All Voices Fellowship Recipients
Sarah Rafael Garcia- Spring 2019
Sarah Rafael Garcia is a writer, community educator and traveler. Since publishing Las Niñas (Floricanto Press 2008), she founded Barrio Writers, LibroMobile and Crear Studio. In 2016, Sarah Rafael was awarded for SanTana’s Fairy Tales (Raspa Magazine 2017), which was supported in part by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, through a grant supporting the Artist-in-Residence initiative at CSUF Grand Central Art Center. Currently, this Chicana spends her days stacking books at LibroMobile, providing interdisciplinary arts workshops, and juggling time to write her next book. She applied to the Splendid Mola Retreat as an act of self-care to herself and the feminist, sci-fi novella she seeks to get published.
As a woman of color entering the writing industry later in life, I’ve had a negative experience with my first publisher and minimal opportunities to work directly with relevant mentors in and out of M.F.A. workshops. After attending a M.F.A. in Creative Writing program, I quickly learned I wasn’t the common voice celebrated in the MFA workshop. As a Chicana, I assimilated just to cope with the alienation, inevitably this led to a feeling of oppression and adding to on-going trauma. Eventually, I realized it wasn’t necessarily my gender, Spanish language or cultural pride that kept me from obtaining approval from faculty and peers. My feeling of displacement was due to the lack of diversity in faculty, curriculum, publications and art spaces—and lacking folks outside of my identity affirming my value as a Brown woman artist.
Gabriel Jesiolowski – Spring 2019
Gabriel Jesiolowski is the author of As Burning Leaves, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award, Red Hen Press (2017). They work in a counterdisciplinary practice using installation, painting, performance, printed matter, and writing. Their current work deals with a politics of accumulation and distribution, historical trauma and the body as site. Over the past decade, they have taught art, writing and gender studies at the university level, curated traveling and site-specific exhibitions and worked as a wood refinisher and native gardener. They collaborate with the NYC based design laboratory and architecture firm, Atelier DNA and are currently at work on developing programming for a collaborative residency and resource program for under-served artists and healers, The Institute for Emergent Ecologies. See more at my website: http://gabrieljesiolowski.com
The Splendid Mola retreat fellowship was a gift to my life as a writer and person (struggling in many ways to feel safe and held in the world). Lori carves out intentional but flexible space and time for folks needing to reconnect with their voices, on and off the page, and recognizes that we also have spirits and bodies that need nourished, protected and guided. When I started to restore my sleep (deeper and with the sound of the rushing creek coming through the slightly open window), stretched my body (the offering of daily yoga classes), and ate a few elegant meals (fresh fruits, vegetables, clean water), the page, too, seemed to open up. I started a new series of essays and organized my thoughts. I also took photographs, made a few drawings, and managed to walk each day, slow and just breathing.
With the offering of the All Voices fellowship, Lori has made a clear and powerful decision to support, join and hold space for folks with less access and financial means to attend Splendid Mola. The very existence of this fellowship in a relatively small retreat setting speaks volumes to who Lori is, where her priorities are, and what you can expect to find when you show up.
For me, the timing of this retreat was critical. In a moment of unstable housing, lots of transition and fears of scarcity rising up, Splendid Mola offered me a floating world where I could relax, be seen, be quiet, speak up, listen, and write. I’m deeply grateful for everyone I met there.
Shanna Brewton-Tiayon – Fall 2018
Shanna B. Tiayon is a writer, speaker and trainer focusing on the area of wellbeing. Her writing aims to compel others to think more concretely about their personal wellbeing and the ways in which they may infringe on the wellbeing of others. She has a PhD in Sociology, with a specialization in Social Psychology, allowing her to claim the name, “The Wellbeing Dr.” While in the academic space her research focused on physical and mental health and health inequality. Her personal essays on wellbeing are a fusion of personal experiences and sociological insights. Her experiences provide rich material for her essays, pulling from her time living and working abroad in Sub-Saharan Africa for 8 years, her role as a mother and her lived experiences as a Black woman in America.
“It’s my sincere hope that you will pick me, choose me, love me to receive this fellowship, but even if you don’t’ I just feel I should tell you thank you. Thank you for creating something so wonderful to exist in the world.” This was the last line of my introductory paragraph for the Splendid Mola Writing retreat. I found out about the retreat via social media and when I read the details of what it entailed, I let out a small gasp, because it captured so much of what I enjoy about life – writing, nature, good food, wine, yoga and meditation. I was sincere in that, even if I wasn’t selected, I felt compelled to thank Lori for orchestrating something so great to exist in the world.
My experience there didn’t disappoint. What was framed as a writing retreat ended up being so much more. In addition to time for writing, I like many of the others there found time for healing, restoration, affirming and resting. My first day I was tired from having travelled from the East Coast and still not sure what to expect, but by the second day after a good night’s sleep and an overabundance of good healthy food the night before, my shoulders begin to come down. And I was able to reconnect with myself. The beautiful landscape, meditation and yoga supported these efforts as well as great conversations with some of the participants there. The retreat ended with a beautiful celebration/ceremony of sorts where all of the participants were presented with gifts. Gifts that somehow magically met each of the participants where they were and offered to support them where they needed it the most. I would highly recommend this retreat to others and it’s my sincere hope that more minorities get to experience the type of release and restoration I experienced. I will definitely be back.
