AROHO is a fantastic organization that is dedicated to serving writers at all stages of development. I recently attended their retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico and it more than met my expectations. I had the privilege to work with some of the most talented and supportive people I have ever met. I walked away not only inspired, but with practical tools that I will continue to use. I give AROHO the highest recommendation possible.
I learned about AROHO in 2005 when I was first "coming out" as a writer. What a supportive and amazing organization. They put the "unity" in "community" for me. I can't say enough about what this organization has meant to me and countless other women artists. This is why I volunteered with them to begin a small version of their biennial conference in Texas--to spread the word.
New Mexico lives up to its name, the Land of Enchantment, and AROHO exceeded all expectations. The unknown poet in me surfaced, my pages filled with notes, ideas, words. My purse grew heavy with rocks, leaves, and books.
Without the fellowship that I received I wouldn't have been able to attend. In a supportive and nurturing environment all women were encouraged to listen, share, and write. I am blessed to have shared space, time, and words with many amazing women.
My first face-to-face with AROHO began at Ghost Ranch in 2011. I brought intention and question and left with purpose and answer. I had found a community of writers, who shared and challenged and accepted me. I returned home determined and enriched. Over the next two years I kept in touch with some in the community and often reflected on the impact of this organization and my connection to it on my writing life. My second face-to-face with AROHO was at Ghost Ranch in 2013. I brought focus and hope and left with gratitude and commitment. The women I interacted with, and those who I sat with under the stars, in the places where we ate and read and listened to others read, are individually and collectively my AROHO sisters. It is this support, this shared dream, this enriching and accepting that makes this organization a unique group for women writers. AROHO continuously offers guidance, help, support, and acceptance for our writing life. It is truly a great nonprofit.
I came to AROHO as a writer invited to hold the space for a small group of women writers. What happened in my first retreat in 2011 was that -- by about the end of the second day -- I realized a space was being held for me too. This year, 2013, I took another invitation: to evolve what the space could be and to meet others in a space we made together. I still have very few words (ironically) to describe what happened on the last day of our small group: we went to a river in the Chama wilderness. And we let something dissolve. We let go of something: debris, glitter, clay. There was a verge. There was magic. I had a room of my own -- a gift that was immeasurable for many reasons. Beyond my immediate small group experience, I was very moved by the grace and fierceness of the AROHO community as a whole -- whether at lunch, or in the hot springs, or in the library or during a talk or other offering. I returned to my life at home feeling braver and more resilient than I had in a long time. AROHO is about surrender. It's about not feeling ashamed of your life any more. It's about healing as much as writing; at least, that's what happened for me. On the last night, there was dancing. Normally, I love to dance, but I was exhausted -- in a good way. In the way that I am after a long travel to India. This was New Mexico. I went back to bed and lay there, my heart bursting with gratitude for the day and the week and the journey there and back. AROHO was magic and chance and connection and love and community and joy. I recommend it to anyone who wants to connect to what a writing life could truly be. There is a labyrinth at AROHO. There is a red thread at its entrance. See: Ellen McLaughlin's keynote talk, 2013. There are beautiful, vibrant and immensely compassionate friends.
I had never had a writing class, and when I received word that I'd won a fellowship to AROHO's Women's Retreat I cried and embarrassingly re-enacted the scene from Pinocchio when he becomes a real boy...I could hardly believe I was being taken seriously as a writer. I'm still struggling to put into words how the week itself affected me - being nurtured with strong women writers, teachers, friends, and all sorts of superlatives that are simply too weak to explain how I began to take myself seriously as a writer, as a meaning maker, and to innately value my truths. I work 65+ hours a week at my day job, and find myself waking up in the middle of the night, compelled to write. It's been so powerful to uncover what's been there all along.
AROHO's 2013 Retreat came at exactly the right time in my (writing) life, but I was not expecting it to be quite so pivotal in transforming my sense of self. I'd read about the "creating community" aspect, but thought, "that won't happen for me -- I've never felt part of a community in my life". Well, I do now. Everyone I met was interesting and engaging. I learned more about myself, about my connections to place, and about how I've changed over the years than I thought would be possible in 1 short week. I met so many amazing people there!
I'm counting the weeks until the 2015 Retreat.
Today, I sat at the edge of Old Mill Pond, sat in stillness on the rock there - and thrilled at the Great Blue Heron that appeared in the reeds. And so such gifts often arrive when we most need them - surprising, magical. Like AROHO... which I first came to know while attending their 2011 retreat for women writers: "A Dream of Our Own: Women Writing New, Women Writing True." I have recently returned from their 2013 Retreat for Women Writers which somehow was even more amazing than the retreat in 2013.
And I have thought a lot about how that "somehow" happened to be and this is what I believe: this magic is not accidental. Yes, some of the beauty of AROHO is beyond anyone's control and happens by virtue of the magic of bringing a bunch of creative, smart, generous women together. But AROHO also works because its talented founders, directors, board members and advisors have vision, tenacity, and a deep commitment to their mission AND they are smart about running a non-profit. Some non-profits have great vision but lack great leadership - AROHO is blessed to have both vision and leadership. And we who benefit from this - hundreds of women writers - are blessed in turn.
My recent attendance at and participation in the AROHO retreat was my 2nd experience there. Immediately following the 1st retreat I attended in 2011, i was convinced nothing could ever surpass my AROHO / GHOST RANCH experience. Truly it was life altering in so many ways! But I was wrong on it's impact. This year's retreat did surpass my prior experience largely because I was more receptive to all that I cld gain and everything being offered at th e retreat.
Like so many experiences, the retreat seems to improve with each doing and those who attend it are the luckiest beneficiaries.
I was first attracted to AROHO when I read the description for their 2011 retreat which put out a call for women across the writing spectrum to gather and share their strengths, inspirations, and challenges with one another in what felt like a unique structure: everyone would give, everyone would receive. I loved the challenge of putting together ten minutes of something worthy for a Mind Stretch to inspire the group and loved being trusted to teach a small workshop, and loved having the opportunity to do a little poetry consulting.
AROHO opens its arms to wherever a woman writer is on her public trajectory of writing and creates a week long venue where she can literally try out new ways of being and thus emerge redefined. The friendships I fell full heart for are deeply rooted in that bedrock of self-discovery, change and joyful fulfillment--relationships that sustained me the two years until the next retreat and relationships I will have for the rest of my life. I love AROHO's sincere focus on the collaborative beauty of women writers pursuing their dreams, shoulder to shoulder.