy Adkins. Lucy is currently leading a Larksong workshop on memoir writing. In that workshop Lucy is sharing techniques used by successful memoirists and offering advice and writing prompts to help people discover and record their own stories. Those of you who know Lucy will be happy to hear she’s not only loving this current workshop, but she’s excited about doing more like it. Stay tuned on that front. We’re in the planning stages of future workshops. (Now would be a good time to contact us and let us know what sort of workshops you’d like to see offered at Larksong, btw.)

The Monday night workshop I’m leading brings me great joy – and as near as I can tell I’m not the only happy face in that Zoom “Brady Bunch” grid. The format for this workshop is a little bit MFA-style workshop and little bit informal writers’ group. In the MFA style, a leader -- that being me in this case -- guides the conversation about the writing we’ve all read that week, offering lessons on craft and suggestions for further reading. (Each participant shared one story, essay or excerpt at the beginning of the session, and we spend one meeting on the work of each of the writers in the class, talking about the piece assigned for that week. Each writer gets the eyes and insights of all the writers in the workshop, not just mine.) After the guided conversation we relax into discussions about the joys and difficulties of trying to lead a writer’s life. How do you find the time and focus to stay with the page?  -- is a question that comes up often in these workshops. So many other things need – demand – our attention. And really, we too often tell ourselves, does anyone care if I sit down here and selfishly scribble away when the world needs so much from us. What’s it all for? Will the world be a better place if I do or I don’t write?

The thing about monarchs that really gets me is that the butterfly that breaks free of its chrysalis in, say, Alberta, Canada, never makes it to the species’ wintering place in Mexico. Each individual monarch flutters and weaves its way across the miles, lays its eggs on a receptive spot, and from there its offspring continues the journey. A massive, relay race of hope that has been occurring each spring and fall for millions of years.

What I love about workshops with these earnest, caring writers is how they are able to speak the truth to one another about how hard it is to keep going sometimes, but they also speak the truth about why they do it. The work itself, they say in one way or another, is the thing itself. What we do when we pick up our pen or open up our laptop is part of something so much bigger than the individual project or writer, we’re part of a movement we have to trust even when we can’t feel it. We’re all part of humanity’s journey.


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