Thumbing through an old issue of Writer’s Digest magazine, I notice that 50% of the adverts are trying to get me to go for my MFA and the other 50% are enticing me to travel to a writer’s retreat.
Retreat. Writing. My idea of heaven. [Sigh].
I say this because my normal writing environment is the exact opposite of a retreat. It’s the kitchen table. I am in the middle of a high traffic zone. I keep accidentally planting my feet in the cat’s food dish. The people who are renovating down the street like to employ their concrete cutting saw just when I’m fumbling around for the right word or phrase. My “office” is anything but conducive to the kind of quiet, contemplative thought that writing requires.
I look longingly at these advertisements for writing retreats. One shows an idyllic pastoral setting; a huge classic barn in the middle of a quiet field. I wonder, do we write in the barn? Is there livestock kept in the barn? Do we each get our own stall? I thought about trying the retreat at the Banff Centre, in the Rocky Mountains but I know people there and would thus be tempted to meet for quick coffees that might turn into long dinners and wine in hot tubs…and then, there’s the bears which would discourage me from taking long contemplative strolls. I can’t be anywhere near distractions or anywhere where I’m not at the top of the food chain should I venture outside.
Here is my fantasy writer’s retreat: by the sea (but not too close – I’m not fond of unexpected dips in the ocean). We’ll say “overlooking the sea.” I’d settle for “sea breezes.” Ok, high enough over the ocean for a view but not a drowning. I would write in a white cottage. Or, maybe a converted lighthouse. There would be every convenience except no kitchen. Maybe a bar fridge (fully stocked, thank you.) I want my meals brought to me, discreetly left outside the door in insulated baskets. There would be plenty of hot water and down duvets (it’s chilly on the coast in the evening) but also a deck or patio for quiet reflection in the aforementioned sea breezes. There must be an up-to-date dictionary and thesaurus on site.
There would be none of the following:
- internet (I’m easily distracted)
- mice (if this cannot be guaranteed I reserve the right to bring my cat)
- receptions/”get togethers”/group walks or yoga/meditation/tai chi classes at either sunrise or sunset or any other time
- excessive airplane traffic i.e. a cottage at the end of a runway would not do
As I said, this is my fantasy retreat. When I describe this place to my family they stare at me slack-jawed, uncomprehending and perplexed. “Won’t you miss us, mommy?”
Because here’s the thing: it’s not forever. It’s maybe a week. After all, even I would drive myself crazy with nobody but myself after a week (maybe sooner – I start arguments with myself after 3 days). What I crave more than anything is a brief, finite period of solitude so that I can sort out all of the noise in my head, separate the crap from the possible. I have a hard time doing that when I have to tend to other’s needs and wants. I am not an effective divider of self.
Sadly, idyllic writer’s retreats even out in the middle of nowhere are pricey (it’s that food delivery thing and the fully stocked wine fridge, I think) so I’ve come up with a mini-retreat idea: One night in a hotel. I confess, when I mentioned the words “one night in a hotel,” my poor neglected husband got all excited until he realized he’d be at home with children and cat. Here’s how it would work: check in as soon as they let me. Luggage consists of pjs, toothbrush, maybe some healthy snacks, and the laptop. Write until dinner; order room service. Continue to write until the wee hours, get up and start again after a steaming hot hotel shower. Stay until some hotel staffer forces me to check-out. Do all things necessary to keep breathing but writing has to be the Main Event.
Note: the hotel has to be nice – not a dive where I have to constantly check the door for security reasons and the comforters for creepy-crawlies. The food must be good – I don’t know why this is important but it just is.
For my part, I have to deliver. Not a novel, mind you, but something other than grocery lists. I’ve done this before – I was given a night at the Hotel Arts in Calgary once. I wrote until 2 a.m. It was all stream of consciousness stuff but afterward, I had useable material. I came up with the opening scene for The Novel. Dinner was yummy and I didn’t have to cook it myself.
I can do this. I’m disciplined and desperate enough. It’s a great way to get back on the wagon after a summer of sloth.