Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 6, 2014

Safe Places for Dreaming, Reading, and Writing

In my children’s literature class, we left Fern sitting on a stool in the barn listening to Charlotte and other animals, but we’ll be reading about other quiet places – the Secret Garden, Terabitihia, Roxaboxen, and behind the couch in the Watson’s living room – where children go to find or recover their true selves, be it part of nature or a fire escape. So for this week’s writing assignment, while some students chose to write about the ways E.B. White brings out themes, others took the option of writing about childhood haunts or refuges.

Someone asked if it would be all right to just write about how and why a place was important, but not describe it. No, sorry, I replied. Grace Paley wrote that we write what we know to find out what we don’t know, and sensory details may not only lure in the reader, but surprise the writer. Uncovering one small thing may make forgotten parts appear, and the outside reveal what was forgotten within.

And I did feel a sense of discovery in short memoirs that introduced me to a forest hillside a student returned to and found to be really a rather few trees with beer cans and other litter on the ground near a busy street; still, he sat at the smaller crest of the hill and felt again like a king or warrior. I was happy to read about another’s window seat, bookshops, and the way in which someone was “almost raised by librarians.” At the school’s snack time, one shy boy started taking Goosebumps and other books to the quiet corner behind a seldom-used easel, then was pleased when another boy chose to join him. As weeks passed, other children came, too, and somehow there was room: he suspects the teacher quietly drew back the easel.

I read about a crabapple tree perch, pools that transformed swimmers into dolphins or mermaids, haystacks, a Crawfish Kingdom in a backyard brook, grandparents’ houses, a dance studio, a flowery cave made by a mother who planted morning glories over a bower, where tea for fairies was served on an old tablecloth, and an Electricity Shed Where You Shouldn’t Go Because It’s Dangerous, aka, The Headquarters, and more.

If we’re lucky or wise, we can call up a sense of being in those old cherished places when we need them. I spent much of this snowy day with a quilt drawn over my knees, watching the world turn whiter, while leaving it for a world I’m tucking between other covers. But sometimes we need a real place, either new to us or familiar, that gives us a sense that if we venture into the woods, a cottage with three plates and bowls set out, one just for us, will be waiting.

I hope my role running writing workshops at a spring retreat in northern California will help create such a safe place. At Candles in the Window: A Yoga and Writing Retreat (With Chocolate), we’ll get to look up at redwood trees, which I’ve never seen. But the notebook on my lap will be familiar. I’ll know at least one other person, and look forward to meeting people I expect will turn into friends. That’s the magic of safe places, sanctuaries, forts, or hideouts. Anything can happen.

Note; please click on the link above if you want to know more about the retreat held on the first weekend of June.  There’s a discount for those who register before February 14.



  1. I’m thrilled for you, Jeannine! What a lovely place to be and lovely thing to do!

    • Yes, it will be wonderful. You should come!

  2. I’m so looking forward to finding sanctuary with you among the redwoods, and to the expansiveness that comes of reaching and relaxing, and stretching some more, on the yoga mat and in your writing workshops.

  3. Lovely and thought-provoking, as ever. One of the issues of my childhood was that I didn’t feel as if I had a refuge, which is also worth revisiting.

    • Kara, that is sad. I’m sorry. Sometimes the refuges aren’t obvious, or are brief-lived, or short glimpses between book covers, or just one classroom, or some funny interlude. I hope you and your baby create lovely ones together.

  4. Jeannine, you will love being cloaked in the majesty of the redwoods. My son lives in Santa Cruz, so we visit often, and love love. It’s a different world. The retreat sounds wonderful. Enjoy every minute.


    • Well done on your son for choosing a great place for you to visit! I can’t wait!

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