I’ve been writing a lot since the beginning of the year, but I’ve been doing most of it in my notebook, offline. I went on a writing retreat a week or so ago, a much-needed break from the hustle of workshops and the new year’s Let’s Get It Done! energy. Do you get that kind of buzzy exuberance at the beginning of the year? Suddenly, everything I’ve forgone for months or maybe years (maybe even decades) is gonna get done now. It’s a new year! Everything is possible! Let’s make a plan, and then another plan, and then create a new writing schedule, then make a vision board, then another vision board for the other projects, then make a giant to do list of every thing that needs doing for my 9 or 10 Very Important creative projects that all need attention now.
So the beginning of the year is charged and exciting – like a Monday morning on steroids, if you’re like me — another chance to get it right. And then I overdo it with the attempt to schedule my creativity into a rigorous, regimented set of boxes, and the parts of me that need to sing, need to wander, need to breathe without being scheduled to do so, the parts of my creative life that need open space around them in order to blossom begin to leak out the sides of me. I start to cheat on my own systems: the employee undermining the boss. I start to come in “late” to work. I oversleep.These are my forms of creative resistance. Gonna try and put me into a box? Ok, then, I’ll go limp. I get out of sync, creatively-speaking, and begin to get tight and frustrated. What happened to my flow?
So, the weekend retreat was well-timed. An xmas gift from my sweetheart, she knew that this introvert needs time away from everything and everyone every now and again just to immerse in solitude and let the writing bubble up again. I gathered together the projects I wanted to work on — brought my journal (almost full), a novel I was in the middle of, the manuscript for my collection of essays about writing practice for/& trauma survival, and my laptop. I figured I’d finish reading through and marking up the manuscript, and then I’d get started on the edits/rewrites. I was meant to be gone for two and a half-days. I had big plans. The beautiful part about visiting this house — aside from the fact that the house itself is beautiful and rests right across the street from a cow pasture so that I can listen to cows talking to each other all day and feel rather like I’ve gone back home — is that AT&T has no coverage in the area. I allow this to work in my favor; no email, no texts, no checking the web for anything, not even cell service. If I wanted to connect with beloveds, I had to go to the little cafe down in “town” with wifi access, which I did the first night, sitting out front on one of the old ice cream parlor style wire-frame chairs, hunkered over against the wind, texting love notes back home to my sweetheart.
When I got to the our friends’ beautiful little house in West Marin, I unpacked the dog and all of my clothes and the food I’d brought. I changed into comfortable clothes, settled in, pulled out my laptop and discovered that I had forgotten the charger for the computer. Talk about creative resistance. I had about 80% power still on the laptop, which meant I could do a few hours’ work. Maybe.
I had about a minute’s worth of distress about this. Then I pulled out my notebook. Nearly full. This was a much bigger problem, but one more easily remediable without even the need for a car. I threw on my jacket and headed to the little market, fingers crossed that they’d have what I needed. And indeed, there amid the dusty packages of prepared food and expensive wine (this place is like a camp store for the well-heeled West Marin visitor) was a small stationary section, with a couple of blank notebooks– one 70pp single subject, one a 108pp 3 subject 3/4-sized notebook. Both were wildly expensive, but that was the price I paid for forgetting to pack one of the hundred or so single-subject notebooks I gathered up at Target last fall during school supply season (or as I call it, notebook season). Once I had the notebook in hand, I was all set. I headed back to the house, wanting to get all settled in before the rains came, and opened my novel. Before long, I had found my way into a very deep and solid quiet.
I read for most of the first day, writing a little after the novel was finished. I ate small, went for walks with the dog, watched the storm gather through the big front windows. I journaled, wrote fiction, found a rhythm that wasn’t electronically mediated, wasn’t driven by any sense of outside influences or cravings for attention or publishing or anyone else’s accolades. I got back into a much older relationship with writing — the one that was just for me, just for my own healing and discovery, play and practice. Once upon a time I used to spend hours holed up at cafes pouring words into these 3/4-sized notebooks, unfurling myself, figuring out who I was and who I’d been, what I’d been through and who I wanted to be. During my writing retreat, unable to do the work I felt I was “supposed” to do, something in me got shaken loose. I got to revisit that oldest and most sustaining writing practice: words in the notebook, play and discovery, no other aim but writing itself. Just write, just write, just write.
I did use up that computer charge, typing up an essay I’d written in the notebook a couple of weeks before. But then I turned it back off, walked outside with the dog, talked with the cows, and headed out to the beach to commune with the sea.
Thank you for all the ways you allow yourself to connect with your deepest creative rhythms. Thank you for giving your creative self what it needs, even if what you need to create is different from what others appear to need. Thank you for trusting your creative self — and thank you, always, for your words.