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June 19, 2008

Evil Sluts & the International Women's Writing Guild

This past weekend, the Evil Slut Clique went to the International Women's Writing Guild's summer conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY.
The IWWG, founded in 1976, is a network for the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing and open to all regardless of portfolio. As such, it has established a remarkable record of achievement in the publishing world, as well as in circles where lifelong learning and personal transformation are valued for their own sake. The Guild nurtures and supports holistic thinking by recognizing the logic of the heart--the ability to perceive the subtle interconnections between people, events and emotions- alongside conventional logic.
In the course of this past quarter century, IWWG has empowered thousands of women to grow personally and to follow their calling, which, inevitably, also leads to changing the world in myriad ways. What was new and in the air when IWWG was born were three movements: The Human Potential Movement, The New Age with the notion of transformation through spiritual practice, and The Women's Movement. The Guild fused these movements under the umbrella of Writing.
The women of the IWWG span several generations and cultures... so we weren't sure what kind of reception a group of girls who call themselves "evil sluts" would get. We were pleasantly surprised. We do so much complaining and ranting on Evil Slutopia, because there is a lot to be outraged about in the world today, that we almost weren't sure how to write an entry that was just so bursting and overflowing with happiness and love. (Wow. Did I really just write "bursting and overflowing with happiness and love". See what I mean!? That is so unlike us).

The weekend had a slightly rocky start due to our Amtrak train being delayed 2 hours or so. We later came to realize that Amtrak is always delayed; next year we will definitely be driving up. We especially enjoyed the fact that no reason was ever given for any of the delays that we (or our fellow conference attendees) experienced...well, unless "we're going to be extra late because of the fact that we were late before" counts as a reason.

The other bonus of making it a road trip next year would be that we'd have more room to bring our own pillows. Like we said, the conference takes place at Skidmore College, which does have a very nice campus, but dorm rooms are still dorms rooms. We were mostly okay with our room, and we didn't actually go to college together so this was our chance to pretend for a weekend. We knew the beds weren't exactly going to be comfortable, but we weren't prepared for the ultrafirm marshmallows masquerading as pillows. Eventually we worked out a system for sleeping diagonally on them, but our necks and shoulders will thank us next year for bringing our own. (Of course, knowing how the ESC rolls, this probably means I'll [Jezebel] be doing all of the driving, but it will be worth it because a. road trip! and b. no marshmallows!)

But even stiff necks and train delays couldn't ruin this wonderful weekend. The slogan of the conference is "Remember the Magic" and it was indeed magical. It would be impossible to write about all the amazing women we met at Skidmore. We could fill pages and pages and pages of just names, let alone descriptions. We hope to put a spotlight on many of our sisters in future blog entries, but for now, here is a very incomplete list of a few of the people we were lucky to spend our weekend with.

We have to start with Hannelore Hahn, because the Guild itself starts with Hannelore Hahn. The Executive Director and Founder of the International Women's Writing Guild, Hannelore is a tiny little woman with a very big essence. There is something very childlike and innocent about Hannelore, yet at the same time she has a wisdom well beyond her years (but we would never dare to ask her age). Hannelore is completely precious and that is meant in the least condescending way possible; she is simply adorable. Some people just give off a good vibe or something. You don't even really have to talk to them much to know that they are special. It's as though you just recognize their energy on some level. Hannelore Hahn is one of those people. We weren't able to sit and chat with her obviously, but she did sit in on a few of the same classes as us and just knowing she was in the room was a good feeling.

Another woman who (unbeknownst to her) I just connect with on some unexplainable level is Jan Phillips. Just walking around the campus and seeing her across the Quad, I knew that we were in the right place; we were where we belonged. Of course Jan Phillips doesn't know this. She runs a brief orientation meeting for first time attendees and although I [Lilith] had gone to the conference once a few years ago, Jezebel was new so I sat in on the meeting again with her as a refresher. I vividly remembered Jan Phillips from last time, even though we barely spoke then either. (We only had a weekend so I had a feeling I would not have a chance to take her class and I was right; next year I finally will).

We actually took one class solely because we got such a good feeling from the instructor Carol Chaput - when she stood up to give a one minute presentation on her course, Image Writing: New Ways of Seeing and Processing Story Ideas. Being both writers and visual artists (well sorta, don't let our comic I Read While He Plays Video Games fool you, sometimes we do produce actual art work) we didn't really need help with non-linear thinking. We just wanted to be in a room with Carol Chaput for an hour. It was well worth it - we loved her course and both produced work that we're proud of.

Our first workshop of the weekend was Investigative Journalism with Cari Scribner. She dropped the phrase "evil slut" quite a few times during the hour and fifteen minute discussion. We were inspired to make an impact by Anya Achtenberg's Writing for Social Change: Re-Dream a Just World workshop. Also, being us, we really related to what she had to say about ignoring the people who caution you against being over the top, because over the top is awesome and sometimes necessary.