Rhonda Kennedy is a writer/producer with a passion for telling stories that an audience can easily relate to; specifically the Black & lesbian audience. Part of the reason she began writing was due to the lack of representation. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she’s been writing professionally for the last five years with most recent credits from Nine27 Entertainment. Known for meeting deadlines, Rhonda’s easy-going personality is what stands out most and has helped her develop friendships and a solid reputation that extends beyond the writer’s room. When she isn’t focused on writing projects, you can find her taking in LA’s music scene, attempting to perfect one of her grandmother’s recipes, traveling abroad or defending her title (reigning Taboo champion).
I had never heard of Splendid Mola until July 2018. One night when I decided to peruse Twitter, the first re-tweet was from Lori encouraging diverse writers to apply for the fellowship. I’ve been wanting to go on a retreat all year, so, I clicked the link with no hesitation. As I began to read, my mind was definitely like “this is too good to be true.” Just as I was about to click off the website, I noticed a familiar face; someone I know had been to the retreat a few years back. That felt like I sign that I should go for it. And that’s exactly what I did.
During the drive up to Idyllwild, I had so many things rushing through my head; mainly the goals I had set out to accomplish while on the retreat. When I finally made it to the main cabin and walked in, I was blown away by the set up: comfy indoor/outdoor seating, coffee, tea, healthy snacks, fruit, muffins, smiling faces and a strong WiFi connection. Breakfast was served shortly after (by Chef Dan) and let me tell you, every single bite was delicious.
I arrived a day late due to a funeral. Dawn greeted me, showed me around and made me feel at home. And she also had a video for me; she and Lori were nice enough to capture the opening night which made me feel like I didn’t miss a thing.
It’s almost like I can’t find the right words to describe this experience. Three days of fresh air, fellowship and freedom to create however I wanted? That’s unheard of. Life always gets in the way; it was the biggest blessing to have some time for myself and to be able to spend it however I wanted. Mediation was the perfect way to start the day and yoga was the break I needed when it was time to come up for air after writing for 5-6 hours. The other attendees were welcoming, easy to talk to and incredibly talented. I had meaningful conversations that added so much value to my project. The Splendid Mola retreat has changed my life forever! And I mean that. Thank you so much Lori! You are a Godsend.
Jessica Ceballos y Campbell – Fall 2018
Jessica Ceballos y Campbell is an indige-me/xicana-afro-euskaldunak interdisciplinary artist, poet, designer, publisher, and activist. She uses her disciplines to map out and explore the liminal space between personal and public narrative, and how those become affected by, inform, and meld into the spaces we occupy and exist in. Her written work has been published in various journals and anthologies such as Only Light Can Do That (PEN Center USA), Coiled Serpent (Tia Chucha Press), Attn: July 31, 2015 (Further Other Book Works), Entropy, LA Magazine, Cultural Weekly, and La Bloga, to name a few. She’s published three chapbooks; Gent Re PlaceIng (2016), End of the Road (2017), and Facilitating Spaces (2018). She applied for the All Voices Fellowship as a means to attend the Splendid Mola Retreat which would afford her to work on her current project, a collection of poetry, Happiest Place on Earth, inspired by a 1984 visit to Disneyland with her mother while living under foster care. www.jessicaceballos.com
re·treat/rəˈtrēt/ nouna quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax.
I had no idea this is what was carved out for me in Idyllwild, by the Splendid Mola team. I don’t know about you, but I can only write when not inundated with tension, anxiety, and all of the things that make up the world we live in, pre and post this administration. And like many, I don’t remember a recent time when I haven’t been inundated. I haven’t been able to find a little space for writing in some time, and the cost of retreats have held me back because that’s a cost that I would need to use for childcare for our infant at home, and as a Foster parent travelling away from home can be challenging.
Not only was the time perfectly condensed, but Lori is one of the kindest most compassionate people I’ve met in a long time, the proof was in the planning, in taking care of everything for us, the communication, the ability to hear what we had to say, and the desire to want to, and the ways she expressed her gratitude. Splendid Mola was a carving out of a good section of that large boulder we all inherit; sometimes we need help making room for us. While at Splendid Mola I learned that sometimes that means not worrying about cleaning a single dish! If I’m able I will go again, without a doubt.
Isabel Galupo lives in Los Angeles where she works as a coordinator in the Current Series Animation Department at the Nickelodeon Animation Studio. She graduated from Ithaca College as a Park Scholar with a B.S. in screenwriting and a minor in sociology. She participated in the Lambda Literary Writer’s Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices in 2015. As a kid, Isabel used to get in trouble for trying to read library books under the table during family dinners. As an adult, she reads wherever she pleases thankyouverymuch. When she’s not writing, Isabel FaceTimes with her four younger sisters and daydreams about the fat, squishy pug that she will one day adopt. You can find her still trying to figure out Twitter @igalupo.
