The stated purpose of this writing retreat is to travel outside my usual round of responsibilities so that I could focus on just writing. The first day I spent on travel, which is to be expected. I traveled both physically and mentally, arriving tired. I then suffered the common traveler’s lament of spending all the energy arriving only to desire to rest by being at home. I expected that. I also expected to spend some time grounding myself, becoming familiar with the house and surroundings. I did this at DeepSouthCon when I spent a good portion of the first day photographing and noticing the design choices of the hotel, much to the amusement of the hotel staff. They humored the odd lady taking pictures of the wall sconces and carpet. I’d planned to write up a post using those pictures, but the post never happened. It didn’t need to. I’d situated my brain and was ready to focus on the convention instead.
Except I arrived at the house and it felt familiar. I used to dream about my grandma’s tiny house. In the dreams I went upstairs and through a door to discover that her house had extra rooms and floors. Stepping into Woodthrush Woods was like stepping into one of those dreams, my grandma’s house–only different and bigger. I did not need to wander the house and get to know it. But I was tired from traveling, and despite feeling welcome I was not at home. There were other writers who had just finished dinner. I was introduced and we had a pleasant conversation and then everyone scattered to go write. I was left to myself. Which is the point. It is what is supposed to happen. Yet I did not write. Not really. There is a different feel when I am writing a blog post where I’m saying stuff and where I’m deep in the words. I was saying stuff that evening.
Surely the next day would be better. I would be settled and would begin to accomplish the purpose for which I had come.
Except I did not sleep well and the second day turned out to be hard. It was hard on me. It was hard on Howard and the kids back at home. Their struggles reached out to me across all those miles via internet and innate instinct. Instead of being here and now, my heart felt stretched across half a continent. I wondered why I had come. I was afraid that the logical and spiritual impulses which had guided me to take this trip were about growing through hard experience rather than reward. I really wanted something happy to result, but it was hard to believe that such a thing could happen.
On the second day of the retreat that I learned I bring my emotional baggage with me even when I leave the trappings of my regular life. I could suddenly see the baggage for what it was, but I couldn’t see how to re-pack it, get rid of it, or ship it back home. It was a day of bright and dark. I loved the woods. I needed to be there in the woods. But I wrote no words that were strong enough to convince me that they could not have been better written from home. I cried on the second day. Not all day, but sometimes when I was away from everyone else. I did not want to make any of the other writers responsible for making me feel better. I didn’t know if they could. I felt awful for being away from my family when they needed me at home to provide structure. I knew that they were competent and would find ways to muddle through. I worried about the comic work Howard was not getting done because he was shouldering my work at home as well as his own. I looked at my paltry words. I felt the even greater space of words I didn’t feel like I would ever be able to write. I felt awkward and odd with the people around me because I come from a social and religious context which often requires explanation. When all the worries got too much, I would walk in the woods or watch the birds. It helped, but I spent the day tangled in my own head.
Howard and I shared a phone call where we commiserated about how hard this trip was being for us both and how we weren’t sure what would come of it. I considered paying the extra fees to change my flight and go home early. Except I could tell I was not supposed to. My wise Kiki sent me an email acknowledging that the day had been hard without me there, but ending with “the second day is always hard. It’ll get better.” I marveled at her wisdom and clung to her words, wondering where she had learned it. Oh. She learned it from me. I tell her that at the beginning of a new school year.
The morning was brighter. Howard called and told me things were better at home. I went running up and down the long driveway, because running is better than crying. I walked in the woods. I wrote a blog post about it. Then I opened the file for my magical realism book and story spilled from my brain out through my fingers. I finally felt the deep word focus that I saw in the others when they stared at their screens. 1000 words later I have the bare beginning of characters and a problem. I’m going to have to discovery write this one, but it feels like the right beginning. I have written. I just might survive this experience after all.