2017 NeWP Summer Writing Marathon benedictine retreat center

Nebraska Writing Project Board members met at the Benedictine Retreat Center outside of Schyler, Nebraska June 10th-11th. Celebrating and forming programs for Nebraska teachers and students, we also honored our time as writers on a writing marathon. These are our noticings about the amazing place we gathered.

3rd Stop

By Lauren Funk

I’m in the space where I feel most comfortable- a room with built-in bookshelves, filled to capacity, comfy chairs for lounging in while I read, hearing birds chirp and the airflow, seeing the pond ripple as Saint Benedict’s statue reminds me that YOLO, as I Iook out of a floor-to-ceiling window that’s just begging for my eyes during a thunderstorm. There’s art representing various cultures and media, and Shakespeare even has some volumes amongst all the religious canon.

But I also think about how strange it is that this place is tucked away behind some corn fields in the bohemian alps, run by monks from Germany, and that I’m in this religious space for non-religious purposes. A fine example of contradictions that seem to make up life. I’ve always loved to find meaning in things--- is a red wheelbarrow really just a wheelbarrow? What were the plums really supposed to be when W.C. Williams ate them? Was the jalopy really a separate family member amongst all the other Joads? And what about that red letter A? All the art in this room is fascinating, but I can’t tell you what it is or what it means. I’m not quite sure what my presence in this space, in this moment, is really supposed to be, or what the meaning is. What I do understand is that it feels familiar and right, even among all the contradictions my presence seems to hold. I no longer feel anxious, despite having a million fears when I woke up this morning. I no longer feel sad or hurt. I simply feel… content. I feel at home. I feel at peace.

By Bill Dimon

When one spends two days in a holy place, one really can’t avoid getting caught up in the spirit of it all, and for me that spirit is solitude. I stand with monks, nuns, priests when it comes to the effect that solitude has on a soul. The light is a little brighter, the dark a little darker, each moment filled with a little more meaning, architecture a little more awe inspiring. For instance I remember standing out in front of my car after a day on the road, across from a really creepy, shut down Holiday which was infested with crows. It was sunrise, and it was hitchcockian to be sure, but it was also so inspiring the way the sun was coming up in front of it all flooding the space with the most golden light; I couldn’t stop thinking that the day began for this moment; pretty cocky huh. Light and shadow and sound and reflection, that is what solitude is and it is medicine for my soul. A chance to stop and think, listen and watch, watch and think, or listen and think. It’s a chance for me to exercise what makes me, me in whatever way I wish to be. I am present once, twice, again and again. In a beautiful place, the world moving around me, through me I am rejuvenated, at peace with myself, with my fellow hu-man, the world around me. Yes, I understand solitude, a powerful force to reestablish oneself in the world, but that’s about all I understand really when it comes to modern American religion, which means i’m still in mid-labyrinth.


By Diana Weis

Circles are fascinating. Something in the completeness, the connectivity of them. When I was little, frustration used to come when I would cut or draw a less than round circle. I felt I had let the shape down, not capturing its fullenss. Or, in some way, maiming it from being able to roll off to join its other circle friends.

Adorning my wall at home is a Japanese print. A nature poem, inked with a large open circle on top. I love it dearly, never once curious what any of it means.

Sitting here at St. Bene's labyrinth, circle after proposed circle building. It is curious to see that it starts from the center and moves out. As if it has always held the answer first and has had to wait patiently for us to find the question.

The Motherhood Labyrinth

By Melissa Legate

The approach is a slow 40 weeks.

At first, it’s just seen, barely, in the distance.

The questions begin to form, but they are still far-off.

They intensify and multiply with the passage of time,

And before you know it,

Maybe before you’re quite ready,

You’re at the start.

Full of questions.

You can see the center, but you can’t go straight to it.

It doesn’t work that way.

You must stay on the path,

With all of its twists and weaves.

It’s hard to remain mindful of the walk with so many distractions--

Work, responsibilities, dishes,

Depression-inducing headlines, mommy-shamers,

The self-doubt they bring.

