By day, Vicki Mayk works in marketing and communications in higher education where, among other duties, she edits a university alumni magazine. Also by day—and sometimes by night—she teaches writing on campus and within the community. Part of her community-based writing efforts include working with the bereaved at St. Luke’s Hospice in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
She’s taking her skills and passion further this summer by hosting a weekend-long writing retreat, “Healing Through Stories,” June 23-25, 2017, at the Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Bangor, Pennsylvania. Hippocampus Magazine talked to Vicki about her upcoming retreat, the inspiration behind it, how else she’s sharing her wisdom, and a little about her own writing process.
Vicki’s own personal and professional development inspired the idea for the summer retreat.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a writing residency for two weeks, so I’ve experienced how great it is to go somewhere without distractions, in a nice setting, and have private time—but also the dual benefit of support,” she said. “I really wanted to be able to do this in some form. Stories are a way of healing, and exploring tough issues is a personal interest of mine.”
While Vicki had wanted to organize a writing event for some time, a session at HippoCamp 2016, Hippocampus Magazine’s annual creative nonfiction-based conference, stoked her fire even more. When she saw Joanne M. Lozar Glenn’s session, “Designing and Delivering a Writer’s Retreat for Fun (and a Little Bit of) Profit” listed in the conference program, she made a point to attend.
“[Joanne] gave some great tools, such as an excellent timeline based on her experiences. Her session was inspiring and practical, and I came out with tools,” she said, adding that she still has Joanne’s handouts in her retreat-planning folder.
And retreat planning she did. Vicki has built a robust program around using the written word to help us heal. She intends to “use a variety of approaches to explore sensitive and difficult issues.” This, she says, “offers attendees a lot of different entry points to access their stories.” Art journaling, for example, she learned is an effective way to “stimulate creative juices.” Other programming includes classes on telling difficult stories, time for focused journaling, and photo- and artifact-based writing prompts.
Writing about painful memories can be tolling, of course; and this retreat offers a bit of balance. During the weekend, attendees will also have downtime to write or relax or explore the “beautiful grounds” which features a labyrinth. Participants can also co-mingle during meals and a welcome reception. One of Vicki’s colleagues at the university—a woman who runs adventure programming for students—will help kick off the conference with ice breakers.
As we were talking about her retreat, we meandered a bit into other memoir-related areas. As Vicki teachers a variety of age groups, we wondered what her thoughts were about how writing about grief and other painful topics differs between the groups. She explained that it’s more about the narrative changing over time. She feels that no matter when someone writes, it’s beneficial. However, the content and perspective may change based on distance.
“What I have found is that people write differently in relation to where they are when it occurred,” she said, “it” being the trauma or pain point, such as death, divorce, job loss, abuse. “You will gain something (from writing) no matter where you are at on the continuum.”
Because writing at any stage can be effective, Vicki stresses that this retreat is for non-writers as well—meaning those who may not define themselves as writers per se, and want to use writing as therapy. She explained that research by psychologists, specifically Dr. James Pennebaker, proves that writing provides benefits for anyone; it reduces stress, helps us process different challenges, such as grief.
Vicki’s own writing deals with difficult topics, and she said her students, “their fearlessness and courage,” inspire her all the time. With that in mind, spending an intimate weekend with writers willing to heal and share will no doubt leave her—and other attendees—inspired and ready to write.
IF YOU GO:
Healing Through Our Stories:
June 23-25, 2017; Bangor, Pennsylvania
The $325 registration fee includes workshop materials, opening reception, meals, and two nights of accommodations. Vicki adds that if folks cannot commit to the whole weekend, there is an option for a Saturday day pass. Learn more or register here.
Editor’s Note; Last year, Vicki left HippoCamp inspired. This year, perhaps she’ll be the one of the giving end! She’ll also lead a session on speculation in nonfiction. She explains that this is tool that can help fill in the natural gaps in memoir—how to “write the truth without making things up.”