Retreat

I just got home from the convent.

A writer’s retreat, actually:  three nights in a small room (bed, desk, chair, sink, icon) at a spiritual center run by Dominican Sisters, a thirty-minute drive north.  Outside the door to my room, a long hallway that reminded me of the hotel in The Shining.  But no REDRUM on the walls, no boy pedaling his tricycle.  Just a long series of rooms identical to mine, uninhabited.  (The retreat center was expecting an arrival today, of some seventy-five people from a Presbyterian church, but during the week, my friend and fellow writer Audrey were the only guests there.)

The room may have been simple, but it wasn’t a cell.  The bed had a floral bedspread, which I replaced with my Costa Rican woven blanket, my only touch of home.  Quiet is the rule upstairs, so I turned off the sound on my laptop, silenced my cell phone, listened to nothing but the trickle of water in the fountain beneath my window and the sound of my own keys tapping.  I wrote at a desk with the surface space of a large TV tray, on a chair that looked like something you’d find in a turn-of-the-century (last century, that is) schoolhouse.  I got up only to pee or eat.

That was the point.  I love my big desk, but it’s covered with unpaid bills, notes to myself, museum membership solicitations, a Rolodex reminder of my former life in New York, and piles of papers that don’t seem to belong anywhere else.  I work there five days a week, but during the two days I’ve been here I come to see a whole new meaning for “work.”  On retreat, I wrote all day.

I’ve been telling myself for years that I do this at home, but I never have.  It’s just not possible.  It should be – or maybe not.  Maybe we need to go somewhere completely anonymous, somewhere quiet.  Not every day, but from time to time.  I’ve gone on residency before for four weeks—to Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in the Blue Ridge foothills, and Ragdale Foundation just outside Chicago.  I never thought three days would be nearly enough.

I was wrong.  I wrote two new scenes, conflated four others, tightened, and—most exciting of all—saw my characters do things I hadn’t expected.  Not four weeks’ worth, but damn good for three days.

I’m home now.  I’ve returned three calls, spent some time with the cat, packed my gym bag.  Electricians are working downstairs; someone’s doing something with a jackhammer outside my window.  I’m refreshed, re-invigorated.

Not every three days goes well, home or away.  I was lucky, this time, or the stars were aligned, or whatever. I don’t want to explain it, or jinx it.  I just want to say how good it feels.

And you?  What writing retreats have you discovered, near or far?

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5 Responses to Retreat

  1. The Grotto is my weekly writing retreat, but it’s not the same as being able to write from 9 a.m. to midnight every day. The closest I’ve come to that type of retreat was to go to our house near the Russian River for three long weekends last winter. It was wonderful. I wish I could do it once a month. It was quiet, cozy, and pouring outside so I had no interest in leaving the house. I took a bunch of Trader Joe’s meals so I wouldn’t have to cook and went on a run once over the weekend to get a little exercise and fresh air. Would love to do that again soon!

  2. Meghan, how wonderful to have a house to get away to. Since my retreat at the convent, I’m discovering “at home retreats” Kind of like a staycation, I’m writing all day, not answering the phone, not doing dishes, not answering emails, ignoring the laundry & the shopping & the plants … I put on headphones and shut the door and hunker down and it seems to work. One day a week, but what a difference it can make. TJ’s meals is a great idea to facilitate!

  3. Pingback: The Gift of the Tortilla | Lindsey Crittenden

  4. Lindsey, Thanks for inviting me. I loved learning about your initial image for the novel being that great carved door. No matter what I might have suggested about turning the door into some other kind of construction, stick to that door. I hope you learn something new about my book from my answers when they show up here on Friday.

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