An Open Letter to Lighthouse Writers Workshop

[caption id="attachment_7018" align="alignleft" width="256"]Capture We're definitely going to miss this smile.[/caption]

NOTE: Most of us are still utterly in denial about the imminent departure of Cara Lopez Lee, memoirist, longtime workshopper, youth faculty favorite, intrepid adventurer, and all-around lovely person. We'll share this farewell letter nonetheless because, like everything Cara writes, it's a pleasure to read. We'll be following Cara's writing and anxiously awaiting updates on her novel-in-progress. We suspect it's a stunner. Colorado's loss is California's gain.

We'll miss you, Cara. Come back often.

Dear Andrea, Mike, Kim, Roxanne, Meg, Tiffany, Dan, Laurie, Laura, Genna, Jon, Amanda, Faculty, and Members,

This is impossible. I cannot write a farewell letter to you all. I cannot explain what Lighthouse means to me without sounding like an obsessive in need of medication.

I cannot explain that after my trek around the globe, I figured nothing could top hiking through the Himalayas with a misfit group of solo travelers connected on some crazy level beyond time and space. Then I found Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where I discovered I’d rather sit there on the porch, talking with all of you creative, interesting, inspiring people than experience amazing wonders anywhere else in the world. The most astonishing wonders are in your heads, and you have generously shared them with me, in workshops, at readings, at parties.

You went a step farther, supporting my outlandish belief that the weird wonders in my head were worth sharing. You nurtured my nerdy desire to publish a memoir that reveals more about me than is proper. Then, when I ran out of stuff to write about myself, you encouraged me to make up imaginary people and write about them.

When I was growing up, I felt rootless, shifting through a series of houses and people until I lost the sense of what home was. I don’t know how to say this, but today I know what home is, thanks not only to my husband but also to Lighthouse, which has become both a second home and second family to me. Yes, the historic Ferril and Milheim Houses have provided a cozy, welcoming atmosphere, what I used to dream college would be like. But the greater dream has been to sit with a handful or roomful of people, or just one, and talk about words, stories, and literature as if they matter—because they do.

I cannot express what it means to me to know that Lighthouse understands this truth: writing makes a difference, in our souls, in our world. It gives us a sense of meaning. Lighthouse has added more meaning to my career as a writer than I ever hoped for back when I was a girl falling in love with books but certain that only magical people could write them. I was right about that, but Lighthouse has helped me discover that I am magical, that you are magical. Together, we’re on a mission to solve violence, hunger, global warming, racism, loneliness, depression, and boredom…with the power of our minds, and the words that live there. Lighthouse empowers us to do all this by surrounding us with the people, tools, support—and light—to believe we can.

I cannot possibly make Andrea Dupree and Michael Henry understand how grateful I am to them for envisioning this meeting place, this meeting of minds, and bringing it into being. But now that I’m leaving for California, and there’s not as much danger of my lingering at Lighthouse after the party is over, as I often do, I’ll risk saying: Mike and Andrea, you might be younger than I, but you have parented a part of me that needed it, so that, like the latchkey kid who practically lives at his best friend’s house, I never wanted to leave yours.

I’m at a loss to explain how Megan Nix, Kimberly O’Connor, and Roxanne Banks Malia have transformed a life I once thought would be childless, by giving me the opportunity to share my love of storytelling with Denver’s young people, both those who feel called to write and those who never before realized the power of writing to heal their wounds, energize their education, and inspire their future. Thanks to the Lighthouse Young Writers Program, I’ve witnessed children and teens who have suffered violence, loss, divorce, poverty, or simply being the odd kid out, transform their experience by telling tales in which they or their characters become heroes. Lighthouse really does change lives.

[caption id="attachment_7028" align="alignleft" width="300"]Cara at LitFest this year. Cara at the LitFest kick-off party this summer[/caption]

Much the way that adults return home to visit their families of origin, I will return to visit Lighthouse, to attend LitFest, the Grand Lake Retreat, or other events. When I do, I don’t know how to admit this, but I know I’ll long to move back in.

I’m hesitant to overstate by declaring that someday I’ll return to celebrate the publication of the novel I could not have written without Lighthouse. Of course I’ll succeed, because Lighthouse has taught me perseverance, introduced me to fine agents and editors, and given me tips on how to pitch. I’ll succeed because I’ve been mentored in the writing craft by such talented and generous faculty as Erika Krouse, Rebecca Berg, Doug Kurtz, Mario Acevedo, Alexandre Philippe, Jenny Itell, and of course William Haywood Henderson. Bill has challenged me, the way great teachers do, not to settle for less than I’m capable of. I’ll admit, I was not capable until I took his illuminating workshops. Without the help of fellow Lighthouse faculty and students I would have no clue how to write a novel.

It goes without saying that my stories are my own, but the fact that I actually finish them, maybe get them close to right, and sometimes get them published, will always be thanks to Lighthouse in some way. My writing would not be what it is without you all, which is to say my life would not be what it is without you all—and life is good.

I have no idea how to thank all you Lighthousers for making me laugh. Laughter is an expression of connection. Sometimes when I walk away after we’ve shared a moment, it still echoes inside me, making me realize that the laughter, love, and inspiration we’ve shared will always exist somewhere, invulnerable to space and time.

Because I don’t know how to tell all of you the way I feel, allow me to just say: Hey, thanks for the pizza, cupcakes, and wine. They were great.


Cara Lopez Lee

Cara Lopez Lee has written, edited, and/or ghostwritten 20 books. She is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands (Conundrum Press, 2014). Her stories have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Rivet Journal, and Connotation Press. An avid adventurer, she has traveled throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the U.S., and often hikes with her husband in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Cara has been teaching Lighthouse Young Writers for more than four years.