Did you breastfeed too long? Not long enough? Too publicly? With too much embarrassment? Did you hold her too much? Screw her up irreversibly by not co-sleeping? Should you have done this or that? Or not done it?

But the pitch of an underdeveloped voice

Imitating animal sounds

Brings you back to the path under your feet.

Being only mid-labyrinth, your questions remain unresolved,

But you know they won’t be resolved,

Not until you’ve gotten all the way in and found your way back out at the end.

So, you walk on.

Hair Ties

By Jane Connealy

July 2017

The “Mary Fruit of New Creation amphitheater feels summer-weary; vines left untended cascade from cement planters mixed with bind weed that a hot over-worked volunteer has missed in this less-than-vigilant season. Who can fault when the humidity, dew point and temperature , along with the number of mosquitos per square inch, have reached 80 before nine a.m.

A shaded tier under the weathered pergola seems a likely spot for a lone writer. I can rest there and meditate on Mary and, incongruously, carefully tended geraniums at her feet. But it’s not the spirituality of the Gentle Woman who focuses my writing. Even though I sang to her half the night: “gentle woman, peaceful dove, give us wisdom, teach us love,” praying for sleep.

No it isn’t the calm catholic spirituality I focus on, it’s the black elastic hair tie that rests on the concrete slab. Lost from some wrist, as I’ve lost hundreds, but resting here waiting to be found. And I see the perpetual hair tie bracelets on my daughter’s wrist – see the indented red welts where it’s been when she pulls it off to wrangle her hair into a messy bun; a pineapple atop her head. “Messy bun and get shit done!” Hair pulled back from her lovely checks, she bends her head down to tackle wedding invitation twenty-one of two hundred in the carefully practiced calligraphy she has trained herself to write.

I see that black elastic circle on the emptiness of this smooth concrete. Alone. Useless. Waiting for someone to see it and remember the moments of brushing and smoothing a daughter’s hair, pinkies folding strands into French or fishtail braids and the quick hug and gentle push out the door. “Go run and jump and play.”

Toads and Tiny Shoes Part 1 with more to come

By Jan Knispel

These small amphibians

Found the bounty of bugs

Attracted to automatic

Illumination of our human

Need for light in the night.

The toads all waiting,

Flat, gray and green

Patiently for moths

And beetles falling

Stunned to the cold

Concrete after banging

Into alluring bright bulbs.

We are like those insects

Often attracted to the brightness

Of planned enticement

Of politics,

Personal or provincial

Only to be swallowed up

By dark reality of lies,

Like a moth mouthed by

A grey, waiting toad.


Statuary gleams

With illumination,

Holiness rays emanate

From the souls of the saints.

Many nations’ cultural icons

Of Catholicism from pallor

To duskiness illustrating

Images of Mother and Son:

Robes of richness

Studded with gems

Encrusted embroidery

Or simplistic viginal azure

Smoothly falling to her

Hidden feet.

Golden angels or

Ivory cherubim hover

Over the icons,

So many beatific mothers

Smiling into the faces of

Their sacrificial sons.

The Mother Marys of joy

Not the mourners of


Benedictine Chapel

The stained glass

Waves and writhes

Its way around the

Chapel: gold, scarlet,

Teal, emerald, sienna,

Reminiscent of fields,

Flowers, sun and sky.

I am never really

Comfortable or

Comforted by the

Catholic icons.

Beauty is striking and

Serene, colors blend


The fabrics and fonts rest

As if to calm and confine

The spirit to the


The founts trickle fluid

Smooth without the

Sound of falling.

Flame from candles

For peace and the

Iconic Madonna and

Child gaze stoically

Toward the empty chapel.

I really don’t belong here.

My pilgrim ancestors eschewed

The golden gleam and

Statuary for grimness and

Hard cold benches.

No incense or Christ on

A Crucifix for us.

Our congregants are not

Those of palm and priests

But solid oak and bland bread.

We all approach the sinned

Against and sinning

In our own aloneness.

