Refilling Our Own Wells: A Whidbey Island Writing Retreat

Saturday & Sunday, July 14 – July 15, 2018 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Hosted by: Poet Mary Ellen Lough and Essayist/Poet Lori Kane

Refilling Our Own Wells: A Whidbey Island Writing Retreat


If you find yourself regularly holding the weight of the world, then refilling your own well isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. It’s a wise and brave listening to the voice of a deep need. Join us as we take off our shoes, break bread together, read, write, share, laugh, teach, and learn our way back into sync with the world herself. We’re going to revel in life a bit, too. Together we’re going to reclaim this time as one of deepening connection, growing awareness, and expanding community and creativity and fun.

Note: You don’t need to consider yourself a writer or a poet to attend this retreat. It’s not about writing skills: it’s about letting go together, having fun, and being held and reenergized by community, writing, nature, and ancestors. We just lean heavily on writer/poet/artist ways of being here, because that’s who we are.

Cost: Day 0, Playing Together, is free to hang out with us and pay-what-you-will to the Island Shakespeare Festival troupe. You can attend Day 1, Wooing Wonder through Writing, for $100, or Day 2, Rewilding Your Soul through Poetry, for $100, or attend both days 1 and 2 for just $180. Lunch on Saturday and Sunday will be potluck–bring a dish, salad, dessert, or a drink to share. If you need this retreat but can’t afford it, call or text Lori at 206-805-9978, and we will work something out.

Details of the days and more about us follow. To register, scroll down and click the dark green Enroll Now button below. You’ll be taken to a page where you have the choice to register for Day 1, Day 2, or both days for a discount. If you have questions, or you plan to join us for the play on July 13, call or text Lori at 206-805-9978.

Day 0: Playing Together

On Friday, July 13, we’re going to stroll, bike, bus, roll, cartwheel, and/or drive to the woodsy north edges of lovely Langley to see the play Sense and Sensibility. If you’d like to join us, please do! The show starts at 6 p.m. We’ll arrive between 4 and 4:30 so that we can have a picnic, relax, get to know each other, and find seats ahead of time. The troupe operates on a Pay What You Will model: they pass a hat after the performance and you pay what you can. You can also bring picnic food or buy food and wine at the Island Shakespeare Festival venue. To ensure that you get a seat, showing up early, like we’re doing, is strongly recommended. Bring warm clothes or a blanket, as it can get chilly after dark here, even mid July.

Day 1: Wooing Wonder through Writing

Saturday, July 14 is a writing-centered day that starts at 9:30 a.m. at Silly Dog Studios just outside the fields + forest west edge of Langley. All levels of writers, including people who don’t consider themselves writers, are welcome. This day isn’t about our skill as writers, it’s about leaning on writing and each other to re-find the wonder at our core. Bring something to write on and with, whatever’s comfortable for you (notebook and pen, tablet, laptop, scrap paper, etch-a-sketch, crayons, smart phone, whatever) and wear comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing just in case a muse takes you by the hand and leads you outside somewhere.

We’ll be leaning on five activities inspired by Lori’s new book, called Unshaken Wonder: Becoming Playful Elders Together—a creative nonfiction book of essays, community stories, poetry, games, conversations, and practices gathered from 2012 to 2018 from within Lori’s family and local and global communities. Activities titled: 1) Hello New Friends, 2) Wooing Wonder, 3) Unleashing Your Playful Elder, 4) Making Space to Find Unshaken Wonder, and 5) Goodbye Old Me. All activities will involve some combination of the following things: silence, listening or reading, wondering, inspiration, feeling lost, writing/creation, sharing, reflection, laughter, and finding your way. What you choose to share with others will be up to you: you can share what you write, share what you’re feeling, tell a story that surfaces while you listen to someone else, or share silence, an always-welcome and much-loved gift here. And you can share food. People love food. I noticed a few years ago that gifting someone one of my books usually brings a lovely smile to a face while gifting a jar of jam or pickles that I made always brings wonder, delight, and wows. 🙂

We’ll be leaning on writing–our own and others–to remind our struggling and tired selves find that there’s a deep well of strength to be found in remembering how to be held by the world herself. My essayist/poet/author self is a master at doing this now, even on the days that the rest of me forgets. Here’s an excerpt from a poem called “The Invitation”…

Huh. Look at that.

When the wind strolls
in, my meadow friends
dance and bow. When waves rush
to crash across
my ocean friend, too cool for even
Airbnb, the wide beach
smiles back at me and
the eagles work-resting silently
on the air above etch
sky-to-horizon greetings down to me
all the way home.

So strong they are now, having
learned to be carried…

Day 2: Rewilding Your Soul through Poetry

Sunday, July 15 will be a poetry-centered day led by Mary Ellen. We’ll start at 9:30 again at Silly Dog Studios and see where the day takes us. No previous experience with poetry is necessary.

“You must give birth to your images. They are the future waiting to be born.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Poetry as Healer is a kind of folkway. It’s reclaiming your own awareness, voice, story, and way of being in the world. This is not poetry as a high school English class, as right/and/wrong ways of being/doing/writing. This is writing to know yourself, writing as soul recovery.  Writing as a path of authenticity and wildness, exploring the inner landscape as an oracle of the animate earth, and relearning what we have not, in fact, lost. Our most important images live inside us already, they connect us to our deepest magic. Poetry is the bucket which we lower into the depths, and draw back up to see what we will find.

