How do I even begin to explain my most recent Californian adventure? It started in San Luis Obispo, a quintessential California town. I booked a hotel to break up the long trip to Big Sur, checked in at around 5pm and set out to find something to eat. And boy did I find good eats. I found a farmer's market that seemed to stretch the length of the town. I think I stopped counting after 10 blocks. The entire population of SLO came out for this market, including Cal Poly students, families, and even this furry guy.
I arrived at Esalen the next day and checked into the big house - not jail - the big house overlooking the ocean - and attended the teacher's reception, and that's where the fun began. While I noshed on cheese and crackers, the program director kept pouring me white wine. The other workshop leaders attended and were so interesting and charming that I wanted to cancel my class and go as a student to theirs. I was feeling good, feeling confident. It was hitting me hard that I was teaching at the esteemed Esalen Institute. Hey, pass the wine! Yeah, I'm on top of the world. Wait. Who's that who just walked in? I know that face. I know that hair. I was wondering earlier why they were selling Eat, Pray, Love in the bookstore. There she was - Elizabeth Gilbert - toast of the town - sitting at a nearby table. I always show her TED talk to my creative writing students. It is so thoughtful and engaging. I had planned on showing it to the Esalen group. I leaned over to the program director and whispered, "Is that Elizabeth Gilbert?" to which she nodded yes. I asked because I have a cute little habit of thinking I recognize people and being completely wrong. But this time I was right. I was working on glass #4 of the wine which is the only reason I stood up and approached her. Maybe I gushed, I don't remember. I stammered something about showing her TED talk to Otis students. She smiled, and repeated my name when thanking me for approaching her. Or maybe that didn't happen. I don't know. I was toasted.
The rest of the weekend revolved around lots of writing, food and old fashioned hot tub nakedness. Oh, and one night during dinner the Brazillian Dance and Drumming Workshop performed for us, lead by the pregnant leader.
Who is the inner critic? We spent hours trying to figure it out. Probably our parents, and their parents and so on and so on - just embedded throughout the centuries. We wrote to overcome it. We wrote and wrote and wrote. The workshop participants were incredibly talented and funny, all with such different voices and points of view.
It was drizzly and misty, perfect hot tub weather. I had a massage, too. At one point my right leg was over my left ear. Things like that happen at Esalen.
In the workshop we wrote down ideas and put them in a bowl. The participants picked blindly from the pile and had to write on a subject someone else had suggested. Later, I asked them to pick another subject and write it from the point-of-view of the inner critic. I joined in on this exercise. Someone suggested writing about the red sculpture of a woman in the gardens. Here is the sculpture:
And here is what my inner critic had to say about it:
The red sculpture? How am I supposed to distinguish that one from all the other red sculptures around this place? I don’t suppose you expect that sculpture to inspire anything. It’s just some piece of tin, carved out to look like a woman. It sits there in the garden as though it’s some sort of beacon of hope – yeah right! How’s it any different from the purple sculpture on top of this art barn? Or, say, an airplane? Or a soup can? Art is a waste of time. It’s making nothing out of nothing. There’s no something about it. Schools keep cutting their art programs but so what? Who cares about glue and pencils and glitter? When push comes to shove, it’s math and science that really matters. The facts. The numbers. Numbers make the world go round. The almighty dollar – now there’s a number I can sink my teeth into – and speaking of… excuse me, but why aren’t you making more of those dollars. Don’t you know anything about worth? Now there’s some art – a green and white bill with a President slapped down in the middle of it. And it’s perfect because it’s not big and clunky and sitting in a garden. It folds up neatly into your pocket.