Train Wreck: When Your Writing Retreat on the Train Goes WAY Off the Rails – Part Four (The Aftermath)

In my last post, I wrote about how my Rhythm on the Rails Writing Retreat to Vancouver, BC went WAY off the rails. I outlined the details of the events that led to a less-than – even disappointing – experience… not at all what I had in mind or would ever want for my participants.

The six weeks that followed the retreat were fraught with an ever-devolving encounter between me and Ophelia. Ultimately, what happened was that, for the first time in my life, I got sued. Here’s what happened…

We returned home from Vancouver, BC on a Sunday afternoon and parted ways at Union Station in Portland. I headed home and focused on my own self-care – unpacking, getting settled, and relaxing while doing my best to remove myself from the fallout I sensed was around the corner… and the self-beating I was holding at bay. Just one night, I thought. I’ll give myself one night to not be ensconced in the drama.

The next morning, I woke up and set to work calculating the difference in hotel bills for Ophelia and Tracy, as well as their cab fares, based on the receipts they had given me on the train and the difference in U.S. and Canadian currencies. I sent them their money via PayPal and drafted a long email to each of them by, I believe, the Tuesday of that week.

In my long email, I again apologized for the condition of the hotel and let them know that their relationships mattered to me and that I wanted to do what I could to make things right with them. I asked that they view the circumstance as a mistake made by a well-meaning fallible human rather than a malicious act to deceive or disregard anyone’s needs and/or feelings.

I offered them each a complimentary hour of coaching and 10% off any future trip I might offer, indefinitely. I also, in an effort to empathize and let them know I understood how they might be feeling, wrote that I could understand how it might feel that trust had been broken. Little did I know, my choice of words would be used against me.

Beyond a “Thanks!” email from Tracy for the money I sent them, I never heard from her again and have not to this day. She neither accepted or declined my offers. I heard from Ophelia soon after when she wrote to tell me that she wasn’t ready for her pre-scheduled coaching with me that Friday because the whole incident in Vancouver had triggered her CPTSD, which had activated her autoimmune disorder. She said that, because of this, she was not ready.

The reality was that she hadn’t done any work on her book to date – even before the retreat. I wrote back to say I was sorry to hear that the weekend had had that effect on her and that I was happy to schedule her next session for the end of the month to give her some time to recover.

I didn’t hear anything for a few days, and when I did, she informed me that my offers weren’t going to work for her. She expressed that she had been triggered and that she felt abandoned on the trip. She asked if I would be willing to process her emotions with her – because trust had been broken.

My day was full with other clients and obligations, and I didn’t see her email until later that evening. I wanted to make sure that’s what she asking of me before responding, so I decided to sleep on it. She wrote me the next morning, frustrated (angry?) that I hadn’t responded yet. I explained why and promised she would hear from me soon.

Meanwhile, I had scheduled an email to my list on a variety of topics, one of which was the train retreat. I didn’t feel ready to talk about the retreat as a whole (the sub-standard hotel part of the story), because I didn’t know where the situation was going to land with Ophelia, so I held off on that facet of the trip. No out of denial and not to be sneaky or disingenuous, but to give the situation time to breathe, evolve, and settle inside me.

What I did mention in the email were some of the highlights from my perspective, which happened to be our afternoon activities at Queen Elizabeth Park and our group dinner at Chambar on Friday night… activities Ophelia and Tracy had opted out of. Between my lagging response to Ophelia’s email (in her opinion) and my email to my list, which Ophelia was on, she became enraged (my perspective). What followed was a show of aggression that comes from, in my opinion, a striking sense of entitlement (and other things I’m not professionally qualified to label).

She informed me that my email was “distasteful” and that she “took it personally.” She said that because trust had been broken and because of this email to my list of people, she could no longer work with me as a client. She unsubscribed from my list and requested a refund for coaching.

I wrote back to explain that I could understand feelings of being “triggered.” I also reminded her that she had signed an agreement with me stating she could stop coaching at any time and that there were no refunds. Still doing my best to understand and empathize with her fragile emotional state, I offered to give her a three- to six-month pause so she could process her emotions and feel stable enough to begin coaching again. She responded with threats of legal action and a public review.

