Should you Seduce your Muse in Venice? by Sharon Irven

Should you Seduce your Muse in Venice?

by Sharon Irven

“Travel is like love: it cracks you open, and so pushes you over all the walls and low horizons that habits and defensiveness set up.” Pico Iyer

The answer to whether you should seduce your muse in Venice (or any other far away location) depends on why you would want to leave home and your cozy writing space in the first place. Are you feeling stuck in your work, forgotten why you launched such an ambitious writing project, in need of some new stimulation or just plain wanting to get away? For me, having the distinction of living in the second coldest capital city in the world, I felt that I had endured too many days of jaw dropping cold weather last January when I heard about Davina’s workshop.

Christmas was over and coincidentally, so was my marriage. I had spent the previous month talking to lawyers and other creatures from the dark side, so I desperately needed a change. Most of my friends had already escaped for warmer climes: Florida, Texas, even Goa, where can I go? It was too late to get reservations for a cheap trip to Cuba (half of Canada must already be there); a Caribbean escape felt way too decadent. Besides, I’m not much of a beach bunny, preferring to learn something new on holidays, and I don’t mean new places to shop. Now that I have more time on my hands, I wanted to get back to my writing.

I rounded up the usual suspects on-line, consulting trusted web sites and blogs for escape ideas. I knew about a writer’s retreat in Chile that is popular with Canadians (our winter is their summer, so handy) but the facilitator was a poet. Although I love poets and poetry, I don’t see myself writing it. In another blog, I found an intriguing reference to a ‘seduce your muse’ writers’ workshop. Following the links, the stunning pictures of Venice on Davina’s website seduced me, instantly. I had always thought of Venice as a tourist trap (it had not ranked high on my bucket list) but it did look gorgeous in those pictures. Besides, I had heard that Venice was sinking so it felt like I should experience it before it goes. And the price was right. The timing fit too – being in March allowed enough time to get my passport renewed.

I forwarded the url to three fellow scribes and there was a lot of interest; only Jacqueline could see her way clear to attend with me. OMG, cue the rockets; we are going to Venice! We did not realize then how useful this sojourn would be to support our writing aspirations.

Before we immersed ourselves into attracting our muses, we spent a day wandering about Venice acquainting ourselves with all its considerable charms.

We happily got lost amidst the narrow streets (some ending abruptly at canals with unprotected entrances: heads up!), we browsed in shops selling everything imaginable (shoes, gloves and handbags especially caught my eye) and noticed, on every street corner, a gelato shop. They are as popular as Tim Horton’s are back home in Ottawa.

The next day we checked into the comfortable apartment where our workshop was taking place. Did I mention spacious? It had a fully equipped kitchen, handy for making breakfasts (one of the participants created three lovely gourmet meals for us here), a living and dining room where most workshop sessions took place, two sparkling ceramic bathrooms and sleeping quarters for up to 5 people. A tiny balcony off the kitchen opened onto a canal: one day we watched a ‘near miss’ between two gondoliers heading in opposite directions around a tight corner. Thank goodness for skillful maneuvering! Compared to the cramped hotel rooms that one usually encounters in Europe, it felt like we were staying in the Taj Mahal. Jacqueline joked that one almost had time to eat lunch moving from the bedrooms to the living room.

As a way to launch the workshop, Davina guided us through the city on a full moon walk. Clearly she knows and loves this city: we loved seeing the full moon hovering over the centuries old buildings and shining on the canals. What a wonderful introduction to this magical kingdom. It was also an opportunity to invoke the spirits of other creative geniuses associated with Venice: Ezra Pound is buried at nearby San Michele Island; Browning wrote ‘O to be in England’ while living at the palatial Ca Rezzonico that overlooks the Grand Canal; Antonio Vivaldi was born and composed his fabulous music here, just to name a few. We invited our artistic muses to visit us here in this mystical city of shimmering canals and car-free streets.

So what did we do to nurture our writing muses during the seven days of the workshop? We shared our dreams as writers, responded to creative prompts, either from Davina’s imagination or from the majestic surroundings, we practiced writing different forms (I’m still not a poet) and, under Davina’s gentle prodding, set new writing intentions for ourselves. After we got home, Jacqueline successfully applied for (and secured) a spot in the coveted Banff Creative Writing Studio. She attributes her Venice experience for giving her the resolve to do so. I decided to break out a partially completed novel that was in hiding amongst the dust bunnies.

Davina had designed a workshop schedule that allowed for an agreeable mix of personal and group time. In between writing sessions, we toured the city, either as a group or alone, exploring all the traditional sights, like San Marco Basilica, the splendid museums and galleries, jewelers’ and artists studios. We went for two relaxing gondola rides, a bit like canoeing, only someone else is doing all the work (sometimes they sing too). We dined al fresco in the sunny campo; one evening we attended a classical music concert by candlelight at a lovely renaissance church filled with art. We had an amazing holiday.

There were tears when we said our good-byes at the vaporetto stop, en route to the train station. We were sad to see our group go our separate ways to Canada, California and Amsterdam. Hope we meet again, preferably near a canal and under Davina’s inspiring leadership.

To attend Seduce Your Muse or to learn more go to http://www.seduceyourmuse.com

Begging for Equality!

Glenn Schmoll met his husband, Lowell Houser, in 1961 at a friend’s home in Los Angeles to watch a televised panel on homosexuality, something that was radical on two accounts, one homosexuality was illegal and having a television was a rarity. The couple were together for 45 years and were officially married on July 25, 2008 in Ft. Bragg, California before Propisition 8 passed. Like many of our LGBT seniors, Glenn has been denied benefits that would be granted to an opposite-sex spouse. The financial hardships on him have been immeasurable.

How many LGBT widows and widowers will face homelessness because they are denied the federal benefits associated with marriage? Every day the DOMA law goes unchallenged LGBT seniors and LGBT widows and widowers face injustices and unnecessary cruelties. We must repeal DOMA. We must not allow laws to exist that keep American citizens from having full access to equality. DOMA continues to deny same-sex couples 1,138 federal rights.

This election year we must seriously consider where we will put our resources and who we will vote for. Will we support a candidate that has already repealed an unfair ban against LGBT people serving in the military or a candidate, like Newt Gingrich, who has had multiple opportunities to exercise his freedom to marry, yet does not feel that his own sister should have that right? Nor would he feel that Glenn Schmoll and Lowell Houser deserved that right even though if they had had full marriage rights Glenn would not been in the unfortunate position of petitioning the Masons, where Lowell was a Brother, for financial assistance typically afforded other spouses of brothers.

In my over ten years as a marriage equality advocate, it breaks my heart to continue to receive stories from LGBT people who have to beg unions, politicians, judges, and other organizations to recognize them as the spouses they are or have been. LGBT people should not have to beg for equality.