Poet Tania Runyan travels to New Mexico to attend one of Glen’s Creative Writing Workshops: Glen West.
I just spent a week in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where I may have left part of my soul.
Fourteen years ago, I ran across an issue of Image Journal in my local bookstore. I was in my late twenties, energized by the challenge of shaping an adulthood of art and faith. Those two parts of my lives had remained pretty separate until I found a magazine whose greatest mission was to bring them together.
About the Glen
I thought I had found a home of sorts, a place that finally “got” me, and I promptly began corresponding with the editor, Gregory Wolfe. He told me about the Glen, a workshop sponsored by Image. It sounded perfect, except my husband and I were still eking our way through grad school. Then came our careers. And the kids.
The ads and registration deadlines for the Glen came and went for years until this year I finally said enough is enough, plunked down my PayPal, and registered for Jeffrey Overstreet’s Explorers Track, one of several workshops offered this summer as part of the Glen West Workshop at St. John’s College in Santa Fe (there is also a Glen East, offered at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts).
While faith is certainly at the core of the Glen—there are worship services offered each night—not all attendees are of the same denomination or faith. A few, in fact, would describe themselves as prodigals or searchers. The conference represented a variety of artists and workshops, as well: painting, photography, poetry, fiction, film seminar, playwriting/screenwriting, and spiritual writing.
Creative Writing Workshops: Explorers Track
I am a poet, and while the two poetry instructors, Julia Kasdorf and Amy Newman, are excellent writers and teachers, this summer I wanted to try something different. The Explorers Track, led by author, speaker and film critic Jeffrey Overstreet, promised to enrich the lives of those intrigued by the intersection of art and faith by looking into a variety of genres. We analyzed songs by Suzanne Vega, Paul Simon and Sufjan Stevens, watched the international films Summer Hours and Munyurangabo (with a surprise live video chat with director Lee Isaac Chung), visited the Georgia O’Keeffe museum, read Flannery O’Connor, took a writing hike, and discussed a variety of essays and poems. I’ll risk the melodrama here and say the class was a carnival ride of emotion and intellect. I laughed, sobbed, peered into the deepest vulnerabilities of my teacher and classmates, and experienced a few dozen light bulbs of insight.
Free Time at the Glen
Outside of class, Glen participants attended daily talks, readings, and art slide shows by faculty members. There was also plenty of time to delve into one’s own artwork or explore Santa Fe. (Some friends and I hiked halfway to the top of Mount Atalaya one afternoon.) And I hit the dance floor on the eve of my birthday, with epic—as a young intern put it—abandon.
My favorite times were the meals. Yes, the food was good. My college cafeteria certainly didn’t offer a smoothie bar or vegan station with dishes like bulgur-stuffed peppers for lunch. But I mostly loved the conversations. Meals sometimes lingered for hours as one-minute-ago strangers talked about everything: meeting birth parents, brewing beer, visiting dying relatives, starting up the mandolin, and, most often, finding the books and art that changed their lives. At first I found it intimidating walking into a cafeteria thrice daily to choose a seat next to someone I very likely didn’t know. But it quickly became easier, for, in the words of a long-time attendee, “Just by virtue of your being here, you are instantly one of us.”
Leaving the Glen Behind
I’m home with my family now, missing those mealtime conversations that felt so essential to artists who often feel marginalized or misunderstood—especially artists of faith. But within days I connected with many of these new friends on Facebook, following their writing and artwork as they support me in mine.
I mentioned to Greg Wolfe in an email, fourteen years after discovering his journal, “The absolute labor of love that is Image is astounding. Seeing that in person last week was very powerful.” He replied back to me with my words in quotes. He could tell I meant it from the bottom of that missing piece of my soul I left somewhere in Santa Fe—on the side of Mount Atalaya or on that wild dance floor—where I’ll return next year to find it again.
Photo by Brandon Atkinson. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan, author of A Thousand Vessels.
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Sounds wonderful…! And Suzanne Vega? One of my favorites – we saw her last year in Jim Thorpe PA and bought her book of poetry.
That piece of your soul captured my attention right off the bat and so I loved it when you mentioned it again at the end. I had that “phew” feeling inside!
Tania Runyan says
Thank you, Donna! Yes, I like to go that “full-circle route” whenever possible! 🙂
Tania, you are majestic and so is this blog post.
Kathy Pigg says
You brought me back home to the Glen Community, and today I needed its power.
Ann Kroeker says
I’ve felt that feeling, Tania, of wanting to find “my people.” I’ve tried to explain it to my non-artistic, non-writing friends, and they nod and they hear what I’m saying, but they don’t appreciate the electrifying excitement of connection like I do when I finally step into these kinds of spaces.
I wonder if you left a piece of your soul in NM, or if you left a piece of it in the hearts of each of the people you interacted with? And they left a piece of themselves in your care, as well, until you convene again?
Tania Runyan says
I’m so glad you all connected with this piece! Ann, I surely do feel that a piece of me is left with so many people. ..which actually sounds physically painful. . .or sorta like Robert DeNiro. (“You wanna piece of me?”)
I am so happy you were able to experience such joy at this retreat 🙂 what a gift 🙂 and dancing with “epic abandon”…yes 🙂