I decided to stop engaging. I had done everything I could think of to make up for her discomfort and dissatisfaction.

Two weeks later, I received a demand letter from an attorney. I didn’t read it (I had been exposed to as much caustic energy as I could handle), and I promptly acquired an attorney myself. I knew Ophelia didn’t have a case, but I wanted to put a bow on the entire situation and move on with my life.

My attorney submitted a letter to Ophelia’s attorney recapping the situation, detailing all my offers to make up for the hotel, and a reminder that she had signed a coaching contract stating there were no refunds, as well as pointing out that her emotional responses were not a provision of the contract. (I had also received signatures from all participants prior to the retreat stating, among other things, that they were psychologically and physically well enough to take the trip. More about these in my next post.)

We received a second demand for part of the money being requested in exchange for a non-disparagement agreement. Our answer was ‘no’. By this point, I was over the emotional charge of the situation, and I didn’t care (never did, to be honest) that she might write a “public review.” To whom? She was/is one person in a big world. And while she may have smeared my name (may still be, for all I know) to people we have in common and beyond, I felt comfortable knowing that aware, stable people would see the bigger picture.

I wasn’t worried about my public image because, despite my mistake of inadvertently choosing a sub-standard hotel, I know that my level of integrity is high. I know I’m honest, that I care about people – especially my clients and retreat participants – and that this was just one blip on the heartbeat of my work and my life. And I trusted that people who really know me would know this, as well.

My attorney wrote back to the other attorney to say that Ophelia was free to write what she liked so long as it wasn’t something that would damage my business. I don’t know what she’s written, if she has written anything, and I don’t ever care to know. It has nothing to do with me. It’s none of my business.

I support her right to share her experience from her perspective, and I trust that it might even take care of some pre-qualifying of clients and retreat participants for me because anyone who might read her account, if written honestly, would know that in the big picture of life, unfortunately, mishaps occur and people – even retreat leaders and coaches – make mistakes. Or, they were to consider me a thoughtless piece of shit, I wouldn’t want to work with them, anyway.

So, the “story” ended there, in terms of our interactions with each other. I confirmed with my attorney that I could write about the ordeal – from the perspective of a “retreat gone wrong” and what I learned from it (because I know I’m not alone when it comes to retreat mishaps), so long as I didn’t use Ophelia’s real name.

My hope in sharing this story is that if you’re a retreat planner/leader and have experienced something similar, you won’t feel so alone. Or if you haven’t had a similar experience, maybe mine and what I learned, which I’ll share in my next post, will help prevent you from ever having to navigate this kind of predicament.

And… if you’re a retreat participant, I hope some of the tips I have in my next post will help you in choosing future retreats to ensure you can have the best experience possible, even when things go “off the rails.”

Please check back for my next post – Lessons Learned, which offers a few points for retreat success and other thoughts about what it means to be a retreat leader and a retreat participant, and well as a writer and a human… all from my humble, limited perspective.

As always… I send you mad writing mojo.

Bright Blessings and Creative Courage,



Train Wreck: When Your Writing Retreat on the Train Goes WAY Off the Rails – Part Three (The Execution)

Photo by Javon Swaby from Pexels

In my last post, I wrote about my considerations while planning my Rhythm on the Rails Writing retreat to Vancouver, BC. I take pride in my ability to help people feel safe and nurtured, and that was my goal  on this retreat – in addition to creating an opportunity for plenty of luscious writing time.

Before I delve into the story about how my writing retreat on the train went way off the rails, it’s important, I think, to know the cast of characters for context, and because, as I always say… to have a story, to have the conflict that makes a story, you need the people. And conflict we had! (In the interest of everyone’s privacy and because the purpose of these posts is to illuminate how things can go wrong despite our best (so we think) planning, I’ve changed the names of the participants.)

Daniella – a client at the time of the retreat, early- to mid-40s. We had been working together for several months before Vancouver, and she had made impressive progress on her book. She had been driven, focused, and committed to getting the book finished. A dream client and a pleasure to work with.