We found ourselves scribbling away in our notebooks furiously during Giving Our Word: Five Paths to Personal Essay with Marsha McGregor. We went even further with our personal essays at Susan Tiberghien's The Mosaic of Creative Non-Fiction and enjoyed Glenda Baker's Fiction: Short, Shorter, Flash!

Carren Strock's The Smart Writer's Guide: What to Know Before, During and After Writing a Book (what Lilith described from her first year at the Skidmore conference as "hands down the most important workshop ever!") was, much to our delight, jam-packed with even more useful information due to Carren having recently released a second edition of her book Married Women Who Love Women.

We learned so much about the financial aspects of publishing a book from Coloring the Numbers: Your Book Business Plan with Hope Player (Best. Name. Ever!) and learned an even bigger lesson about ourselves: When we told the group about Evil Slutopia, we were quick to explain the name... "It's tongue in cheek... we're taking it back..." She stopped us short, "Stop apologizing for it. It's great!" (Hope Player, we love you!)

Quite possibly our favorite quote of the weekend came from author, Lauren Small, who made us feel a little better about our name when she produced a business card for ScrewIowa.com (an amazing writers website that we suggest you check out).
Lauren: "I'm not sure about this goal you have listed on your postcard"

The ESC: "Oh really?" (We thought we were about to hear a critique of the ESC's mission statement).

Lauren: "Yeah... I don't think 'world domination' is quite big enough".
The last workshop we went to was How I am Promoting My Book: What You Can Learn From My Experience, given by Heather Cariou, author of Sixtyfive Roses. We couldn't have picked anything better to end off with; we spent the bulk of our (also delayed) train ride home brainstorming and planning projects that were inspired by Cariou's discussion.

Honestly, every woman we spent any small amount of time with this weekend (either in a class or just around the campus) had an impact on us, both as writers and women. We tried to cram as much as possible into our limited weekend and were overwhelmingly happy with the courses we chose. We felt a little bit cheated by only staying the weekend (next year: full week!) Of course, we pretty much expected to learn a lot. What we didn't expect was that we would have as much to offer back.

We quickly gained a reputation as "those young girls with a blog" (even though we weren't the youngest participants and we definitely weren't the only bloggers). One of the themes that kept coming up in classes on book planning and promotion was the importance of using the internet for promoting and networking. This proved to be a pretty intimidating thought for some of the women and so it was an opportunity for us to share what we know about blogs, PayPal, myspace and other social networking sites, etc., and also to be encouraging about how easy it all is once you jump into it.

It was kind of cute to hear things like "Oh! I need you...you're young!" or "Myspace...I can ask my granddaughter about that!" or "Google... how do you spell it?" and we were more than happy to help. We were asked by workshop leaders for the 'blogger's perspective' and we were approached by workshop participants for advice. That's part of what we love so much about the IWWG. There is such a vast array of women in the Guild and we can each help each other in our own ways. It really made us feel like we were actual beneficial members of the group; we were really among our peers.

It reminds us of something Jan Phillips said this weekend: "There's somebody out there who needs you. Live your life so they can find you." (We're not sure if she was quoting someone else or just being profound on her own, but she's the one we heard say it, so... yeah). We came to Skidmore to get what we needed; we never imagined that we would be able to give something back as well. Who knew that part of what we needed... was to be needed by someone else. We're actually looking forward to assisting the many women we met with their web issues. And our To-Do list is a mile long now, but we're okay with that.

We've also got another mile long list - the list of awesome women that we met (or just observed) at Skidmore. We're going to write more about many of them - and hopefully even interview a few - over the coming weeks, but for now we just wanted them in one place... (We've already mentioned a few of them earlier in this post, so in addition to browsing the list below, please scroll back up and click on all those links too! You won't be sorry!)

We know we left a lot of people out. Partly because we're still not even done unpacking (so there are likely business cards and fliers still floating around the bottom of our suitcases). For even more IWWG women... Workshop Directors and Trail Mix. We had also wanted to give a "recommended reading" list of IWWG authored books, but that would be a zillion pages, so for now... Guild Online Bookstore and Published Authors List.

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Anonymous said...

Sounds awesome!

Chiquita said...

I just wanted to comment on this, especially:

We came to Skidmore to get what we needed; we never imagined that we would be able to give something back as well. Who knew that part of what we needed... was to be needed by someone else.

You guys have been giving something back to at least one person, so I can only imagine how many other people have found what they needed in your blogs.

I'm glad you had a great time! Next year, Chiquita goes along!

ceirdwenfc said...

You cannot effectively express the overwhelming sense of creativity and empowerment that flows from this conference. Thanks for sharing.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

From all the writers at screwiowa.com: Nina Romano, Melissa Westemeier, Marni Graff, Mariana Damon and Lauren Small. We were glad to finally find someone who has a more outrageous website name than us. Great to meet you and we're all enjoying your blog.