Late afternoon, my first hour at Ghost Ranch after an exceedingly long day; a three hour drive to the first airport, two connecting flights, two buses from Albuquerque Airport to Ghost Ranch - first one broke down so we stopped at a casino for some lunch and to await a “rescue” bus.
I struggled up a steep path, perspiring with effort. Teri drove her car alongside me and stopped to offer a ride the rest of the way. I thanked her unconvincingly saying something insane like I needed the exercise. When I arrived at the summit, I saw Teri pull her car into a space and haul two enormous suitcases from its back as though they were empty. Now this, I thought, is serious writer - a woman who’s going to move mountains during her one week retreat. This is a real writer!
Immediately, I was intimidated by Teri who, as it turned out, was my Ghost Ranch next door neighbor. Nice coincidence but combined with her writing artistry, life wisdom and excellent humor, it was a great one. First impression: Teri is reserved, contemplative, and extremely serious. Real impression: how wrong first impressions often are!
Teri Crane shared her views about her experiences during the week long AROHO Retreat and the insights she gained there.
Is there one specific moment or event at the retreat that sparked an insight or shift in how you perceive either your work or yourself as a writer?
So many ideas, exercises, conversations - all blended together, fortifying one another, speaking at levels known and unknown. I listened to the wind. I listened to the table talk. While I was at Ghost Ranch, I realized that I also was listening to my characters. By the time I returned home, I understood so much more about them.
Not being required to adhere to a specific schedule left me open to understanding many things. The writing process includes enriching periods of fertile idleness and it’s this fertile idleness that’s become part of my writing habit. It leads to putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard but not feeling driven or compelled. Instead, it’s knowing I’m in process and that gives me the freedom to write.
While I sat with other members of our AROHO community - at meals, in small groups, during evenings listening to readings, or late at night outside talking and sharing where we’ve come from and where we are, I realized I was talking with writers. I realized I am a writer talking with other writers. It wasn’t at all like talking with non-writers who ask, “What have you written?” That’s really synonymous with “What have you published?” It makes the writing process defined only as the end product.
In talking with writers, questions about process are more active, such as “What do you write?’ or “What are you working on?” The writing is alive. We write as we breathe. By interacting with women at Ghost Ranch, I found my mirror.
Women writers have inspired me since I read Silas Marner in ninth grade English and learned that George Eliot was a woman. Writing is difficult enough, but adding that layer - where acceptance is worked through a sieve of sexism and still attaining success is admirable. Even though I appreciate writers of both genders because I appreciate great writing, I feel that women writers evoke an edge of sisterhood. We’re all bonded in common struggles. I‘ve continued to follow works by Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker; I relish reading Alice Hoffman, Anne Tyler, and Annie Dillard’s focused prose. I admire the way in which Selah Saterstrom weaves a tale with polished prose and was honored to have Selah as the 2nd reader for my MFA thesis book.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about writing?
The best advice I received was from my brother while I working on my doctoral dissertation. He said, “Don’t worry about being brilliant, only about being finished.” At the time I thought it was about finishing in a timely manner, that I could be brilliant at some other time. However, while a student at Goddard, I discovered the art of revision. Now I realize it means so much more. Often I think of his advice and couple it with my current notion: once the story is told, it’s time to polish it up.
How would you describe your typical writing day?
Typical writing day? What’s that? My days are filled with writing, whether punctuated with Face Book status updates, e-mails, journal writing, working on my blog, or thinking about (and sometimes actually writing) my current project. I always feel as though I’m in the writing process whether that means putting words together on paper or thinking about words and ideas. I guess that’s my typical day---less structure than fluidity but always a connectedness to writing.
Can you describe for us what you’re currently working on?
My current project is a book. It a fiction story about two women in the 1800’s traveling west with their respective families on a wagon train. They leave their gentile Eastern lives, learning to exchange their roles for those critical on the westward trek under challenging conditions. They discover that even greater changes are demanded of them at their final destination.
When I went to the AROHO retreat, somehow I knew that my women characters would travel the Santa Fe Trail but didn’t really know where they’d end up. Serendipitously, while exploring one day, I discovered that the Old Spanish Trail went through Abiqui on its way to Los Angeles. It was during that moment I knew my women would be on it!
Dr. Teri Crane is a writer, retired teacher and marriage and family therapist. After stepping aside from classroom teaching, she decided to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College where she wrote a memoir, We Never Used the ‘F’ Word, a story about growing up in her native Southern California and the impact of her father’s death when she was seven years old, which is still pre-published. Currently she’s working on an historical fiction novel about two women going west by wagon train in the 1800’s, and moderating online classes for teachers through LA County Office of Education. She is a certified “Journal to the Self Workshop” instructor.