Coral – a past train participant, mid- to late-60s. Coral came to Seattle with me for the maiden voyage of ROTR last fall. She’s also very self-directed, and while she isn’t a 1:1 client, we had done a couple of Discovery Calls in the past, so I was aware of her project focus/genre and her strong writing skills.

Tracy – a networking colleague, late 30s. I hadn’t worked directly with Tracy aside from a Discovery Call in the past about her book idea, during which I shared my thoughts about how she could organize it and move forward when she was ready. She had been a big supporter of mine, sending me referrals and telling people how much she had gotten from our call.

Ophelia – a newer client, referred to me by Tracy (they are close friends), late 30s. Ophelia had hired me as her coach two months prior to the retreat. We met for a couple of VIP days, created a framework and plan of action for her project, and we were primed to start moving her book project forward. She felt she was off to a slow start, not having produced any pages by the time the retreat came around, but I was positive about working with her, as her topic was compelling and I knew she could write.

A week before the retreat, I offered everyone a 90-minute virtual class on the Heart Chakra and Antagonists/Supporting Characters – content from my Writing Through the Body™ method. My intention was to offer a context for the trip for those who wanted or needed it while working on their books.

Photo by from Pexels

The day of our departure from Union Station in Portland, we all met at Zeus Café in downtown Portland for a pre-retreat lunch. This wasn’t a “typical” retreat that would allow for a lot of group conversing and bonding because we’d be engrossed in our writing on the train writing. I wanted to create space for an entry point for camaraderie between them all. I also wanted to be sure everyone had a focused plan for our eight-hour train ride so they could make the most of their time while in motion, which is the central point of the ROTR retreats.

I walked into the familiar McMenamins atmosphere at Zeus Cafe to find everyone there, and I was happy to see them all, excited and ready for our productive weekend of immersive writing. After distributing their swag bags, we settled in, and placed our orders.

Coral and Daniella each had a clear focus – their books. Ophelia had plans to start work on her book, and Tracy wasn’t sure which of her two book ideas she would focus on… she wanted to use the trip to gain some clarity. And for me… my goal was to continue work on the first draft of my Writing Through the Body™ manuscript, which was due to my editor in a little over two weeks.

I went over some of the requests I had made at the beginning of our virtual call, one of which was to respect each other’s privacy and solitude because Ophelia had mentioned to me her concern about the latter due to the close relationship she shared with Tracy – they had both told me how much they enjoyed their long conversations about their work and the podcast they were creating.

After lunch, we headed for Union Station in our Lyft rides, and because all the tickets were reserved at the same time, Amtrak seated us together, assuming we were travel companions and would want to be near each other. Little did they know, that was the last thing we wanted. Or… most of us, anyway.

The four participants were in a quad of seats, two facing two, and I snagged the extra single seat by the window across the aisle. While I had created the retreat for my participants, was there to make sure they got what they came for, and let them all know that if they needed anything, I was always available, I was looking forward to some solitary alone time on the train to work on my draft.

Ophelia and Tracy asked to be seated in the two seats facing the front of the train due to the affect riding “backwards” for eight hours would have on them (vertigo, maybe?). Daniella and Coral gladly accommodated them, switched seats, and settled in to write.

Soon thereafter, Ophelia and Tracy moved to the dining car to work, and in passing them a couple of times on my way to the food car for the not-so-bad decaf coffee, I found them sitting side-by-side at a dining car table, laptops open, conversing.

Columbia River Gorge Oregon

Meanwhile, back I my seat, I scribbled away on the printed sections of my book I had completed, leafed through my sources, and filled out sections that needed it. I was on a roll. I occasionally glanced out the window to take in the beautiful scenery of the Columbia Gorge while the rhythm of the rails beneath us provided the meditative environment I had reveled in from past trips and led me to create the ROTR writing retreats in the first place.

We arrived in Vancouver, later than our 11:30pm scheduled arrival time due to a suspension bridge being stuck in the “up” position and the operators not being able to get the computer programming to cooperate. Needless to say, we were all tired.

