Earth Movers, Nun Boxers and the People who Love Them

2015-02-25 17.33.55Photo of Djerassi Resident Artists Program courtesy of the TexPat

I feel the Earth Move under my feet,
I feel the sky tumbling down …

Carole King, “I Feel the Earth Move”

I love people who love artists.  Two in particular: the late Carl Djerassi (whom I never met) and the phenomenal Kathryn Gurfein, whom I consider a mentor and friend.  In memory of his artist daughter, Carl Djerassi founded and funded the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, an artists’ retreat and residency program on an expansive, spectacular hillside property dotted with redwoods overlooking the Pacific Ocean that serves approximately 90 artists of all stripes – visual artists, sculptors, writers, choreographers, composers, etc. – per year and has provided free residencies for over 2,000 artists since its start in 1979.  It is the largest and one of the best residency programs in the country, but its lofty reputation hasn’t steered it away from sticking to the spirit of its informal slogan to “yield to whim.”

2015-03-02 09.09.25Photo by #nunboxer Romalyn Tilghman

I just spent a week at Djerassi with six other debut novelists under the tutelage of the amazing Heidi Durrow, author of New York Times bestseller, “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” and winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize.  It was an incredible experience with a diverse collection of some of the most inspiring, serious and seriously fun writers I have ever encountered.  We were transformed from frustrated writers struggling with manuscript edits to “nun boxers,” “water babies,” “earth movers” (the earth literally moved – we experienced a mild earthquake during one of our workshops).  We were untethered and free to explore the depths and heights of our imaginations and hearts with a mutual support trampoline to cushion us and give us a nice “bounce” when we fell from the heavens (thank you, Heidi, for inspiring so many nice metaphors).  A lot of writerly enthusiasm and insider hashtags were generated that will make more sense to the outside world as our novels are rolled out.

2015-02-28 09.46.17Photo by #nunboxer Jessica Haas

I returned from Northern California in time to celebrate and say “thank you” to one of the most genuine and generous spirits I have ever encountered, Kathy Gurfein.  Kathy and her late husband Jim founded and funded the Kathryn Gurfein Writing Fellowship at Sarah Lawrence College.  It is the only fellowship of its kind in the country for non-matriculating students at an institution of higher learning.  I was a 2008 Gurfein Fellow and this weekend had the pleasure of attending a tribute to Kathy at Sarah Lawrence.  Because of Kathy and the fellowship she founded, for the first time I felt the validation and confidence I needed to call myself “writer” instead of “lawyer,” “former lawyer,” “Mom” “spouse of ….” “daughter of ….”  All worthy and wonderful titles that I embrace; Kathy just enabled me to embrace and acknowledge that I was a “real writer.”  Many Gurfein Fellows have been signed by literary agents and are published in newspapers, magazines, and journals – accomplishments that the fellowship helped us achieve.

1920129_770492243041931_4637065283785759016_nPhoto of Kathy Gurfein by Sarah Lawrence College, Writing Institute

Thanks to Carl Djerassi and Kathy Gurfein for causing the earth to move under my feet in the direction of my dreams.

The TexPat is knee deep in book revisions but will be back online on a more regular basis real soon.