From Isabel: “Before coming to the Splendid Mola Writing Retreat in May, I had a particularly challenging Winter. I didn’t write for months. I spent long days and longer nights thinking about the kind of person that I wanted to be in this world, and realized that my perfectionist, achievement-oriented way of living was slowly killing me from the inside out. With the help of friends, family, my loving partner, and a great therapist, I started to dig my way out of a dark depression and forge a new, compassionate way of living. While this time of deep introspection was borne out of a lot of pain and trauma, it was ultimately positive because it forced me to take better care of myself. It showed me that when I prioritized self-care, stillness, and mindfulness, my creativity flowed. When I was due to drive up to Idyllwild in May, the fog of my Winter season was finally lifting. I felt hopeful that this retreat would be the thing I needed to fully commit myself to my new way of kind and intentional living, and dive deeper into my writing than I ever had before.
My name is Itoro Udofia. Writing is where I find solace and the ability to express myself without fear. As a first generation Nigerian woman, writing has been my outlet to express both the hard and beautiful things about my life. Having imagination and a perspective beyond my circumstances has been my saving grace. It has also been a source of tension in my writing, as the characters are often female protagonists that must reconcile their ancestral history to move forward.
Along with my devotion to writing, I am devoted to the movement for Black lives. I watched my parents struggle for dignity and their basic rights as immigrants in this country. I believe that my writing and community work is a small way to honor their sacrifices. I aim to write stories that raise important questions about the human condition, while honoring the people I love. I applied to the All Voices Fellowship because it cares about stories that challenge and complicate dominant narratives. I am ecstatic to find a community of writers and thinkers committed to diversity within how writers tell stories. I have published my work in Slice Magazine, Edge Literary Review, and Red Hen Press.
From Itoro: Splendid Mola was such a beautiful and impactful retreat. I’ve met and built relationships with inspiring writers doing innovative projects in their field, as a writer I appreciate the attention Splendid Mola pays to building community and creating a refuge for artists to go. I was able to finish my project while (finally) getting much needed rest. The staff did an amazing job of keeping us comfortable, well-fed, and mindful throughout the weekend, it was a beautiful way to reconnect to nature, people, and writing.
Sometimes when I read these applications, feelings come off the pages, feelings that often seem to have nothing to do with the actual words there. With Suzanne, what I felt more than anything was kindness. Her application clearly showed her thoughtfulness and sense of humor, but it was the kindness that underlay each sentence that really hit me. And when she arrived at the retreat, it was even more clear. Here’s her bio:
Suzanne Im is a lifelong book lover who currently works as a librarian in Los Angeles. While her professional life has revolved around collecting, organizing, and providing access to the work of others, she has always wanted to write and publish a book of her own. As the daughter of Cambodian immigrants, her work delves into issues of identity, class struggle, and the lingering aftermath of trauma. The project that occupies her mornings and evenings is a collection of short stories that merge Cambodian (ergo Theravada Buddhist and animistic) folk stories and myths with the experiences of modern-day Cambodians and Cambodian Americans.
From Suzanne: “I arrived in Idyllwild expectant, yet apprehensive. What kind of writers would I encounter? I wondered. Were they going to judge me for being the token “fellow”? Within moments of arrival these worries dissolved, as I was greeted warmly by Lori and a slice of the Splendid Mola writing community. They kindled me with their kindness, their stories, their complexities.
The Luxury Log Cabin was unlike any domicile that I had ever set foot in, nestled among majestic pine and cedar. It was a magnificent setting in which to write… and to not write. For a while, the weight of pressure to produce bore down on me; after all, this wonderful opportunity had presented itself to me, and I felt I should have something to show for it. But moving through conversations, yoga, and meditations with the group made me realize that this retreat was just as much about mindfulness and self-care as it was about carving out time to write.
It was a liberating space to just be. To be able to connect with nature and my fellow humans without worrying about work, preparing meals (let alone healthy ones), or cleaning up after anyone else. To acknowledge that we are all here and we have something to say. To affirm that my voice counts, that all voices count. From writing in solitude down to the cathartic closing circle, this retreat was just what I needed as I embark on my now intentional path as a writer. I departed Idyllwild feeling holistically rested, and brimming with gratitude.”
Beenish Ahmed — September 2017
In her application, Beenish described herself as “a Pakistani-American with a Midwestern twang. I’m the daughter of Pakistan immigrants to Ohio (of all places) where I was born and raised — and where I somehow find myself living again. I’m unapologetically although at times halfheartedly
Muslim. I identify squarely as working class having (all too) routinely forsaken well-paying jobs/opportunities to tell the stories no one else seems to be telling.”