Daniella and Coral were up ahead and quickly passed through customs. Not far behind them, Ophelia, Tracy, and I approached the chipper customs agent at his desk, and he quizzed us about why we were coming to Canada. He also asked us where we were staying. When I told him the name of the hotel, he paused and asked if we had read the reviews.

What? Oh fuck. WHAT?! Had I? Of course, I had. Hadn’t I? In all my researching online, making phone calls, reading and reading and reading during those weeks while planning, surely, I had. I scanned my brain, trying to quickly remember what I had read. A vague memory of a comment that the hotel “[wasn’t] in the best part of Vancouver but was only one block from Chinatown and Gastown” came to me. What did that mean?

 “Is it unsafe?” I asked him.

“No, not unsafe,” he said. “Just complaints about loitering.”

Okay, I think… I live in a city. I see loitering every day right outside some of the city’s best hotels. We’re traveling to a city. That’s to be expected.

“You can always stay tonight, then find something else tomorrow.”

Great. Not what I had in mind…

We walked through the gate to find Daniella and Coral waiting for us, and I broke the news to them. Daniella was set. She had contacted me weeks before the retreat to ask if she could find a hotel on her own, as she would be visiting family while there. Coral said she had read the reviews and saw that someone had reported bed bugs in the past.

Lovely… noooo!

I had called a Lyft for those of us who were going on to the hotel, and while we were waiting, Ophelia said she was “freaking out.” All the emotions – worry that I had missed something and made a bad call in choosing that hotel, shame for missing something and making the bad call, fear of what was to come – were all blooming exponentially inside me.


We made the trip to the hotel in silence, and when we arrived, one man stood outside. A potential loiterer? And when the door opened, he jetted inside in front of us.

Startling, for sure. (Maybe he was staying at the hotel…?)

When we walked in, my heart hit the floor and my gut shot to my throat. Total shock. Discombobulation. Disbelief.

This “heritage-style” hotel, as advertised online, wasn’t as quaint as the photos suggested. Stale, smoke-scented air make me queasy and a broken-down player piano sat on one side of the spacious lobby filled with awkward groupings of worn furniture. The building itself was rundown and lacked any immediate signs of comfort.

Yes, I had described the hotel as “no frills” on the retreat’s webpage, and yes, I had stayed in far worse accommodations in my life, but this was not what I wanted for my guests. Not by any stretch. The shame bloomed even more while I made my way to the reception counter with Coral by my side while Ophelia and Tracy moved toward the front windows.

I went to talk with them, apologized for the condition of the hotel, and explained that this is not what I had in mind. I went back to the reservation counter to talk with the clerk and to see what other options we had, but Ophelia and Tracy immediately waved down a taxi and bolted.

Coral was gracious… said she had also stayed in far worse placed and planned to stay there for at least the first night. We got our keys, made our way to the second floor via the rickety elevator, and I opened the door to my room on the second floor.

The room itself wasn’t bad. The bedding was clean and bright white. Tacky art hung above the bed, and there was a chunky old-but-not-yet-antique dresser in the corner, which served as a stand for the flat screen TV. The bathroom offered a claw foot tub and makeshift shower (hand-held), small sink, toilet, and an awkward closet that did its job.

Certainly, not upscale or glamorous, but that wasn’t what I was after. That wasn’t what I had offered. Still… the situation had left me with a shaky sick feeling in my gut. I put my luggage in the bathtub and scouted for bed bugs. None, as far as I could tell.


In fact, I was happy to see that the mattress and pillows were sealed in silky plastic zipper bags.

It was safe. 

I was concerned about how Ophelia and Tracy were doing, so I texted them to ask if they were okay, if they needed my help. Ophelia responded to say they had found a room at another hotel to share and that they’d be looking for an Airbnb the next day. Knowing that we were all at least safely situated, I got a spotty night’s sleep and honestly, wanted daylight to come so I could resolve the situation.

