|Uncle Walt, our pet seagull.|
It has been over a year and half since I've been on any sort of writing retreat or writing residency.
Two weeks ago, I left my regular life for the retreat lifestyle-- new poems, being offline, an overwhelming desire to create, books and readings, getting lost in my work.
Well, that didn't happen, but let me tell you what did--
I confess I thought I was going to write new poems, but instead I wrote nothing new.
While we were in a beautiful area, in fact ON the water with a family of deer walking by, porpoises and a gray whale out our window, a seagull we named Uncle Walt who visited us daily, I couldn't write new work.
Looking back I'm not really sure why this happened, but here are some thoughts--
1) There was wi-fi. While I was cut-off from Facebook (I deactivated my account), I was not fully cut off from the news or real life. For me, this is essential when on a writing retreat. Time has to be endless, those long days where I can't get lost in a string of internet research or information. Instead, I knew what was going on the world, and oddly, my creative self just wouldn't let go.
2) The place was beautiful, but maybe too beautiful. I am used to writing in places that have a more artistic, cabinlike, rustic feel. I am usually in a big sweater and worried about a ghost or being too hot or too cold. Here, I had marble countertops. I had a wicker laundry basket. I felt more as if I was on vacation than on a writing retreat.
3) Anxiety. This time of year, I tend to have much more anxiety than in the summer. For some reason, I found my anxiety through the roof and had to check in at home. Scratch that, I didn't *have to* do anything. I called home more times in this residency than I have in all of my residencies combined.
Normally, I only use text to correspond with my family so it doesn't take me out of writer's mind. This time, I called home, texted, and at one point, used Facetime to connect. While each time eased my anxiety, it also never let me go deeper. I need to go deep on these retreats as that is where my best work is done.
I confess I did get work done.
So what do you do when you are on a writing retreat and can't write?
1) Organize! Last year, I wrote a TON of poems, but I haven't even really looked at most of them, just wrote them and left them in my In Process folder until it was time to revise. So when I couldn't write new poems, I went through each of my poems seeing which had potential and then...
2) I revised. I revised poem after poem. When I can't write, I know the editor part of my brain is alive and always ready to work. So I revised and revised and revised. I moved quite a few poems into my "completed" folder, which felt good.
3) Officially started Manuscript 4! As I looked at my poems that had been published and the ones I loved, I began to put poems in a folder to see what I had. I have more than I thought. I knew there was a collection in the making, I've been working on it in my head, but I hadn't started organizing it--considering sections, a title, what poems should be included, etc. Well, since I wasn't writing, I had time to do this.
3) Sleep / lay in bed and think about my manuscript. I don't know what you do when you can't sleep or before falling asleep, but I walk through my manuscript in-process in my head. I visualize the title page, then a section and wander through my poems making connections, ordering them in my head, exploring themes and ideas.
This is something I never really have time to do in my regular life. But I spent quite a few hours in bed (my favorite place) just thinking about this next book. And usually while doing that, I'd fall asleep, which sometimes took me deeper, or sometimes had me dreaming bizarre things about ouija boards (another story).
4) Meditate. I did more of this on this retreat than all other retreats combined. This was how I emptied my head and tried to allow more insight to enter.
5) Worked on Two Sylvias Press stuff. This wasn't planned, but my partner, Annette, was with me and we both found ourselves getting incredible ideas for the press just randomly during the day. We had gone on this retreat to get away from our editorial lives, but here we were making plans and jotting down ideas.
Once I decided whatever happens on this retreat will benefit me, I just let go. I let anxiety happen, the Two Sylvias work be done, the poem be revised, the poems not written, the naps, the thoughts, the meditations, the walks on the beach, the extra long happy hours, all of it.
I stopped trying to control what was happening and instead just be.
While this retreat did not give me the poems I had hoped for, it did offer more of the left brain things I tend never to do on retreats-- the planning and organizing things, the business/press work, the extra time to talk with friends over drinks and appetizers set out on the coffeetable.
I stopped trying to be productive and just was. And I think the retreat helped me other ways I may not realize yet. And yes, that's okay too.
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