She is also an independent multimedia journalist and the founder of THE ALIGNIST, one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, a membership service that connects literary works to current events. She’s been a World Reporter for ThinkProgress in Washington, DC., been based in Pakistan to report on education through a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crises Reporting, was a Kroc Fellow at NPR, and has reported on human, women’s, and LGBT rights issues from Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, and Pakistan.Oh – and she was also a Fulbright Scholar to the United Kingdom and has an MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies from the University of Cambridge. Her dissertation charted political and national identity formation among Indian students who went to England in the early 1900s to serve the British Raj, but more often became torchbearers of the Independence movement. So, yeah,. She’s also brilliant. And a total delight to spend time with.
From Beenish: “Splendid Mola was so much more than a retreat from the everyday pressures and worries that keep one from writing. It was, for me, thoroughly regenerating. Over the course of the few days that I spent in Idyllwild with Lori as my guide, I was able to reconnect with the reason I began to write, and from that place of knowing, push my work forward. Although Lori began by saying the space was not one meant for driving toward any specific goals — or maybe because she freed it from self-imposed deadlines and self-critical judgments — that I was able to completely restructure a long work of fiction and write portions of it too. I sat for hours with my laptop, chasing the sun as it set behind the mountains, and writing — just writing. My days closed with swooping hikes through the alpine-covered mountains and heart-opening yoga led by Lori. Conversations I had with other participants were honest and fortifying. The best part of this retreat is that it’s retreat from personal expectations. What lies beyond them is truly worth experiencing for oneself. I’m thrilled to have carried the feeling of it, the lessons into my life and work in the months since, and thrilled to now call Lori a friend and mentor.”
With a focus on film and screenwriting, Deana brought such a gentle, kind, loving presence to both the retreat and her fellowship application, which was filled with the loss of her mother. As a Muslim American whose parents both came from the Nile region in Egypt, much of her work looks either at some aspect of this duel identity or delves deeper into her Egyptian roots. After years of caring for her mother, this retreat was the first time she had been able to do something for herself or even give herself permission to write, and having her there was a total joy. As,as a recent addition to this, Deana is now the Artistic Director of the Arab Film Festival.
From Deana: “I’ve been having a rough time for the last few years. I suffered a great loss in May of this year and I was tired, sad, grieving and mute
I knew there were steps I had to take to move out of my state but I didn’t have a clue where to start. Luckily, some very good friends stepped in to help gently guide me back to mysel
I was gifted with spa dates, acupuncture, massage treatments, long walks and drives up the coast. All of it felt good and restorative, but it wasn’t until I went to Lori’s Splendid Mola writers’ retreat that I was able to get back some of the pieces of me
I drove up to Idyllwild, CA that weekend with no expectations. I’d never been on a writer’s retreat and I hadn’t been to the mountains in years. When I got there I was greeted by the thing I didn’t know I needed the most: quiet. There was a serenity there that gave me a real chance to listen to what was going on inside of me… and I actually wrote!! I wrote for the first time in almost 8 months. All weekend.
Many of the attendees had fiction novels that they were working on, and it was so fascinating to sit around in the evenings and listen to them talk about their process and the publishing industry. I could tell they were well networked and that Lori had provided a real community for them to gather and support one another. For me, I was just getting back to basics, but it saved me. I had no idea how much I was holding until I was gifted a moment to sit down and just write. I have three projects that I’m currently working on and my life is so busy that I don’t know when I’m really going to finish any of them, but I am quite proud that I at least gave myself a moment to focus and it’s given me the inspiration to find more times to just sit and focus on my art.
In addition to the space being serene and the cabin being amazing and the people being kind and fun, I have to add a note about Lori Snyder. She is one of those people who just gets it. It’s like she just intuitively knows what it is that people need to feel safe and strong and supported.
Every detail was accounted for. Our food, snacks, coffee!!! She had gluten free options, paleo, vegan. She brought extra blankets, offered two levels of optional yoga classes and guided meditations daily. She didn’t force anyone to participate in anything but we all just seemed to want to because it was clear that whatever plan she had scheduled was for our benefit. I’m so grateful I met her and if I’m able to, I plan to make this trip a yearly ritual.
TaRosa Jacobs-McDermott — May 2017
TaRosa’s heart, determination, and brilliance shone through so clearly in her application that bringing her in as a fellow was, as they say a no-brainer. Her presence and absolute whole-hearted embracing of the experience was a joy.
TaRosa is a writer, actor, vintage dealer, and vintage stylist who writes about issues of race and social justice through the lens of intersectional feminism. She believes that we define ourselves through how we define others and that much can be learned about the study of history, culture, and social justice movements through developing a greater understanding of how those who benefited, and those who struggled, defined and wrote about each other. She is also a screenwriter who is currently working with her writing partner on developing a paranormal dramedy for television.
From TaRosa: “Months have passed since I had the incredible honor of being an All Voices Fellow at Lori Snyder’s Splendid Mola retreat and I am still processing the beauty and wonder of all that I experienced during my stay at that lovely lodge in Idyllwild.