Photo by Brayden Law from Pexels

I texted Ophelia the next morning and offered to pay the difference between what they would have spent on their room at our hotel and what they ended up spending for their lodging. I also offered to pay for their cab fares to get them to group activities. And I offered to keep their luggage at my room so they wouldn’t have to lug it around with them until they could check in at their Airbnb.

She responded by saying that the payment for the hotel difference and cab fares “made sense” and that they would rather discuss the rest after they had had their coffee.

I connected with Coral, who had already been out for a walk, and we set out to find a place for coffee and breakfast (she and I both decided to stay at our hotel for the duration of the retreat).

The sick shameful feelings inside me blossomed again as we walked. “Not in the best part of Vancouver” was putting it mildly. I live in downtown Portland and walk past homeless camps, troubled souls, and poverty-stricken people with drug problems and mental health issues every day.

In Vancouver, what I saw was far worse. And I learned (a tip from a police officer) that if I went one block either direction from the hotel, I could get where I needed and not walk through the seriously drug-addled, broken souls.

Had I known that the street our hotel was on was the ONE street in Vancouver that separated the charming Chinatown and Gastown areas and served as home for the city’s homeless, I would not have chosen it. They have my deep compassion, and even so… this was not what I wanted for my retreat participants. Not at all.

Coral and I ultimately settled in at a cozy little spot for breakfast, and I texted Ophelia and Tracy a couple of times to check in about the luggage situation. I also sent a group text about our meeting time for the afternoon group activity at Queen Elizabeth Park. Ophelia finally responded to say that they had left their bags at the hotel where they had stayed the night before.

Bloedel Floral Conservatory, Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver, BC

By the time Coral and I arrived at the park to meet Daniella, Ophelia texted to say she and Tracy were too tired to join the rest of us. She said they would also be missing dinner that night but looked forward to our dinner on Saturday, our last night in Vancouver. I thanked them for letting us know and wished them a good evening. (Not having everyone there wasn’t what I wanted, and at the same time, I wanted to give them their space if that’s what they needed.)

Coral, Daniella, and I did our first activity: an exercise to practice writing protagonist and antagonist viewpoints. We each chose a pair of people from the many milling around at the top of the park and imagined their relationship. We then wrote for 15-20 minutes about the story we imagined for them, deeming one as the protagonist and one as the antagonist. After reading our work, we then changed their roles and wrote for 15-20 minutes more. The point being to give consideration to each character’s POV and their stake in the scenario and to see how that shifted, not just in the writing but also in our compassion and understanding of each.

Then we moved on to our second activity in the park at the Love in the Rain sculpture by Bruce Voyce, a vamp on the love locks in Paris. While most people who come to the sculpture in Vancouver do so with the intention of attaching a padlock to symbolize their love and commitment for each other, we each attached our tiny heart-shaped padlocks with the intention of committing to ourselves and our writing, all to highlight one of the messages I reiterate to my clients and followers often: writing is an act of self-love.

The love locks activity meant more to me than I anticipated, and after we finished and took a few photos, we headed back down toward town to rest up and get ready for our dinner at Chambar, which was the highlight of my entire weekend.

What was so memorable about that dinner? The casual, upscale atmosphere, the mouthwatering, unforgettable food (I’m STILL thinking about it), and the magical vibe between those of us who were there. It was an all-encompassing sensual experience, and the hedonist in me reveled in it.

The next day, Saturday, was designated “alone time” for each of us to do as we wished. I spent the morning at a coffee shop in Chinatown writing social media posts, as planned, to send to Amber, my assistant, before moving on to Gastown and then Granville Island to browse shops. I bought snacks at a nearby Whole Foods for the train trip back home and caught a cab to my room to get ready for our last group dinner at Joe Fortes.


I’d be lying if I said that dinner wasn’t tense. I had planned to do more during our last group meeting before getting on the train, but I had assumed we would have all had shared quality time together before that night. Because we didn’t and because I clearly sensed the disapproval from my disappointed participants, after we had our food, I simply asked that everyone go around the table and talk about what they planned to focus on – in terms of their writing – on the trip back home. 