Saturday, July 14 (Day 1) is $100.00 / person
Sunday, July 15 (Day 2) is $100.00 / person

Or attend both days for $180.00 / person

About us:


Mary Ellen Lough is a poetry therapist, award winning teacher and writer. Sharing poetry and earth-based practices as a path of healing and wholeness, she lives in an old beloved farmhouse in Southern Appalachia with her five children, where she wildcrafts and works closely with the land. She has been teaching poetry to veterans with PTSD, in homeless shelters and recovery centers for four years under grants with NC and Asheville Area Arts Council. She also created “Farmhouse Poetry Sundays,” a monthly women’s poetry circles at her farmhouse incorporating ritual traditions and land-based exploration. She believes deeply in poetry as a transformative practice for everyone, not just professional writers. She is also a world traveler, community organizer, activist, gardener, and writer. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry, and was awarded the 2016 Resilient Woman Leader of the Year award by the Asheville Resilient Women’s Leadership Foundation, and has worked extensively in local food policy and grassroots networking. Mary Ellen’s website is

Mary Ellen’s fans say…

“There is no better companion on a porch at sunset. Mary Ellen is not just someone who likes poetry, she’s someone who believes deeply in poetry’s transformative power, or as she wrote in the liner notes for an album of Veterans reading their work, the ‘sacred imagination which has the power to heal us…’” – Jessica Jacobs, author, In Whatever Light Left to Us & Pelvis with Distance

“Mary Ellen is not only a talented poet, but a woman of great spiritual and humanitarian strength who knows how to reach often marginalized students. She’s the real thing and brings to the table a way and a presence, a special touch, which I can only term a calling, a gift, a kind of magic. A woman of indisputable mettle with a generous spirit of shared purpose and joint humanity that her writing and her very life embodies.” – Joseph Bathanti, Former North Carolina Poet Laureate

“Dear Mary Ellen, yesterday, a skeptical friend told me he longed for a teacher he could believe in who could just tell him how it all works and How to Get it Right, but he said what was missing was the pudding. He had never seen anyone who was proof that life is so so good. I don’t think he has met you, darling. You are every kind of exquisite pudding.” – Natalie Kinsey, inspirational author, poet, and pastor of Play Church

Lori Kane, EdD moved to Seattle as a young adult where she began as an editor, technical writer, and curriculum and instructional designer at Microsoft, where she won an Innovation Pioneer award. She left the corporate world to pursue her doctorate degree studying self-organizing work groups and was so changed by the experience that she spent years studying self-organizing groups and community on her own. Changed by the Central District neighborhood where she lived, she dropped the too-restrictive title researcher to become a community story wrangler and, eventually, an essayist, blogger, and author gathering stories for her communities. In 2012, she reimagined her family’s home into Collective Self Coworking, a free community coworking space in Seattle’s Central District. Beloved neighborhood organization, Jackson Commons, awarded her a Community Jedi Master award in 2013 for her work as co-creator of then-new neighborhood-spanning play event Hopscotch CD–1.8 Miles of Fun! In 2015, Sharable magazine called her a Visionary of the Coworking Movement.
Today Lori’s an island-dwelling Pacific Northwest essayist, poet, author, and coworking and workshop space host and mentor. She’s also a serious home canner, lazy gardener, and Alzheimer’s care partner for mom Linda. She lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, USA alongside the remarkable Salish sea and her equally remarkable people, and she runs Silly Dog Studios with partner Daniel, Eva the dog, and Joe, Bella, and Batman the cats. Lori has written eight books of creative nonfiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction/poetry hybrids. Her just-released new book, Unshaken Wonder: Becoming Playful Elders Together, was a #1 New Release in Spirituality on Amazon in May of 2018. Lori’s primary websites are Collective Self and this Silly Dog Studios site.

Lori’s fans say…

“Your writing about your mom is palpable – visceral – and takes me to the deepest, most vulnerable and sacred places within myself. You found me by letting me see you find yourself. A gift rarely offered. Wow… You offer a resurgence of wonder to everyday life! You invite us to pay attention, to listen deeply, to weep and to wail – out loud. You remind us that we need one another. What a relief to be given permission to get lost in the wonder of dear friends or a fern unfurling or devastated by our parents entering dementia or the grief of our forests disappearing. Life holds ambivalence – and you write of this experience through the eyes of wisdom and wonder.” – Christie Lynk, Clinical Director of the MA, Existential Phenomenological Psychology program, Seattle University and Whidbey Institute community and board member

Unshaken Wonder has shaken up my outdated ways of being and given new and vibrant life to how I am with myself and how I engage in relationships with others, nature, and the world. Lori is forthright about the ongoing reality of loss and grief in our lives and how we can still live in joy and playfulness. Some self-help books skip discussions of how power, privilege, and oppression operate in our lives. Lori’s book brings it all with gusto. I am engaging body, mind, and spirit in playful and meaningful ways that are new to me: friendly with my emotions and embracing silliness and play. The wisdom in this book contributes to a deepened sense of appreciation for humanity in all its faults and a fierce belief that the change we need is available to us if we stay open, authentic, and engaged in wonder.” – Diane Schmitz, Racial Justice Trainer & Consultant

Lori sees you like you’ve never been seen. Her words lift off the page like a memoir – yours – because you will find something of yourself throughout the pages. You’ll be transported to a quiet, safe place where you’ll connect with your inner self. A great nightstand book, but warning: you’ll want to keep reading because you won’t want to leave the soft, protective blanket of words she wraps around you. Here you’ll find community with like-hearted strangers who feel deeply, are fatigued by struggle, yet relentlessly embrace life, love, and vulnerability. This book teaches resilience and gives you tools to creating islands of acceptance (within yourself and within your communities) where you can give yourself grace, find peace, and experience joy.” Angie Frazier, Director of Partner Marketing at

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