There has never been a fellowship recipient as determined to make it to the retreat as Moses! In order to get across the country to the Splendid Mola retreat, they did a GoFundMe to raise enough money to take the Grayhound bus for three days straight from Maryland to California, and was ready to hitchhike to Idyllwild form the bus station. (Note to other fellowship peeps: please don’t hitchhike. It gives me a heart attack. Let me help you find a ride. In deference to me, Moses did just that. Thanks, Moses!)
Moses was also the writer this retreat who would regularly jump up in the middle of a meal and say, “I have to go!”, only to be found scribbling furiously in his notebook. Total inspiration to us all! They describe themself as “…a queer, straight-edged, transgender person with a penchant for yoga and meditation,” and you can find their writings at the Queers Documenting Survival website, where they are both Curator-in-Chief and Staff Writer.
From Moses: “Thank You Splendid Mola, for providing the space to enthusiastic support my voice. During this time, I outlined a novel I was unaware that I was destined to write. I feel it is one of my deepest gifts to do so. Thank you for the wonderful supportive community of like-minded writers on their different journeys. Thank you for the space to be alone in a small crowd of people. Thank you for holding space for the uniqueness of each and every one of us. Thank you for helping me fundraise and thank you for helping me recognize my own voice and open my heart.
Thank you to the Luxury Log Cabin and Thank you to our personal chef, Dan, who made delicious, healthy cuisine throughout our retreat. Thank you to those who supported the All Voices Fellowship of writers; without you I would not have been able to attend. Thank you to the writer who took in a stranger for a night after only a few email exchanges and Lori’s connection, and then also gave me a lift to Idyllwild. Thank you to Lori for holding space for my stories and experiences to be bred and born in paper.
All in all, I was able to outline an entire novel, as well as write 30 pages of it so far.
Had I not attended this retreat, I would not know that some writers were indeed my people. I feel blessed to have met each and everyone of you. Above all, thank you for your faith in the power of storytelling. It illuminates the path in the darkness and connects us to one another. After all, there is no frigate like a book (Emily Dickinson).
Alli is one of those people who walks into a room and instantly fills it with such a sweet and open presence that you can’t help but adore her instantly. She is a certified yoga instructor with a Masters in Management and a “queer, black, curvy yogi.” Mostly, she is all heart. She has had an extraordinary amount of loss and trauma in her life, and yet her heart just shines. I bow to beautiful strength of her spirit. Along with traveling, Alli is committed to bringing access to travel, fresh foods, and alternative holistic practices to her neighborhood in South LA.
Also, I love how Alli ended up at Splendid Mola. She had actually applied for the All Voices Fellowship for two previous retreats, and had been runner-up each time. She didn’t actually apply for this retreat, but both Sara Rutenberg and I couldn’t stop thinking of her. So we reached out to her to offer her a fellowship she wasn’t expecting!
From Alli: “When I arrived in Idyllwild for the Splendid Mola Retreat I initially thought to myself, ‘What the heck and I doing here!? I don’t know where I am, I don’t know anyone here, and to top it off… I am NOT a writer!!.
Within ONE weekend, I realized I had been tucking every story that I had in heart away, mostly because I knew those stories would be safe there. Safe, because, no one could touch them or hear them or judge them or even be inspired by them.
Before attending the retreat, I kept coming up against my life and stories that I tucked away about my losses, about my fears and about my family — which were the things that helped me to begin to understand my life journey. I knew I had stories that needed to be told, but I couldn’t figure out how to begin. I tried meditating more, journaling more…and although I knew my stories were inspiring, I could not get myself to share them with anyone except close friends and family. A friend who was inspired by what I shared in my journals forwarded me the Splendid Mola Fellowship application. Although I was hesitant, I still applied. I was not chosen as the recipient of the scholarship that fall, so I took it as a sign that the retreat wasn’t for me. Then ONE WHOLE year later, I received an email from Lori with an invitation to attend the retreat because she believed in my stories. I knew this was the Universes way of telling me… ‘It is time!’
A writer or not, the soul knows what needs to be said. The biggest ‘take-away’ from the Splendid Mola retreat was just that — I need not call myself a writer to write, but understand that every soul has a purpose that could impact others and benefit the greater good of humanity.
Spending the time in nature, being led in yoga and breath work by Lori, the ease of not having a care in the world and the inspiration of being surrounded by others who use the medium of writing to let their soul speaks – truly changed my life for the good, and in one simple weekend, I learned to trust my stories and let me words lead the way.”
This line alone on David’s Fellowship application sold me: “More broadly than labels though, I am someone who believes that the world we live is created, rather than experienced, and that our opportunity as human beings is to create beauty and meaning from the building blocks of experience surrounding us.”
As a “cisgender homosexual monoromatic polysexual Caucasian male,” David also wrote this about the kind of writing he does: “The word I use for that is the queer voice, by which I mean not just stories of those who have non-traditional romantic or sexual interests, but those voices that challenge the world that is for the world that might be.” ‘Nuff said.
