What a Great Summer!

At the waterfalls above Squaw Valley

At the waterfalls above Squaw Valley

I was so lucky this month to spend a week at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers fiction workshop. I got a lot of encouragement and support for continuing work on a novel I’ve been toiling over for many years, in addition to a new memoir about living with a family member with mental illness.

My brother has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia since he was a teenager. He’s now sixty-one and lives by himself in a mobile home on a tiny supplemental security income stipend. His teeth are mostly gone, he’s rail-thin, and he still struggles with fear and delusions, though age has lessened his psychosis. This memoir recounts his descent into severe mental illness and looks at the state of our mental health care system nationwide. In a word, it’s abysmal. I’ve written about and followed the laws and conditions of mental health care for many years. It is my hope that this book will enlighten and prompt policy revisions to improve the lives of millions of our family members and neighbors, not to mention the thousands of homeless people on our streets and in our jails.

As for the novel, I am excited to get back to a project that has been percolating since I wrote the first scene in a fiction class in 1987. After seventeen years in a nursing home, on the eve of his thirtieth birthday, a paralyzed Matt asks his gathered friends to end his life. Fred, who feels responsible for Matt’s accident, is conflicted. He is the one who stayed in their hometown, who visits Matt every day, who stayed true. Whether it has been out of guilt or friendship, no one knows besides Fred. Jake, the ambitious African-American attorney up for partner in his Los Angeles firm, thinks the answer to Matt’s request is obvious. Jeremy, the sensitive architect in San Francisco, great-grandson of Asian Gold Rush immigrants, is certain it’s wrong. Fred turns to his confidant and friend, Fr. Michael Cherry, to understand and make up his own mind. Meanwhile, Matt, bedridden, waits for their collective decision over the course of his birthday weekend. This is a project that has gripped my heart for years; now is the time to let the story unfold.

All of which is to say it’s been a busy and exciting summer. And that followed a spring filled with travel through Italy and Spain and a ten-day writing and painting retreat I led with my colleague Helena Hill. We are already planning another retreat to Tuscany for October 2021.

Next fall, I will lead an intensive writing workshop to the south of Spain, from Sept. 26-Oct. 3, 2020, at Casa-Ana, a lovely villa an hour from Granada. We’ll spend most mornings writing and afternoons in intensive critique. Bring your memoir, novel, nonfiction work of any kind. We’ll focus on generating new work and considering how it fits into your overall work. On two of the days we’ll hike the beautiful Sierra Nevada and explore Granada with a local guide. Casa-Ana is a warm and inviting villa with private en suite rooms, enticing meals, and every amenity you can imagine. Lodging, instruction, meals and transportation to and from Granada are included in the $3,600 cost. The only additional expense you are responsible for is your travel to and from Spain. A $500 deposit holds your spot. The balance of the fees is due in equal amounts on January 1, 2020 ($1,550), and July 1, 2020 ($1,550). Limited to nine students.

Interested? Send me an email! marcia@marciameier.com.

Enjoy the coming dog days of summer!

Beautiful Barcelona!

We spent three days in Barcelona, visiting friends from Santa Barbara who are living there for two years. We had been walking and touring museums and cathedrals and sights in Florence and Rome, and I was looking forward to some down time with our friends. But it was not to be! Janis had us moving from the moment we arrived until we left on the train for Madrid three days later.

On the day we visited Gaudi’s spectacular basilica, Sagrada Familia (Holy Family), we were lucky to be there to see a demonstration/competition unique to Catalon called Castells, or human towers. Dozens of people create a human tower by building a base and then climbing up on top of each other. It was fascinating, and also terrifying. One of the towers collapsed as the top people were descending, which was heart-stopping.

Castelleers climb on top of each other to build a human tower

Castelleers climb on top of each other to build a human tower

Almost there!

Almost there!

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

A photo of the stunning interior of Sagrada Familia, which doesn’t come close to doing it justice

A photo of the stunning interior of Sagrada Familia, which doesn’t come close to doing it justice

Stairs in one of the basilica towers

Stairs in one of the basilica towers

On the Passion side of the basilica

On the Passion side of the basilica

Gaudi’s Parque Guell

Gaudi’s Parque Guell

Easing Back into Life

I’ve been home for almost two weeks, and am just starting to feel like myself again. Jet lag after a month in Europe and days of walking seven to 10 miles each day definitely took their toll! But I absolutely loved every minute of our travels, and especially my 10 days in Tuscany with my colleague Helena Hill and the 11 women we took on our writing and painting retreat. (See my previous posts for more on our retreat and my subsequent travels through Italy. I will post more photos from our time in Spain, as well.)

One of the things I realized once I got home is I want to do it again! So I am looking into leading a writing retreat to southern Spain in 2020, and Helena and I are talking about another writing and painting retreat in Tuscany in 2021. Stay tuned for more details, but if you’re interested, take a look at this trip’s itinerary, and let me know if you are interested in a future retreat. And if you would like to get my Weeping Willow Books newsletter, sign up here.

