Tag Archives: getting enough sleep at Writer’s Camp

Dispatches From Writer’s Camp: Tropical Flesh Mandala

I slept for seven hours cuddled up with my tiny electric fan–literally.  I thought maybe I’d roll over in the middle of the night and knock it off the mattress, or, worse, dreaming that I was snuggling with this machine, I might wake up with my hair caught in the fan blades.  No, it was safe and I was safe.  I didn’t move and the fan, sitting right next to me on the mattress, whirred me to sleep, kept me cool, and finally, on the fourth night at Wally Writer’s Camp, I slept well enough to be downright jazzed about attending this morning’s first class, having something to do with the iconic Buddhist, Hindu, sometimes Christian, oftentimes secular symbol or practice of the mandala. For readers who may not know what a mandala is, rather than define it, here’s an example I pulled from the mighty web in a 30 second google search:


The class was taught by my new Wally buddy, the poet Michael Collins, and he facilitated the class in the best way, or perhaps, the only way in which to facilitate such a class with writers.  He had 20 or 30 different mandalas spread around the room.  In an hour Michael spoke less than 3 or 400 words.  Instead of talking about them, he orchestrated for us an experience with them. We looked at mandalas; we wrote about mandalas; some of us moved around from mandala to mandala; some of us remained faithful to one the entire time. In silence and on our notepads or notebooks, we described, told stories around, and dialogued with the mandalas, and then finally we made one of our own.  For about twenty minutes we were coloring, and it was exhilarating.

But here’s the thing for me that speaks to both the power of this kind of work and of the mandala specifically, but, more importantly, to the synchronistic quality that often percolates through a Wally Writer’s Camp experience.  After describing and narrating the particular mandala each of us had chosen, Michael instructed us to dialogue with it.  And, after giving us a few quick descriptors about what that might look like, he made an offhand quip to put us at ease and make us laugh: “You know, maybe you’ve got a character that talks to art.”

As it so happens, in my current project in fiction writing, I have a character that talks to art.  My dialogue had nothing to do with that, but with the particular mandala I was looking at, a series of four trees around the circle, each tree in a different stage of its year, bare, leafing, blooming, fruiting. But Michael’s comment stuck with me, and the mandala that I created later represented the four characters in my novel and their interconnectedness, and then, later, when I squirreled off by myself to write in my sky room (once more unoccupied!), I wrote a scene in which my character talks to art.

Today, in part because of a good night’s sleep, in part because of Michael’s fortuitous class, and in part because René just texted me a picture of my son, I have been grateful and happy almost beyond comprehension.


P.S.  This is not the mandala I was looking for, but t’will serve.

P.S.P.S.  Oh, here it is, right in front of my face.

Photo on 7-2-14 at 3.48 PM

The mandala I made for my characters, while useful, was ugly.  I won’t be posting it.

 P.S.P.S.P.S.  And this, for Michael Collins, who has never heard of Robyn Hitchcock, is a song from his 80’s solo album Globe of Frogs, “Tropical Flesh Mandala.” The piano solo during the end fade is especially brilliant and terrible.


Filed under Religion, Writing and Reading

Dispatches From Writer’s Camp: That Whole Sleeping Thing


It may just be, for now, that I’m in the wrong zone. On the first night, I was exhausted when I arrived finally in South Hadley from clear across the country there in Portland, Oregon, but I was too excited to go to bed early; I slept fine, but I just didn’t sleep enough. On the second night I just couldn’t get to sleep, period. On the third night I couldn’t get back to sleep after waking at 3:45. I’m hoping that by the fourth night here at Wally Writer’s Camp I will have acclimated my body enough to the new zone that I will finally have a decent night’s sleep. It probably doesn’t help that I’m a middle aged guy sleeping in a dorm room on a mattress designed for young people who just as happily could sleep on a bed of gravel and come away feeling refreshed and ready for prime time. My body is just not as flexible about my sleeping arrangements. It probably doesn’t help that, back home, we finally bought a brand new mattress after sleeping on the same one for twenty-some years and I wish I could have taken it with me. Queen size carry-on? It also doesn’t help that here in this part of the country the sun rises at 4 in the morning and it’s hot.

In keeping with the lame amounts of healthy and regular sleep, I have not been dreaming.  Instead, I’ve been writing fiction.  Today, after breakfast, during which I consumed maybe 4 cups of coffee, I made my way back to the science building to see if I could get back into the fictive dream in my little sky room.  Lo, it was occupied.  No problem, I found my favorite classroom, empty, spacious, full of light, and was able to dream my characters back up again and follow them around, see what they had to say.  Maybe, I wrote 500 words into that dream.  Today, the problem is not how to organize the chaos, which I felt like I had to do before I could move on, but rather, chaos organized and ordered, the problem today is how to move on–almost the scariest part–because in front of me lies essentially nothing, essentially everything from which to choose.  This requires some significant energy. My breakfast of primarily caffeine-based consumables had worn off, and rather than just laying my head down right then and there and sawing some z’s, I made it my mission to find a couch in an air conditioned room somewhere on campus.  I ended up in the library at Mt. Holyoke College.  I found several couches in air conditioned rooms, but none inviting enough, or private enough, for sleeping.  Going back to the dorm on a 90 degree day was out of the question. All of this searching for a place to sleep had the unfortunate consequence of waking me up so that when I finally found my spot, a little nook called The Whiting Alcove on the 6th floor, I was too intrigued by the space, the privacy, how these little table tops sit right over the arms of these soft chairs, and by the curiosity about what it would be like to work in this space, to even think about sleeping there.

So here I am in the Whiting Alcove, napless, losing it again, a half an hour before lunch and then a class I’d like to attend, wrapping up this blog post in which I’ve discovered or revealed nothing about writing, except for maybe that it helps to be well-rested while attempting to do it, and perhaps that writing, like sleeping and dreaming, cannot or should not wait for the perfect space, but must be seized upon, in the moment, however and wherever you are.

The Whiting Alcove

The Whiting Alcove

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Filed under Writing and Reading