From David: “It took me quite some time to discover what it was that I wanted to say about the Splendid Mola retreat with Lori Snyder. In fact, there have been many scholarship recipients that have attended and posted after me. I think that it has taken me so long to articulate it, because I didn’t understand why it hurt so badly, or why it has continued to hurt since then.
I applied for the scholarship almost on a whim, very close to the deadline. And I was both bowled over, and very unprepared to be awarded the gift. I was in a very interesting time in my life. Interesting like the Kennedy speech interesting. I had come to a place where I had suddenly lost what felt like was everything. In that time, I tried desperately to cling to my writing, as a way of reminding myself that my goals, my purpose, were larger in this life, that endings are just beginnings, closed doors open windows, and a thousand other such platitudes. I knew that what I had lost, a job, a community, were not ever big enough to contain my identity, and my craft felt like the one proof I had in my life of that truth.
So when I applied for the Splendid Mola scholarship it was an act of desperate rebellion against the dark forces in my own mind, who had taken my recent wounds as a once in a lifetime opportunity to finally gain dominion of my thoughts. I didn’t, of course, realize it at that time. I didn’t strap on tattered cloths and body armor before hitting send on my application. But I knew that I needed to do something to feel like I was both valuable and moving forward.
What I experienced when I arrived can be summed up best by a single word.
As I said, it took me a great while to come up with that word. Because what I wanted to say about Splendid Mola, was that it was a warm, loving, supportive environment, with a relaxed atmosphere and good friends. But that did not explain the hurt. I didn’t know why Splendid Mola hurt so much.
I figured it out at last. It was not simply enough that facilitator Lori Snyder and the many wonderful writers that surrounded me during that weekend were welcoming, and positive, and encouraging. The positive energy was there, of course, suffusing it all. But there was space there too for my pain. Without an attempt to hide it, or fade it, or fix it. There was enough space for me, and an attitude of acceptance for where I was and where I needed to go. But even acceptance is not a strong enough word.
What I felt that weekend in Idyllwild California was that people whom I admired, respected, and believed in (especially Lori), looked to me and all of the mess I arrived with, and read every word of that page in my life with true wonder and focus. I felt like they loved who I was, as the protagonist of my own journey. They did not see the difficulties I faced as being a failure, but rather, were anxiously awaiting to see what me, the plucky and lovable hero, would do to turn things around on the next page.
What I experienced was a place where just because I had made mistakes, or experienced setbacks, or completely betrayed myself, did not mean that I was undeserving of love, consideration, or even admiration.
Each day, Lori encouraged us to be kind to ourselves. To love ourselves. And to let go of expectations about what a weekend of “writing” should look like. She said, repeatedly, that sometimes, the sheer struggle of bearing our worlds in our head, and balancing them with our complex non-writing lives, meant that what we needed most from a “writing” retreat was sleep. And good food. And fresh air. And middling wine, paired with exquisite conversations and chocolate dark as the night sky.
Lori treated each person attending that retreat as if the courage and struggle of their writing made them worthy of royal treatment. It was not a self-care given for the (no less valid) belief that simply all people need support and deserve love, or that we poor struggling fools had made mistakes in allowing ourselves to become distracted by the world impeding our art and needed her aid. There was nothing generalized, nothing condescending about the love I felt at Splendid Mola. What I felt, what I believe still, is that the people at Splendid Mola were excited and honored to hold a space for exactly for me. They did so with the respect one might give to a combat veteran, or to a heroic fireman, or to a valiant space explorer. At Splendid Mola, what I felt for the first time, is that someone looked at the crazed decision I had made to be a creator or worlds, a teller of stories, a writer, and rather than questioning my publication successes, or my career path research, or my day job status, they bowed their heads and said “Rest here awhile, it is our honor to be with you.”
It was dignity.
And that is why it hurt quite as much as it did. Because experiencing the genuine loving dignity which Lori and the rest of those attending created for me, showed me how little dignity I created for myself. I realized that the person who kept treating me like a failure, an imposter, an immature dreamer who refused to face reality, was me. It made wounds I had been causing to my own inner self for years, for so long I forgot what the pain of them felt like, to ache again. And in aching, to receive my attention, and the healing that always follows awareness.
Splendid Mola IS pleasant, and it is a wonderful weekend of recharging and refocusing. But for those that need it, there are deep waters there, held still by the unfailing gentility of Lori herself, into whose depths you may peer with clarity to do hard things, painful things, too. And the only pressure you will feel, to be anywhere other than exactly where you are, is the soft ever present chiming that sings, “You are a precious person on the planet. What can I do to help?”
It is dignity that I received, and dignity I carry with me from Idyllwild. It hurts still. But it is fiercely precious also.
