I’ve been on retreat, “an act of moving back or withdrawing,” or “a place of privacy or safety.” Retreating, or creating an actual retreat in the midst of every day life, is a powerful way to get creative priorities back in line. Or back to the beginning of the line.
When I left the Coalition almost two years ago, I’d imagined a life with writing as the organizing force, the central focus of what I had to do. Everything else would fit in around it. That has been so totally not true. Valuing writing, valuing spending time expressing my creative impulses whether or not that expression ever leads to publication, or praise, or whatever it is that might make it somehow count, is still unexpectedly difficult.
But at least I’m spending more time with other writers who all struggle to some extent with the difficulty of getting to the desk and getting words on paper. I have lots of sympathy for my constant battle to push back the dailiness which can easily fill a life — grocery shopping, cooking, gardening, hanging photos and paintings up in the kitchen and hallway we had painted a year ago, visiting friends and family, training for the next tri, answering email, cleaning the old running shoes out of the bottom of my closet, a task I’d thought would be done within a week of leaving my job — and put my writing first. “Writing is my job,” a novelist I met last summer told me. “It comes first, every day, then I get to the other things that need attention.” Good for her, but how do I do that?
Last week a group of my writer friends and I went on a writing retreat. One of the women has a sister with a second home in Manchester, Vermont, who was happy to have us use it as a writing base. After an afternoon and morning of more concentration on writing than I thought I could possibly muster, I said to one of my friends, “This is such a good reminder that going away to write, making space for that, getting to a place where all I have to do is write, really makes a difference for me.” “It makes a difference for all of us,” she said. “That’s why so many writers do it.”
Of course. I keep thinking there isn’t any reason I can’t just sit down at my desk for four hours, or three hours, or five hours, or even 15 minutes, every single day. But really, there are literally hundreds of reasons to keep me from doing that, every single day.
Sitting in a screened gazebo on a deck overlooking pastures sweeping down to the Battenkill River and up the Equinox Mt. ridge, I spent hours and hours last week, working on poetry. I woke early the first morning we were there, after an afternoon of writing, and had to get out of bed and get to work. I couldn’t wait to get to my poems.
Now I’ve been home a week and I’ve still been writing at least a bit every day, some days quite a lot. Retreating at home is harder, but not impossible. And one thing I fit in this week was making plans for the next actual retreat.