The meal went by quickly, and to be honest, I was glad. Daniella and Coral sat on either side of me at our round table. Tracy filled Coral about the podcast she and Ophelia had been working on, Daniella and Ophelia exchanged a few words, and I was notably untalkative, for the most part, while I choked down my Cesar Salad laden with way too much extra chicken.

The energy from the disgruntled participants was palpable, and I was doing my best to manage my regret and shame for my own sake and for the sake of all the participants, even the two who were so upset with me.

At one point during the meal, Tracy mentioned that they had been so “nervous” on Friday that they had to get massages and reflexology. I took this as a “hint” and a hope that I would cover that, as well.

This is when I realized they were holding me responsible for their emotions. Recognizing this made it easier for me to unhook emotionally and make the trip back knowing I had done – and was doing – all I could to make up for the bad hotel situation.

And I reminded myself of the content for the weekend: The Heart Chakra, which in large part, is all about compassion and forgiveness – for others and especially for ourselves. I forgave myself for being a fallible human and decided to move forward, still with the intention of doing what I could to make the disappointing experience up to them.

Seattle King Street Station

Our train was to leave King Street Station early the next morning at 6:00am, which meant leaving the hotel at 5:15am. Coral and I met in the lobby, I settled my bill, and we met our Lyft driver outside.

It had been a bittersweet trip for me, filled with regret, shame, confusion, and sadness, as well as happiness, love, fulfillment, and serenity. And once again, I did my best to put my own emotions aside and get us all back on the train for our ride home.

Ophelia and Tracy were at the station when we arrived. The four of us got in line for our boarding passes and when we were at the front of the line, Daniella arrived. After going back and forth with the ticketing agent to explain that we didn’t need (or even want) to sit together because we’d (theoretically) be writing, our wishes were finally met and they gave us five single-seat passes on the window side.

As we waited for Daniella to catch up to us (she was several people back in the line), Tracy put out her hand to take the boarding passes from me, saying she and Ophelia would like to board and get settled, “If you don’t mind.”

I did. So we waited for Daniella.

Once inside the train, we stowed our luggage and clipped our boarding passes overhead, and I passed out snacks for the trip home. Ophelia and Tracy headed for the dining car to sit side-by-side again for the trip back. I was struck by the level of enmeshment between them and wondered if their weekend would have not been so dramatic had they not been there to feed off each other.

Near the end of the trip, I gave Coral and Daniella a slip of paper and took the same back to Tracy and Ophelia, still in the dining car. I asked them all to write, briefly, why they’re not writing (if they’re not) or what stops them from writing.

Ophelia asked, “Do you mean right now?”

I got the implication – she wasn’t writing due to her experience on the retreat. (Interesting side note: As I mentioned before, she hadn’t been writing – not on her book, anyway, before the retreat.)

“No,” I clarified, “in general… what interferes with the writing on a regular basis?” I told them I would collect the pieces of paper at the end of the trip and would let them know what I had planned for them. And I promised not to read them.

When we deboarded in Portland, I collected their pieces of paper and explained the ritual: I take the pieces of paper to a stream in Forest Park not far from where I live in downtown Portland. I burn the paper to transform the block or obstacle into smoke, which drifts toward the sky and dissipates, and ash, which I set afloat down the stream to be transformed further with the idea that the moving water signifies intuition, emotion, and flow.

Photo by Emre Kuzu from Pexels

Even though I knew I still had more to do to set things right with Ophelia and Tracy, I was happy and relieved to be back home, comfortable and in my familiar element.

What transpired in the following weeks was a true test of my professionalism, my emotional resilience, and the concepts we covered for the retreat: compassion and forgiveness for others and for myself.

The situation went downhill even more.

If you’d like to know what transpired next, The Aftermath explains.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Bright blessings and creative courage,






Train Wreck: When Your Writing Retreat on the Train Goes WAY Off the Rails – Part Two (The Planning)

Photo by from Pexels

As promised in my last post, I want to share my experience of the Rhythm on the Rails Writing Retreat to Vancouver, BC that went way off the rails.