Promises and Provocations

The titles of texts

Engender ideas frought

With angst and anxiety.

In the current political

Climate, we are bombarded

With promises and provocations—

Which party pontificatss and promotes

Their agenda and rejects the other’s


No surprise then that

The calmness of the space and

Place of contemplation allows

Me to forget, momentarily those

Provocations of the greater, secular


Viewing rhw locust leaves wafting

Sparrows and swallows in their

Little bird journeys of life.

Myriad toads lining concrete patios

Awaiting a bug bounty,

Gladiolas and impatiens

Glowing colors, splashing,

Mesmerizing fountains soothe

The soul, so I gladly rest

My eye

To see

My ear

To hear



By Kate Leonard - Barr

Little Mexican grocery in Schuyler, Nebraska, Chichihualco. It takes me back to younger years and many trips to Mexico as a child. Nestled in a bakery case, the pan dulche pastries bring back sweet memories. The case also holds fresh boletos, rolls shaped like bullets, that we ate on the beach with boiled shrimp caught earlier in the day. These baked goods have a stronghold in my memories - carb lover from an early age. The food, some familiar, some so different. A few labels I can make out via spotty Spanglish mixed with an upbringing in the dual culture that is Arizona. The meats are a little foreboding to me, one who is always willing to experiment, but a bit unsure as to what I’m getting myself into. Yet another reason to stick to baked goods! The juice drinks, cocoa mixes,and rice pudding packets I’ve seen before. The cardboard box containing different types of chiles intrigues me: ancho, chipotle, arbol, and cascabel are all familiar, guajillo, pasilla, and morita are less so.

Interestingly, I’ve been spending time with parents this week - those folks that gave me my Arizonan upbringing and who still live there. The roles are beginning to reverse a bit, with me in charge in my own home now, and they are the ones relying on my guidance. So everything comes around. Never would I have dreamed as a girl in Arizona, vacationing in Mexico, that my parents would be visiting me in Nebraska, and I’d be bringing them boletos from Schuyler. Makes me wonder what will happen next!

Oak Ballroom

Schuyler, Nebraska

Board Retreat Writing Marathon 2017

Playing the writer card works every time. To get into the Oak Ballroom this year, I gave the “we’re a humble group of writers staying at the retreat center and got told we had to visit this place” spiel and POW standing next to me and giving me a hug was Sandi Bourn, the manager of the place. She didn’t let us write but instead told us non-stop in a steady stream of words about Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk playing there, about the Lebanese first generation immigrant doctor who backed the city council into creating the place back in WPA days, about how two of the posts weren’t really oak but some other kind of wood -- and she pointed out which ones these were. She also took a phone call: “I’m in a meeting call you back” and told us “that’s how we girls really treat our husbands!” with a wink at Kate Leonard Barr.

It works every time. Say you’re a writer and doors are opened. Something in us all longs to tell our stories, to have our passions recorded. And so something in the act of public writing calls this out.

Come to think about it, our other stop at the Chichihualco grocery was the same-- we learned the checkout woman came to Schuyler at five year old, and her family runs groceries here and in Fremont and Crete, all named for cities and states of origin in Mexico. She’s smiling that our writer’s group remembers her bakery from three years ago (before it closed). She’s glad that someone with the kind of authority honored by the written word is interested in her story. She’s glad to share.

--Robert Brooke

11 July 2017


By Bailey Feit

Sitting outside is my favorite place. I love the feel of the sun on my skin, warming me up, making me feel cozy and alive. The breeze, every so often, moves through my hair and eyelashes. All I want to do is close my eyes and breathe it in. One big gust and I feel as though some bad though or negative feeling is brushed away and left to dissolve into the air.

I find peace. Listening to the birds sing their songs. The fountain splashes water onto the calm pond, disrupting it while forming beautiful waves on the surface.

In nature, I can find my voice. I feel more excited, motivated, and relaxed. Thoughts flow in and out freely. Writing comes and goes as I pause to breathe in my surroundings.

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