“A weekend in the mountains, which is like a retreat setting, to be with like minded people at the Black Cat Ranch,” Gail Sobat, the director and coordinator of JustWrite expressed.
Gail says that the JustWrite retreat, intended for those 18 years of age and older, was born out of YouthWrite, a writing camp for kids. It was motivated by the former YouthWrite attendees aging out but wanting to still continue their yearly writing retreats. That was when Gail and her team, Mason and Tania, agreed on starting a camp for adults, including the YouthWrite alumni, as well as newcomers with the only prerequisite being a love for writing. They also extended their generosity to MacEwan University by offering two students interested in writing a full scholarship to attend the workshop retreats free of charge.
The retreat took place on the weekend of October 13th – 15th near Hinton, Alberta. People started arriving at the family-owned guest ranch around 7 p.m. on Friday evening. After checking in their respective rooms and freshened up, they were welcomed with a wine and cheese mixer. There, Gail led the introductions before letting the attendees introduce themselves.
This year’s JustWrite theme was revealed to be “Writing Hope” as Gail explained, and it couldn’t have come at a more fitting time now with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ongoing. The retreat’s chosen instructors and facilitators, Angela Hall and Carolyn Pogue, were carefully selected by the JustWrite organizers to drive the theme to be at the core of the writers’ subconscious.
Angela Hall, a Metis Albertan elementary school teacher and artist, says she came to share her Indigenous knowledge with the attendees.
“She asked me to do writing but I’m more of a conduit, so things just come through me, and I write them down, the poetry and prayers I say are from spirits and energies, I just get out of the way and allow the spirits to speak,” she says.
Angela shared that these abilities started to manifest to her during her teenage years when she was growing up in foster care. Her traumatic issues forced her to go into healing and that was when she went through a process sometimes referred to as “ego-death”, and channelling the poems and prayers of deep wisdom was her way of helping herself. This process of healing, combined with her graduate courses in grief, loss, art therapy and more encouraged her to help others finally heal. Through her workshop, Rites of passage Art mandala, she guided the class through a meditation and helped them through the process of self-actualization. She started the class by having everyone write things they wish to let go in order to heal, which she then burned in a pot with sage.
Carolyn Pogue, who was originally invited to be a facilitator at YouthWrite 27 years ago, has stayed with the community.
“Gail gathered her artistic and creative friends to start YouthWrite, and as the camp expanded, I kept going back every year,” she says.
As a co-founder of the Woman in Black movement in Jerusalem, she aims to bring peace to the forefront of people’s consciousness. She elaborates that peace includes peace with oneself, with the environment, in families and communities and peace internationally. Her workshop that started Saturday morning, Working in the garden: Seeding the future we want, was a way to teach writers that planting a seed yields results and it should be done intentionally.
Emily Eskowich-Lacno, who started attending YouthWrite in 2012 when she was 14, graduated to JustWrite when she turned 19 years old. As part of the YouthWrite alumni, she expressed her love for the community and appreciation of the relationships it had fostered.
“I have met some of my truest and dearest friends in this community and some of my most trusted mentors like Gail and Thomas,” she says. “There is always something more to learn and they are always generous with their teachings.”
Emily also managed to finally convince her childhood best friend, Cassidy Thomas, to attend this year’s retreat.
“I was apprehensive because I do not write a lot, so I was worried I would not belong, but you don’t have to be an avid writer or have books published,” says Cassidy. “You get so much more than just your writing journey.”
JustWrite is indeed, a united community of writers aiming to spread peace and hope with their inspiring creations.