Writing in Good Company: The New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat 2015

I cannot begin to document the thousand little miracles that made up the 2015 New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat, July 13-17. I never thought that anything could be as good as the 2014 writing marathon.  But here it was, again, stunning from the start, each day feeling like a lifetime. Threads of writing on this marathon have worked their way into several different pieces that I am still working on, but here I will pull out two pieces from the first day in the good company of new and old marathon friends, including my dear travel companions Jeff and Kelly.

A million thanks to Richard Louth, Kim Stafford, Tracy Ferrington Cunningham, Michelle Russo, and the whole retreat leadership team for creating the most magical and intense writing experience of my life.  Anyone who wants to attend in 2016 should stay tuned to writingmarathon.com for updates.

20150714_11270311:15 a.m. Carousel Bar

Reveling in my triumph at scoring seats for my half-newbie group at the famous bar in the Monteleone Hotel, I celebrate with a Vieux Carré, the signature cocktail of the house, invented in 1938. It contains both kinds of bitters, Angostura and Peychaud’s.  Blessed bitters, grounding the spirits of the glass and the city and the writer just the same, they draw the sweetness out, giving it something to stand on.

I’m watching a group of four carefully groomed and very tan young bros flirt with two brown-haired young women. The girls are seated at the bar, which is moving very, very slowly. The guys are standing, stationary. Very, very slowly, the girls drift away with their drinks.

Moments pass. Pages fill. My glass empties.

When I find the group again, I see that a thinner, blonder 11737952_10207398289701240_4726592216325707756_ngirl in a black crop top has anchored the young men, leaving the brunettes to float on.

Ten minutes later, I see that three of the bros, one of the brunettes, the crop top blonde, and a brand new blonde with beach waves have all formed a chatting fleet, moving as one in measured, steady shifts.  They circumnavigate the carousel, carried in the boozy current beneath the bar’s circus lights, clown masks, and mirrors. 


2:14 p.m. St. Louis Cathedral

In the opening session—on Bastille Day—Kim welcomes us to Day 1 of the marathon and says, “Let the doors of our reticence fly open!” Then he challenges us with a question that follows me all morning and all through lunch: “What is your freedom for?” 

It’s easy to see how people become born again, turning themselves over to “the Lord” in seeking answers to this difficult question through religion.  Today I realize that I have, instead, turned myself over to Lourdes, the Le Richelieu Hotel desk attendant who checked me in. 


I wanted so much to have a room with a beautiful balcony over Charters Street.  I’d had one last year, and one the year before that, with the bad boyfriend spoiling it a little but not enough for me to stop asking for the same kind of room, in the online reservation notes and in person, pleading.

But this year, Lordes said, “We couldn’t do that, but we do have you in a nice room with a balcony in back.”

She saw my disappointment. My hurt. “So it’s in back?” I asked. 

“It overlooks the pool,” she said, smiling. “It’s very nice. You’re going to like it.”

I dragged my skepticism up to the room and flung open the doors of my balcony. From that moment my orientation to the room and to the marathon changed.

20150713_142926_resizedAs Lordes predicted, I do like it. I like it so much, I am humbled and changed by it. It’s a spacious two bedroom suite with a huge, gorgeous bed and a little sitting room, part of the original McCartney suite where Paul and Linda stayed for several weeks while they were visiting New Orleans. Best of all, it faces inward, opening to the lush courtyard. 

I realize now that this is what I need. A new room with a new view.  A turning inward. 

Reminded of the John Muir quote I like to put at the top of my own marathon handouts, I feel awed by the power of the marathon once again, quieted and grateful and even ready.

“For going out, I found, was really going in.”  



  1. Dr. Martens, oh my goodness, is it possible to contain myself? Those writing marathons are calling my name…. Again, I can feel the warm air and the breeze blowing through the door of your room facing the pool. What an experience your most current retreat must have been. I want to go, I need to go, I am implored to go….

    If I do go, I may not ever return. I will become a writer who lives as Julia Roberts lived on “Eat, Pray, Love.”

    • Thanks, Robin! It really is an unbelievable experience. Intense in the best way. A wonderland for writers. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear the details for this summer’s retreat. Thanks so much for reading!

  2. Appreciate: I love all the pictures! As much as I like to read and write, I am a very visual learner. I think that comes with the first grade teacher territory. Even though the words allow me to imagine what you are seeing, the pictures are what really get me. Little snapshots of your writing retreats. The things you see, the things you hear, the things you smell. I appreciate all of those photos especially the one of the carousel bar. It is gorgeous! To me it almost seems like a child’s imagination has been made up. Someone actually listened to them and made this moving restaurant.
    Notice: I notice that you seem to be willing to read your writing wherever you are no matter how many people are listening or watching. I know I appear to be this really confident person but I do not know if I could do that. It seems like a lot of pressure. Someday I hope to be more like you!
    Wonder: I wonder, if the next time I go on vacation I go on a writing marathon. I didn’t know what they were until after all of my vacations last year. I wonder if I would notice more things if I took my journal with me. I wonder if I would meet more people, asking what I was doing on my writing marathon. I also wonder if I can get my husband to participate with me. He is usually so on the go on vacations, I want to get him to slow down and enjoy the moment as well.

  3. Thanks, Jamie! Honestly, sometimes I have to ask my marathon group to let me read at the next stop because I’ve included the people around us in the writing, and it would be too weird or embarrassing. I know what you mean about images. I have a hard time writing these blog posts anymore without enough pictures. It’s funny how much I feel like they are a vital part of this genre. In the next post, I even incorporated music. I am pretty proud of myself 🙂

    The marathon experience makes me brave– I am not that way by nature. And I think that being with people makes a writer WAY more brave than they would be alone. Another great thing about marathons. You should definitely get your husband to write with you. I know lots of people who marathon on vacation because it does slow you down and make you see things really in-the-moment. If you do this, I’d love to hear how it goes. Thanks for reading!

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