Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Week Alone to Write

I just returned home on Saturday from an amazing week spent alone in the 'Holly House' at Hypatia-in-the-Woods in Shelton, WA. They actually have some openings right NOW (now - April 5 and April 13- June 1), for women residents in the arts, as well as women in academia and entrepreneurship to stay for a week or more. Please contact director@hypatiainthewoods.org if you are interested in learning more details, for they are no longer the same as what is detailed on the website.

Here is what I wrote on my second day alone, as I started soaking in this gift. I plan to post another post soon, wherein I'll reflect on what I actually accomplished, and my re-entry into my "other life" as a mom and wife at home.

 Day Two at Hypatia

It’s 3:30 on Monday and I am still in my bathrobe. I woke at my usual 6:30, but luxuriously went back to sleep until 9:15. I rose, made coffee, then sat at the table to write, the space all around: silent. Returning to this lost morning ritual of mine felt strange in a way; these days I’m so used to drinking my coffee in the Lazyboy, slowly waking up while checking Facebook on  my i-phone, while Cedar watches cartoons and eats his peanut butter and jelly toast across from me on the couch. Could I really sit down right away and begin writing? And whatever will I work on?

I arrived at the Holly House yesterday shortly after noon. After putting my food in the fridge, my suitcase in the loft, my toiletries in the bathroom, and my writing supplies on the dining room table, I wondered, what should I do? I’m so used to living in the time-space now where one should not ‘waste’ a single precious moment of solitary, potentially writing time. And yet, I knew better than to think I could just start writing right away. I needed to give myself time to settle in. To rearrange the furniture so that the comfortable chair faced out near the window, to make room for my books on the table nearby, and to sit, journal, and read while staring out at the trees.

After an hour or so, I deigned to get out the big folder of writing I brought-- a manuscript, put on hold for the last four years, that I’ve come here to work on. I needed to flip through it, familiarize myself with it again, remember how far into the story I’d once gotten, where I’d left off, what I’d once outlined, and to see if or how any of this still resonated in me. I gave it a quick glance, despaired for a moment at how bad some of the writing was, and wondered if I’d have to start the whole thing over again from scratch. But I knew better than to go down that route of worry or serious inquiry yet. I still needed to just remember how to slow down, how to be quiet, how to be patient, how let my body and heart inhabit this place.

So I decided to start reading one of the 15 (yes) books I brought for my week’s stay, and later to go for a walk around the lovely 12 acres or so of mossy woods that surrounds this cabin, to walk a labyrinth someone built in an orchard, and to familiarize myself with the surroundings. Then, after a bit more sifting through old work and a welcoming dinner with three members of Hypatia’s board (pizza in a couple’s home), I returned home. Yes, home. I fully intend to make myself at home in this cabin and to soak in every moment that I am here.

That brings me to now, to day two. This morning, I was still experiencing a bit of that unsettled feeling: what am I called to work on? How will I utilize my time here? The project that I proposed working on in my application is the one that details the story of my inheritance from my old neighbor: about eight years ago, I inherited a cabin in Seattle, along with the artifacts, slides, journals, and hundreds of letters between the couple, Els and Frank, who lived there for forty-some years. During my pregnancy, I’d read all of the letters, no small feat. Then, two months before giving birth, I spent three amazing weeks at Hedgebrook, working and being fed and nurtured in a community of women writers on Whidbey Island. During those two weeks, I not only re-read and archived many of the letters, but I also completed a first draft of maybe half of the manuscript. I left with the solid form of a real book on my hands, and a clear outline for what remained to be written.

Yet I knew that a baby was soon coming. And although I would write a few essays related to this project in the next few years to come, I mostly just blogged motherhood and worked to finish my first manuscript (SEARCHING FOR THE HEART RADICAL), but otherwise accepted that I would need to put this second book (working title: ARTIFACTS OF LONGING) on hold.

Now, I finally have some breathing space. Enter: this week-long retreat. Hypatia-in-the-woods. I packed my computer, printer, books, both manuscripts, and some collage supplies (for evening art-making, if so inspired), and drove two hours south to Shelton, a town outside of Olympia, my old college stomping grounds and Matthew’s hometown. It felt a homecoming of sorts. Back to the last place I lived before I was married or with a child. Back to a familiar, yet also distant and foreign, immersion in solitude and nature. Back to a span of days before me where my sole goal is to sit at a desk and write. What a luxury! It feels like a circle completing itself from the last time I worked on this project, in a cabin at Hedgebrook, while pregnant. Yet now, as a mom, I understand this luxury in a whole new context. And not just to write for seven whole days, but also to read and make art at night to my heart’s content! It is hard to describe how happy and grateful I am to be here.

Yesterday, it was all I could do but sit in a chair, read, and scribble a few lines of this gratitude. But today, I am warming up to a more productive, humming mode of creativity. I’ve given the old manuscript a thorough reading. I’ve made notes about what pieces (or whole sections) might still be missing or how others might be rearranged. I’ve poured over a few multiple drafts of the same chapter, in order to figure out which to throw out or keep or integrate together. In short, I’m already feeling reinvested in this work. True, it also feels very daunting right now to think about re-immersing myself in a new book when I don’t even have an agent, much less a book deal for the first one. But, that’s precisely what this week is for. To get over the daunting-ness. I knew that it would be hard to make that transition in my normal day-to-day where I’m still lucky to squeeze out a few hours of writing time most weeks, and that the ideal way to “re-enter” would be to spend a few concentrated days with the material, and to give myself the gift of this in between breath, this interlude, this transition.

So now it’s 4:00. The day feels long and spacious, especially without T.V., Internet, or even cell reception. I’ve been listening for hours to an old, mellow world music mix on my I-pod player. The sky is blue. The forest beckons. I’m ready to get dressed, go out, and then come home to my cabin again and eat, read, and sink into the evening hours. Tomorrow, I think I’ll be ready to dive into new writing. And to practice staying open and receptive to the moment and how it calls me to follow one subject or another, and one form or another-- be it list-making, free-writing, editing, or poetry. Yes, poetry! After my walk yesterday I found myself spontaneously writing in verse. This hasn’t happened in a VERY long time, and I’ve always hesitated to call anything I write poetry. That tells me something about the ripe potency of this week to come.

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