I’ll be honest: I didn’t have particularly strong reasons for wanting to attend Creative Alliance ‘12. The strongest was probably that Kim Tracy Prince is one of my personal influencers, and she’d been lauding the inaugural Creative Alliance retreat ever since she participated in 2010. Other points in its favor were that it was small (attendance was capped at 50), almost local (Ojai, California is just about an hour’s drive from home), mostly unsponsored, and programmed based on conversations rather than presentations. Aside from the fact that I figured I’d be the only book blogger there (and I was right about that) it sounded pretty much like my kind of thing…
…except for the “creative” part, which was a real stumbling block for this book-blogging accountant. Even when I was much younger and used to draw pictures all the time (like my mother), I never really thought I was especially “creative.” I’ve come to consider myself a writer during the last five years, but most of what I write about is what other people write. Where’s the creativity in that?
Raising that question in one of the CA’12 breakout groups helped me understand that I’ve equated–or maybe confused–”creativity” and “originality.” It’s hard to be truly original in the 21st century, and much of what even the most acclaimed “creative” people do these days is riffing and tweaking ideas that have come before. But because no two people’s minds work exactly the same, any one person’s riff or tweak can take the idea in a new creative–and maybe even original–direction. And at CA’12, the overall take on “creative” was pretty creative in itself; yes, there were writers and artists and filmmakers there, but there were also chefs and entrepreneurs and community-builders. The ways to find support and encouragement and inspiration were as varied as the participants.
While CA’12 gave participants a packed agenda–two full days of dual-tracked breakouts and group discussions, plus meals and even a couple of field trips–almost nothing was mandatory, and impromptu conversations could be just as significant than planned ones. My friend Kim was adamant about calling the weekend a “retreat,” not a “conference,” and that was another reason it appealed to me. I’m a Catholic-school veteran, and to me, the concept of a “retreat” implies something deeper than what a “conference” provides–not necessarily a dramatic personal epiphany, but at least the potential for getting some sort of clarity, even if it needs to simmer for awhile first.
I needed to simmer, which is why I haven’t posted much except pictures from the weekend before this. I’d wondered if I’d feel some sort of emotional shift or come upon some profound insight during CA’12. I didn’t–which, honestly, was a bit of a letdown at the time–but in the days afterward, I’ve become more aware that it affected me profoundly. I trust the connections–mental, emotional, and personal–that I made during that weekend…and they’ve made me more trusting of the connections I’ve already made through five and a half years of living online.
The fact that we were on the verge of opening up the Book Blogger Buddy System when I made this retreat was almost cosmically good timing. While my blogger’s heart lives in the book-blogging community, I’ve long described this space as “primarily, but not exclusively” about books, and CA’12 gave me the opportunity to get to know people from other online neighborhoods in the best way for me: in small doses, with no pressure. I look forward to seeing how these new friendships grow. At the same time, the weekend’s focus on fostering “authentic alliances” helped me appreciate that I already have some, and I really hope that’s what will develop from at least a few of the match-ups we’ll be creating with the BBBS.
The CA’12 participants have a group on Facebook, where most of us are still active almost daily, and a few have already shared new ventures and plans inspired or nurtured by that weekend in Ojai. I don’t know if that will happen for me, but even if it doesn’t, I do feel much more assured that the path I’m on already is the right one for me, right now–and that’s something. As much as I’d like to do more freelance writing, piling it on top of my day job–which I’m not in a position to leave–is straining me, and so this isn’t the best time to ramp up that particular pursuit. At the same time, I have a renewed fondness for this space of my own, where I can pursue whatever I want to write (and read) about, on my own terms, and which gives me a place in more than just one authentic, vibrant, and multi-faceted community.