Inside story: A writing retreat with Lara O’Brien

A free daylong workshop invites Islanders to rejuvenate, reconnect, and create their story with the help of writer and facilitator Lara O’Brien.

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On Sunday, Oct. 20, Islanders are invited to a full day of mind, body, and spirit rejuvenation, featuring yoga, meditation, and an organic lunch, followed by an afternoon of writing prompts intended to elicit the deep life stories of attendees. It’s all free of charge, courtesy of the M.V. Cultural Council.

The day is facilitated by Islander and writer Lara O’Brien, who feels lucky to witness the transformation that occurs when people discover their writing voice. “I just guide it along, I give the prompt, keep time, and then give them supportive feedback on their writing and story,” she says.

O’Brien’s voice changes when she speaks about story. It’s late in the day in Ireland, where O’Brien has been running a writing workshop, and where she’s agreed to speak to The MV Times about the upcoming workshop on the Vineyard. Despite her admitted tiredness, when O’Brien speaks of story, her voice holds a reverence, a sort of bewildered awe. Simply put, she explains, telling our stories can change our lives. 

She’s seen it happen, both as a workshop attendee and now as a facilitator. “When they find their voice through the written word and then express it by storytelling … The best part of watching it in action is how it’s carried out of the workshop and into their everyday lives.”

Story, for O’Brien, is far more than someone’s biography or CV. “We all have similar events in our lives,” she says. “We grow up, we have a foundation, we go to school, we have our teenage years, we get married.” That is the banal stuff. Finding our story is “the underbelly,” she says. “It’s the turning points, the pivots that bring us into the deeper part of our lives.” 

An avid attendee of many Chilmark Writing Workshops — “with the best evah, Nancy Aronie,” she says — O’Brien realized that she wanted to create this experience for others, to shepherd their stories into the world. “I turned toward writing for healing, writing for self-discovery, life story, tapping into memory. I really, really loved it.” Writing, she says, is just another way to connect for those who struggle to.

O’Brien has taken her gift to her home in Howth, Ireland, outside Dublin, where she’s moved with her daughter for part of the year. While her daughter attends school there, O’Brien offers workshops.

Like the Vineyard, Howth offers a sense of place that O’Brien considers crucial to the experience. The cliffs of Howth “just take your breath away,” she says. “You’re instantly spiritually connected to outstanding natural beauty.” But more than just a pretty place, O’Brien believes that the “where” of her workshops eases the process of working on story. “You de-stress,” she says. “You’re already letting go of all the stress you’ve been holding on to.” Consequently, by the time participants sit down to write, they’re open to the process. The underbelly is ready to be revealed. 

Another critical part of these workshops on both sides of the Atlantic is the trust that’s engendered there. Tapping into stories is emotional and, for some, it’s the first time they’ve shared them. “By the end of the first prompt, the group has all supported each other. It just happens naturally. That creates the safe space. It’s created when people are just being honest.”

O’Brien is excited at the chance to help others get to the underbelly of their stories, thanks to the grant from MVCC. “We’re trying to put together a full day of health,” she says, with the intention that anyone who participates will walk away from the event feeling calm and rejuvenated, with a much clearer focus on how their life looks on paper. “It’s community giveback for sure,” she says. “It’s amazing what can happen. One good experience could set someone writing for the rest of their lives … or becoming a yogi.”

To register for “Move. Meditate. Write.” on Sunday, Oct. 20, from 10 am to 4 pm, hosted by Lara O’Brien with private chef Lucia Hayman, please email laraobrienbooks@gmail.com.