I’ll start by saying that my ROTR retreat to Vancouver was my first overnight retreat. I had decided it was time to branch out from the one-day train retreat I did last fall to Seattle and give one a little further out on the west coast Amtrak line a go. Vancouver, BC seemed like a great place to start.

I spent a lot of time scoping out locations for activities that would align with the topic for the retreat: The Heart Chakra and Antagonists/Supporting Characters (content from my Writing Through the Body™ method). I wanted to be mindful of finding locations and sites that wouldn’t require a lot of travel time within the city. I also wanted to provide everyone with ample alone time to explore in Vancouver because I know we writers LOVE our alone time, and getting out to take in unfamiliar sights is a great way to freshen our perspectives and our writing practice at the same time.

If you’ve planned a retreat of any size, you know that this part of the process is a bit like playing a chess game. You think ahead, strategize, anticipate all the possible needs of your participants and all the possible things that could go wrong, with the number one goal being to give them an experience that will get them closer to their desire – in my case: to make progress on their books.

I wanted to find a way to visit ALL the parks in Vancouver but quickly realized that wasn’t realistic given time constraints and travel time, so I landed on Queen Elizabeth Park as a location for one of our group activities. I figured with it being the highest point in the city, it would be a nice reprieve from the bustle down below on the afternoon of our first full day there.

We were scheduled to arrive at the King Street station at 11:30PM on a Thursday. Amtrak offers only one direct trip from Portland to Vancouver, BC, and it seemed the best option, given that all the other trips going that direction required a transfer to a bus. Writing on the bus was not what I was offering, and to be honest, it didn’t sound appealing to me at all. So, I figured it wouldn’t be to my participants either. I wanted us to have the full eight hours up and back to write on the train… that was the point of the entire trip, after all.

Because I wanted to give everyone a chance to sleep in the next morning (Friday) and revel in a slow start to the day, especially after our late arrival the night before following an eight-hour train ride, I planned two activities at Queen Elizabeth Park for Friday afternoon, as well as dinner at Chambar, one of Vancouver’s top restaurants, for Friday night.

For Saturday, I planned an open day for participants to explore the city alone or together and/or wander off to get some more writing done. Saturday night, our last night there, I planned another group dinner at Joe Fortes, another of Vancouver’s highly recommended restaurants.

(I knew that at least two of the participants had dietary restrictions – as do I – so I was sure to find restaurants that would allow for substitutions and make accommodations for those who needed it.)

When searching for lodging for us all, I wanted to find a hotel within walking distance of many of Vancouver’s top sites and attractions and that would not require a lot of costly travel time for those who wanted to venture further out. I also wanted to keep the overall cost down and keep the focus on the writing rather than bill the retreat as any kind of “luxury” experience. The “luxury” was about being able to experience immersive writing time on the train.

This proved to be a challenge. I looked at a few large Airbnb rentals, but the 30-minute travel time back to the city for all the rentals available at the time that would accommodate us all was more than I wanted to tack onto our days, and I thought this would, again, create more cost for participants. It would have also made transportation to group activities trickier.

I found that, despite my planning this retreat several months in advance, I couldn’t find hotels with enough vacancies for all of us (I was hoping for a max of 10 and a min of six) that were within what I thought was a reasonable price range.

I finally found a hotel that seemed to fit all the requirements needed for the retreat, so I reserved a block of rooms and included information about it on the website for the retreat.

With all the planning details taken care of, I could now advertise the retreat and plan for the virtual pre-trip class I would offer on the content – The Heart Chakra and Antagonists/Protagonists.

I had hoped for a minimum of six writers. I got four, and I was happy with this because it was, as I said, my first overnight retreat, and I knew all the people who were going: two were clients, one was a person I knew from networking who had referred one of my clients to me (they are friends), and the other had gone on my last one-day train retreat to Seattle.

Knowing the people who would be going, having some already-established mutual respect and familiarity between me and them gave me a sense of security about executing the retreat.

All seemed well. And it was… until we reached Vancouver, BC, at 11:30PM on that Thursday…

To learn about what went wrong – even before we had made it through the customs gate at King Street Station in Vancouver – read The Execution, my account of our time in Vancouver.