Meanwhile, here are more images from our time at Casa Fiori in Tuscany:

Painting our ceramic plates at the watercolor studio of Katinka Kielstra near Lucca, Italy

Painting our ceramic plates at the watercolor studio of Katinka Kielstra near Lucca, Italy

Lunch at Katinka’s

Lunch at Katinka’s

Cooking class with Karolina

Cooking class with Karolina

Helena with a typical lunch at Casa Fiori

Helena with a typical lunch at Casa Fiori

Celebrating a successful shopping expedition into Lucca

Celebrating a successful shopping expedition into Lucca

Ciao, Casa Fiori. See you again soon!

Ciao, Casa Fiori. See you again soon!

Roma!

Images from our five days in Rome, with a one-day side trip to Pompeii. 

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Overlooking the gorgeous River Tiber in Roma.  

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On our way to the Vatican. 

On our way to the Vatican. 

Michelangelo’s Pieta at St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Michelangelo’s Pieta at St. Peter’s Basilica. 

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The  Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) is in the Piazza Navona in Rome, near where we stayed. It was designed in 1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Pope Innocent X and represents the four major rivers of the four continents through which papal authority had spread, according to Wikipedia. They are the Nile, representing Africa, the Danube, representing Europe, the Ganges, representing Asia, and the Río de la Plata, representing the Americas.

The Coliseum—wowza. 

The Coliseum—wowza. 

Lunch—and wine tasting—at the Bosco de Medici Winery in Pompeii. 

Lunch—and wine tasting—at the Bosco de Medici Winery in Pompeii. 

Firenze!

Photos from our three days in the spectacular city of Florence, Italy. 

 

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The Duomo in Firenze—formally Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers. 

The view from our hotel. 

The view from our hotel. 

Michelangelo’s David is as impressive as it’s said to be. 

Michelangelo’s David is as impressive as it’s said to be. 

The beautiful Ponte Vecchio.

The beautiful Ponte Vecchio.

Overlooking the Arno River. 

Overlooking the Arno River. 

A Botticelli at the Uffizi Gallery. 

A Botticelli at the Uffizi Gallery. 

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Saying goodbye to Italy

On the train from Barcelona to Madrid! It has been a whirlwind ten days since I left Lucca and all the wonderful women on our retreat. We had such fun writing and painting and visiting so many wonderful places in Tuscany. We’ll forever be grateful to Karolina Lenart, her husband, Dawid, and all the people who made our ten days at Casa Fiori so magical.

I met Rob in Florence after leaving Lucca, and we have been on a fabulous journey of seeing extraordinary art and experiencing local foods and customs in Italy. After Florence we took the train to Rome, where we had five days, which hardly seemed enough, especially with a side trip to Pompei. (Photos to come.)

Then it was on to Barcelona to visit our friends Janis and Bengt, who are spending two years there. We saw every sight there was to see, it seemed, ate too well (and too much), and capped our three days together with a rousing flamenco concert.  

The last few days in Tuscany also were a blur of activity, with visits to the Town of Fine Towers, San Gimignano, a biodynamically farmed vineyard and winery, and the coastal town of Portovenere.  The views and monuments in Portovenere are stunning (well, everything is stunning in Tuscany). On our final evening at Casa Fiori, we celebrated by tasting our limoncello and sharing our writing and painting. I actually painted some still lifes and a landscape (see below). 

More soon from Madrid!

San Gimignano, the Town of Fine Towers. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it boasted 84 towers at one time. Eighteen still exist.  

San Gimignano, the Town of Fine Towers. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it boasted 84 towers at one time. Eighteen still exist.  

Kathleen Barry and I found a sweet little restaurant down this narrow street in San Gimignano.

Kathleen Barry and I found a sweet little restaurant down this narrow street in San Gimignano.

Portovenere!

Portovenere!

Church and grotto at Portovenere. Lord Byron is said to have swum in the ocean from the grotto. 

Church and grotto at Portovenere. Lord Byron is said to have swum in the ocean from the grotto. 

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Windy! Portovenere is just south of the villages of Cinque Terra. 

Windy! Portovenere is just south of the villages of Cinque Terra. 

The altar inside the church at Portovenere. 

The altar inside the church at Portovenere. 

My first watercolors, with thanks to the excellent teaching of my colleague-in-crime Helena Hill. (Remember the tree tower in Lucca?).

My first watercolors, with thanks to the excellent teaching of my colleague-in-crime Helena Hill. (Remember the tree tower in Lucca?).

Enjoying the fruits of our labors. 

Enjoying the fruits of our labors. 

Kathleen with the limoncello we made. 

Kathleen with the limoncello we made. 

Helena, right, and Patricia assess our paintings. 

Helena, right, and Patricia assess our paintings.