From the moment I read Gulu’s application, I knew I wanted to bring her on retreat. Even in the “basic info” part of the application, it was clear she was highly conscious of diversity and inclusion (she self-identified as “cis-gendered,” which is, at this point, still not that common of a term). Next, she included a piece of writing about being Muslim in this country that was so powerful, intelligent, and heart-wrenching I read it about five times (here it is). In addition to this, she was clearly struggling with calling herself a writer…a struggle I and so many of us know so well.
Gulu lives in Chicago where she is a PhD student, and she and her husband are currently in the process of getting licensed to become foster parents (lucky kids!). In her own words, “I am only just owning up to being a writer. I’m more comfortable in my role as a doctoral student in education and design working with youth of color to tell their stories using documentary journalism. I am also Muslim and a second generation American Desi and on the taller end of short and a Potterhead and an unadventurous foodie and a Kentuckian and a reluctant Chicagoan and a sugar addict and a once-quilter and would-like-to-be ceramicist. In terms of what I do write, though, I’m a PhD student, so most of my writing is academic. Here, I have trouble being explicit about the types of educational injustices my students (mostly black, brown, and immigrant youth) experience and why alternative spaces for learning and thinking are necessary. I am also, as with the piece mentioned above, working on developing as a writer of creative nonfiction and poetry (maybe?) and have some ideas that I’d like to flesh out. Specifically, I’m working on one piece about coming to terms with my father’s strictness and culture.”
From the moment she arrived, Gulu brought with her a positivity and presence that infused the entire retreat, as well as a profound sense of someone stepping into who she most truly is. I can’t wait to see where she goes next!
From Gulu: “The Splendid Mola retreat was exactly what I needed, having just begun writing essays about my life and drafting ideas for my dissertation. The retreat was designed to give me time to write. I don’t think until I had actually that time did I realize how sorely I’d been missing it! More importantly, the combination of the beautiful mountain location, Lori’s meditation and yoga sessions, the amazing food, and the supportive group of writers, made me feel at ease about taking that time. Although the retreat is pitched as “distraction-free,” I have to add it’s also “guilt-free”—it’s a space where it’s okay to take care of yourself and your work. I came home with more than just strong revisions and a first draft essay, but with the knowledge that giving myself space and time to write and think exclusively (without worrying about dinner, chores, or errands!) is something necessary to my process. The entire experience was a perfect “refresh” button for my work. I can’t say enough to recommend the retreat, or to express my gratitude to Lori for the All Voices Fellowship. Her commitment to cultivating a space that’s rejuvenating and productive for people from all walks of life is inspiring.”
Danielle’s strength and kindness came through as loudly in her application as if she were standing right in front of me, and when I in fact did get to meet her, she was exactly as she seemed. Her energy radiated out and reminded us all why we were here in the first place: to write; to do the thing that we felt we were on this planet to do. Danielle came on retreat, in her own words, “seeking a community of like-minded writers for support. And for space and permission to write.”
She is working on, among other things, “a narrative non-fiction piece about Whitney Houston and the lineage of under-credited, unheralded genius soul and blues singers who preceded her. The piece is infused with stories of my own lineage of genius women (such as my grandmother, a former cotton farmer, blues café entrepreneur, and folk healer) who, because of some combination of being black and female, could not live full, productive, successful lives as the artists they were.” You can read an excerpt of this work at velamag.com/the-voice/.
From Danielle: “I came to Idyllwild, California on faith and a prayer, with the help of friends and Lori Snyder’s All Voices Fellowship. I was, to put it mildly, frayed at the edges by the seemingly incessant demands of my life. A New Yorker with a typical New Yorker’s frenzied lifestyle, I had been writing when I could, on weekends, early mornings and late nights for about nine years.
Just a couple of weeks before coming to Idyllwild, I completed a six-week-long advanced non-fiction writing seminar where I worked on the beginnings of a personal essay about my mother and the vibrant black southern community that nurtured my love of language and literature. The story, what I intended to communicate, felt intimate, exciting, and urgent. But I needed time to finish it, and the psychic space to play, to find the truest way to conjure up all the love and curiosity and creativity that had been given to me. Needless to say, my everyday life, which included frequent 60-hour work weeks, did not support this.
During my time with Lori and the other writers at the Splendid Mola retreat, I began to rest, to breathe in mountain air. From my room in cozy Idyllwild Manor, I got to gaze out into the lovely Southern California sun and notice how it lingered on and bounced off the lush shrubbery. I saw strange blue birds in a nest above a porch I sat on with my laptop and a rocking chair. I ate hearty meals that I didn’t have to trek across city blocks and underground trains to forge for and prepare.
I met writers who, like me, were fighting to find the time and resources to get their stories out. And I met others who were already living the writers’ life that has, more and more, become the substance of my dreams.
With all of the gratitude I can muster, I must also say that I worked feverishly and efficiently on my writing. And through the community of writers, and the restorative, healing space that Lori created, I found what I believe to be a turning point in my life, a clearing, that will inform and color my next steps and next drafts.