In the meanwhile… as always, I’m sending you mad writing mojo.

Bright blessings and creative courage,





Train Wreck: When Your Writing Retreat on the Train Goes WAY Off the Rails – Part One

One of my offerings to my clients and others who write or want to write is my signature Rhythm on the Rails Writing Retreat. We leave Union Station in Portland, OR, write our way to our destination, then experience a change of pace and scenery, and maybe, revel in a spark of imagination from the day’s sights, sounds, smells, and more.

I conceived of this idea after taking the Amtrak train from Portland to Eugene to visit my youngest son, Spencer, several times. I found that, without fail, the rhythmic motion of the train provided me the perfect environment to write in flow. I quickly became hooked and wanted to find a way to feed my new addiction and to create the opportunity for others to experience it, as well.

That’s when Rhythm on the Rails was born. My idea. My baby. My signature offering that makes people drool when they hear about it.

The first ROTR happened last fall in November 2018. I and a small group of writers went to Seattle for the day. We left Portland in the morning, made the three-hour trip in coach class, and when we arrived at King Street Station in Seattle, we caught a Lyft to the Space Needle to make our way to the top and consider Point of View – our writing element focus for the day.

The Space Needle was underwhelming. I had seen it before, and I was counting on the newly renovated rotating glass floor to up the ante for the group. But, alas, it didn’t measure up. Besides being underwhelming, the Needle was crawling with people. But… despite the lack of verve I had hoped for, the departure from our usual, day-to-day perspective gave us plenty to think about regarding Point of View. (For instance: How do you describe a car while standing next to it on the ground vs. from high above at 520 feet in the air? The physical change in perspective offered an in-the-moment opportunity to consider which visual elements to focus and elaborate on and how to translate that into the written word.)

After we descended the Space Needle and made our way through the crowd, we caught another Lyft to Pike Place Market where we had lunch at Matt’s in the Market. We enjoyed choice soups, salads, and drinks while I shared details about the Crown Chakra and the writing element I pair with this highest bodily chakra in my Writing Through the Body method – Point of View.

We went our separate ways in the afternoon for some alone time and a chance to wander and see the sights and to browse and shop in the market and nearby boutiques.

In the evening, we met up at the corner of 1st and Pike and climbed into our last Lyft ride of the day to head back to King Street Station for our trip home. On the three-hour ride back to Union Station in Portland, we wrote and chatted, then parted ways, happily worn out from our very full day.

Prior to the retreat, I met with each participant for a half-hour coaching session and followed up with another one a few days after the retreat. My goal was to provide each person concentrated writing time in a unique environment, as well as some individual one-on-one assistance to move their writing projects and dreams forward.

That first ROTR retreat was an experiment, of sorts, and I learned a few things. Or I, at least, had other ideas about what to do differently the next time.

And I’ll have the opportunity to put those ideas into action on the next one-day ROTR Writing Retreat to Seattle on Saturday, August 24.

I can tell you this: It’s gonna be fun. (It involves a scavenger hunt, and who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt?!)

With a one-day ROTR under my belt, I decided to do my first overnight retreat this past Spring. I and another small group of writers went to Vancouver, BC. Stay tuned for the story about how that unfolded…

Spoiler alert: Not as planned. Not at all.

But everything in life is a learning experience, and crimany, did I learn a lot.

I’ll be sharing those lessons with you in future blog posts, so stay tuned…

Whether you’re a retreat participant, a retreat planner, or an entrepreneur who provides your clients and followers with unique experiences, there’s something for you in this train retreat story that went WAY off the rails…

Until next time… sending you mad writing mojo…

Bright blessings and creative courage,


I Go Back to May 1937 – Sharon Olds

I ADORE this poem by Sharon Olds. I adore it so much, I used parts of in my first film, I’m Too Much (2004).

It’s a lovely reminder that no matter what we endure in life, we have the power to transform – ourselves and other people – with our words.

Sharing our stories is what heals us.


I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks,
the wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips aglow in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it—she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you have not heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.
What story will you tell?