The Writer’s Retreat


IMG_4070Deliciously, when many teachers around the nation are going back to school, this is sweet revenge for those of us who do not return until the last week of August. We may have had to slog it out through late June, but dang we are sure happy in July and August. I have a lot to do, that’s for sure, to get my new room set up, continue to beg for DonorsChoose donations for #ProjectLIT, and mentally prepare myself for the year as best I can.


However, I’ve been so obsessed with TEACHER TEACHING that I forgot that I am also a person who had an identity and spirit before this all-consuming profession.

IMG_4035This week, I told my grown sons and husband that since I couldn’t afford to go anywhere, I was going to give myself a “writer’s retreat” at home– the dining room has long been overrun by an old dog, a table, and all my stuff. It faces the southerly window with a view of red camellia and a very tall pine tree we started as a sapling. This entire vignette is brought to me by luck. Luck, privilege, hard work, time, thinking, planting, waiting, and loss. And growth again.

What am I doing during my writer’s retreat? My personal play-fort of creative fun? Well, I’ve asked the gentlemen in my home to ignore me, and by and large, they are always respectful of my time and work. Any mental energy I afford them stems from my own doing: they are not the high-maintenance ones in this scenario. My husband and I have built a family culture that allows for creative pursuits: music, language, art, writing, and photography. We are all dilettantes, however, and I hope that each of us can break out of amateur mode.

My plan includes:

The process:

  • Setting a timer to chime every 50 minutes. I’ll get up, stretch, make a snack, drink water, pet the dogs, pull a patch of weeds, etc.
  • Cleaning up Scrivener and trying Omni Writer
  • Ignoring Facebook and Twitter (already failed a few times this morning)
  • Plan for my writing life with intentionality–and it must extend beyond August. And I need to let go of any thoughts of NaNoWriteMo: it ain’t going to happen and puts this weird pressure that kills writing joy. Nothing against the concept: I just need to kill it.
  • Ignore the insanity that is our nation now. Is that privilege? Yes. Do I feel guilty? Yes. Not sure how I conflated keeping track of the news with actually doing something. The only way I can mitigate this guilt is by creating something in its place.

The products:

  • Three short stories
  • Outline of a novel
  • Poetry
  • One ghost story
  • Drafting an outline for a project suggested by my friend John Spencer
  • Write blog posts
  • Perhaps…publish one post on Medium?
  • Collect an anthology of works previously written

Writing has been challenging the past two years. I used to write all the time, and not just on this blog. I modeled my writing life for students, and consider myself to be an excellent writing teacher. (Although: had a need to look through my National Boards information and that was one area I scored low on: not sure how I feel about that. I can only imagine what our students feel.) What is happening to me is beyond procrastination–it’s trauma. Scenes or dialog from the past two years of teaching pop in my head randomly, and throw a range of pebbles to boulders in my emotional serenity well. (I just had my Tarot Cards read, and yeah…pebbles indeed. Time to buy a singing bowl and recenter.)

I do need to leach out the trauma. Some people in power did some pretty awful things. I’ll make the list and keep it folded up. As my friend Sharon said, when we revisit bad memories we grow more dendrites in our brains that carve out thick, worn paths to that bad memory, and it gets easier to stay trapped in it. Perhaps I am struggling to give up the bad stuff because it feels like forgetting is forgiveness. That there is no cost or justice.

But that’s what writing is for. Perhaps folks who don’t consider themselves writers don’t fully connect with this: my dendrites write my narrative. I can funnel that energy into a story. The characters may or may not recognize themselves, (shrug) but that is where the true power and magic lives: I have a voice. A pen. And a blank sheet of paper. And there’s no stopping or censoring the power of a story.

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