Singing Over the Bones

Jessica Tremp

Generally speaking, when it comes to pursuing writing as my vocation I’m well-accustomed to odd glances, smirks, ‘arty-farty’ and ‘airy-fairy’ responses. Or, as my year twelve high school guidance counsellor said in reply to me expressing my dreams of becoming a writer, “That’s a tough nut to crack. Go to university to study something valuable instead.”

Not knowing better I listened to his advice and unsurprisingly I found my first university experience miserable, studying something my heart wasn’t in. Although writing had been my reason for being since I was child, it’s taken me a long time to shake off the cloying, common perceptions surrounding what it means to identify as an artist. I know I’m not alone. “Get a real job” ring any bells?

Following my first disastrous stint at uni, later when the kindling in my spine had reignited I went back to school to pursue my love of writing. The communications degree I graduated with gave me time and space to begin to explore my imagination, and myself as a writer. That lead to building a successful career in communications, the pinnacle of which was the four years I spent living in a remote part of Central Australia where I worked for the public service. I quit that career and my life as I’d known it at home in Australia to remake myself from the trauma I left behind in the desert. At 29 I got on a plane to England to finally throw myself at the feet of my writing dreams while I had the chance.

Three years ago this week, on an English summer day very similar to the one blossoming today outside of my writing office window, I ‘commenced’ my PhD in Creative Writing. While I may have become slightly more comfortable with identifying as a writer by then, I was still dogged by my own misconceptions: PhDs were strange, highbrow things, a language spoken only by rocket scientists, or professionals who were really smart – surely not for anyone in the arts. Bless the fool I was then, for without my ignorance that day three years ago might not have had the same lightning-strike effect on me that it did.

How do you ‘commence’ your PhD? I wondered to myself that morning. I had no idea. Completely unsure of what I was doing, I gathered obligatory notepad and pen and the one book that had been floating around me, which I thought I’d randomly picked to maybe become the first reference text of my bibliography and new life as a doctoral candidate. I took my things out into my garden, sat in the sun and opened the book. Suddenly, twilight was painting my toes, the pages of my notepad were shredded into ribbons acting as bookmarks and the first quarter of my book looked like it had sprouted torn-paper hair; I’d marked nearly every single page. My brain ached from expansion. I was dizzy with ideas, overwhelmed by all the dots I could see in my mind’s eye and the connections I was making between them.

The book was Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Over the last three years it has become an underpinning force behind my research and ideas. Since then I’ve given the book to women in my life, and shared timeless conversations with others about how it’s changed our minds, hearts, and imaginations. In my conversations about courage, truth, trauma, and creativity, this book is present, a silent guardian, a quiet nudge lingering in the spaces between words.

Back in February this year, I was online researching when I discovered that Dr Estes would be running training using Women Who Run With the Wolves for the first time ever this year. I sent off an enquiry email, just out of curiosity, and wasn’t surprised when the reply I received said the course was already sold out. The organisers offered to put me on a waiting list, but I never gave it another thought.

A few days ago, I got an email to say there had been had a cancellation. Did I want the place?

Tomorrow morning I am getting on a plane, last minute, to fly to the US where I’m going to attend Singing Over the Bones, at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

The overview of what my time there will be like goes something like this:

Singing Over the Bones 2015 is the first in person training with Dr. Estés, who will use two of her signature stories from Women Who Run With the Wolves to teach how to lay down your life next to her story lines, to use each one as a guiding light for revelation and growth. She will also instruct how to teach others–particularly girls and young women of the new millenium–to use the book as a personal guide and companion.

In this five-day intensive, you’ll hear first hand Dr. Estés’ intentions in the work, her depth of perceptions into the female psyche, and her personal guidance as you investigate your wild and creative nature with her through the teachings. Dr. Estés will explore how to incorporate this necessary archetypal wisdom into your own life, as well as her insights on the most potent ways to teach her work to others. Handouts, feedback, stories, and invaluable wisdom will give you the bones…and you will provide the flesh, filling them out with your own life stories that correspond.

“Bone by bone, hair by hair, Wild Woman comes back. Through night dreams, through events half understood and half remembered…Wild Woman comes back…”

Utilizing in this first training, her story “La Loba” and her ethnic family’s version of “Bluebeard” from Women Who Run With the Wolves, Dr. Estés invites you to enter the depths of the universal themes contained in these stories. The emphasis is on archetypal realities, how to teach and understand them. You should be ready to hold your own life as part of the teaching, and also be ready to hold yourself together through emotional turbulence, so you might better help others. You will learn how to take this work as a discipline and pass this wisdom on so others may apply it to their own lives.

Through questions and exercises she will show how to define the barriers, make proper boundaries to grow more soul, to unleash the wild woman that is part of every psyche, both males and females. She will reveal backstories and some of the poignant stories that were cut from the book before it was published. Dr. Estés will offer practicums, and instructions on how to work with different age groups and ethnic groups. There will be handouts, and daily story telling. Clinical and pragmatic dream analysis and methods will be taught, as working with archetypal material often brings on vivid dreams in relation to the tales.

This is a unique opportunity to experience this life-transforming book as never before— deeply immersed in the material with the author herself, enriched by Dr. Estés’ additional insights and wisdom gathered during the decades since its original release.

“Go out into the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”

WHO SHOULD ATTEND: teachers, people who lead work groups using the book Women Who Run With the Wolves, helping professionals, people who have been deeply inspired reading the book on their own and who are ready to study it in depth with Dr. Estés in person, those who have a strong interest in teaching the material to others or using it in their work.

My head is a swarm of things to do before I get on the plane – in less than 24 hours. I’m turning in circles, chasing my tail. Thank god for lists. Tonight when I’m all packed, I’ll enjoy some wine with the man I love, and a re-reading of La Loba in my paper-hair-sprouting dog-eared copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves.

For now, as I run around my house going about my list, this question is swirling through my mind: what would I say to a clammy-handed, traumatised sixteen year old who spat “I want to be a writer” at me as if the words were burning her tongue?

“You want to be a writer? Ok. You’re going into the woods. It’s going to be harder than you ever thought, and more magical than you ever dreamed. It’s going to hurt you, it’s going to amaze you, it’s going to strip you of everything you’ve got and fill you with more joy than you know what to do with. Some days your words will feel like you’ve had to bleed them on paper. Other days, it’ll feel like you’re dreaming awake, barely present in the process of words forming on your page. There’s no right or wrong way to do it – the only way is to write. Your job is also to read. You’re going to be in the woods alone, but if you’re lucky enough you’re going to have people who believe in you unfalteringly. You are going to have to rise to the challenge of believing you’re worthy and deserving of their faith, and not just that but their want to help you succeed. You’re going to have to learn to accept other people’s help, without guilt. All of this, and, you’re going to have to learn to endure and subvert yourself. You will have to commit yourself to your writing through everything that happens in your life, through your day jobs, relationships, children, traumas, family, and hardships. You’re going to have to be brave enough to be seen – to stand up and truly be seen by eyes you can’t see. Most of all, you’re going to have to remember every single day of your life that this is the most valuable thing you will do for yourself. This is the wildest, most radical thing you alone can do: be who you are. Be. You want to be a writer? Go for it. With everything you’ve got. And never, ever, ever give up.”

My name is Holly.
I’m a writer.
Who are you?

“Go out into the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”

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