Monday, June 8, 2009

Writing Retreats

Last weekend Duncan the Dog and I drove south and west to the old mining town of Silver Cliff. Well, I drove, and he navigated. From the back seat. We had our own food and personal stuff, my journal and a good read (Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd). Everything else we would need was waiting for us at Bloomsbury West, a vibrant blue and yellow cottage with a fenced yard and a couple of wonderful reading chairs. No television or wi-fi. There is a radio, which I chose to ignore, and there is cell phone service, but I turned the phone off. We took walks in this mountain valley at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo peaks, admired the highly individual houses, chatted a bit with the neighbors, and ignored any suggestion that the world is round, small, and troubled. I read all of Boyd's book and Frank McCourt's Teacher Man, which I found on the generous book shelf in the cottage. I sat in the shade and admired the spring plantings in the many-colored pots that ring the house. Hawks and crows and anonymous small birds provided an almost constant air show.

Oh, yes, I also wrote a section of a book I've been playing with. That's the ostensible reason for going to the place. Writerly seclusion. How about a more realistic description: the time to do nothing I didn't want to do. I ate when and what I wanted, slept when I was sleepy, and nibbled in some of the books, devoured others. I went "downtown" to adjacent Westcliff for lunch, looked into some of the shops--little or nothing there smacks of big business--and bought an interesting stone to take home and a lovely necklace made from a mineral I had not seen before. When we left the cottage on Sunday morning, I took Route 69 toward home and marveled every hundred yards at the open fields, still green and full of new calves, a pair of stunning paint horses, then the drama of bare wild rock and the attention grabbing road that slithers through the land near the Arkansas River. I had a moment of envy over the number of rafters spilling down the river. But mostly, I felt happy to be going home after a restful and somewhat productive weekend. 

I've been to communal retreats, made friends with other writers, listened closely to the leaders of workshops and seminars, focused on the readings, and written like a mad woman, forcing each moment at the retreat to yield WORK. Not so at Bloomsbury. No one drives me to write anything. Even my critical self backs off and I really do relax. So when you look at the ads in writers' magazines for retreats that ask for your work in advance to see if you are worthy, or charge you a hefty sum for the privilege of being there, think hard about the word retreat: "the act of withdrawing." (American Heritage). Retreats that actually ask you to engage might be better called Advances. Not the same thing at all. 

1 comment:

FrankGregg said...

It is such a great thing to "get away."

Peg and I have to make it through another year, then we'll have six Saturdays and a Sunday every week!

I am slightly envious of those to whom time is simply a thing of which clocks keep track. (There, Winston, take that! "That is something up with which I shall not put!")

Soon... Soon.

Cheers.
Frank