Christina Gessler — April 2016
April 2016 marks the first retreat where an additional All Voices Fellowship is offered, due to the generosity of former SCBWI conference coordinator Sara Rutenberg. Sara chose Christina Gessler for the fellowship because Sara knows from her own family how incredibly difficult is to move through life with this kind of chronic GI illness. On her fellowship application, Tina wrote that she identifies with both the people who suffer from incurable or chronic illness and the families who go through that journey with them. She also added, “I am doing well now, but in my recent past I have not. In the hospital, the doctor could gauge my recovery by whether or not I was pestering the nurses for paper. If I was writing, I was fighting through. If I wasn’t, I was giving up.” Tina is currently working on a young adult novel that sounds amazing.
As for me, I was thrilled to have Tina on retreat with us. She has an incredibly smart, dry sense of humor and an underlying warmth and acceptance of everyone that makes her such a joy to be around.
From Tina: “I’m wary of things that promise too much. But this experience was more than promised. And I’m not a fan of weekend vacations with the girls. But these ladies are the sort of people you feel honored to spend a weekend with. And I never went to a sleep-away summer camp. But Splendid Mola is what I imagined those camps were like: a chance to run away to the perfect place to be your best you.
I feel so fortunate to have gotten a writing fellowship to Splendid Mola. But I find it difficult to express what it meant in words, I think because Splendid Mola is something you experience, you inhabit, you breathe. The writing is just a bonus.”
In Carla’s application I saw every friend I have who, in taking care of so many other people, struggles to find any time for herself. Carla is Latina, born in Lima, Peru; her family left when she was eight due to political turmoil which made it unsafe for them to remain. A dedicated and loving single mom, she works as a Certified Expressive Arts Therapist in Orange County, CA and loves volunteering for her daughter’s class in their Reading Lab. She is writing a multicultural magical realism middle grade novel, all of which is also near and dear to my heart! Carla wrote in her application that she “loves yoga and chasing sunrises,” and she is exactly the kind of person that implies: grounded, overflowing with kindness and gratitude, and so joyous. Having her join us was a gift.
From Carla: “Four words: A dream come true. Not in my wildest dreams would I have expected any of what I experienced at The Splendid Mola Writers Retreat located in the woodsy peaceful mountaintop of Idylwild. Throughout the weekend, Lori provided a loving safe nurturing creative space for writing, healing, and creativity. Her attention to details for the group and each individual provided an authentic creative environment where it allowed genuine sharing, respect, and admiration. he stillness and healing through her blissful yoga and meditation inspired me to rework parts of my manuscript that I had been struggling with. It also rooted other ideas for my book. And our private chef fed us delicious nurturing and eco conscious satisfying meals.
As the recipient of the Diversity Award [Now the All Voices Fellowship], I am honored and grateful to have been in the presence of gifted group of writers of various levels–published authors, work in progress writers, and writers who were brainstorming a creative idea–who now I call my friends and community. I highly recommend The Splendid Mola Writing Retreat. It is truly a gift.”
Tanynya’s application really spoke to my heart, as she is involved with so many aspects of inclusion and diversity. She is a consultant and speaker in the those areas as well as in independent school admission, yoga, and mindfulness. She does much work with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and has served as a People of Color Conference Affinity Group Facilitator, a faculty member for the NAIS Student Leadership and Diversity Conference, and a member of the 2014 NAIS think tank The Call to Action. She served on the Assessment of Inclusion and Multiculturalism Team at the Westmark School assessing School Governance and Leadership, was a member of the Head of School Search Committee, and is chair of the Westmark School’s Advancement Committee and advisor for inclusionary practices.
Tanynya writes articles on topics such as Aging Mindfully, Black History Month, Blending the Authentic ‘You’ into the Workplace, Classism, Diversity, Education Access for All Levels, Health & Wellness, Inclusion, Microagressions, Mindfulness, Multiculturalism, Gender, Race, Navigating Hair and Aesthetics in the Workplace, Women, and Young Black Women. She’s also working on writing and compiling her life stories. In addition, she’s a certified yoga instructor and teaches across the greater Los Angeles Area. And as we all learned on the retreat…she is incredibly fun, kind, and full of life—a total joy in every way. I was so thrilled to have her join us as the first recipient of the Splendid Mola All Voices Fellowship!
From Tanynya: “The Splendid Mola Writers Retreat delivered what it promised—’distraction-free writing time with a yoga chaser.’ Peaceful Mountain Inn in Idyllwild was a rustic, peaceful setting that stimulated reflection, rest and writing. The chef provided a variety of healthy but hearty meals that nourished the body to inspire writing. Morning meditation and afternoon yoga created balance to the day encouraging creativity and calm. I recommend this retreat to anyone that needs or wants a jump start on their writing project. That is what this retreat provided me and I have been on a roll ever since. I left the retreat full of gratitude and gained a group of wonderful fellow writers. As the recipient of the Diversity Award [Now the All Voices Fellowship] I must add extra kudos to Lori for supporting the range of voices in the world and in turn supporting me.”