create small retreats

The gift of retreats and residencies are few and far between, requiring applications and recommendation letters and often waitlists, and so I choose some weekends to become miniature versions of them.

Listen to me read this piece here:


 

Structured retreats are where I flourish as a writer. I’ve lived for a month on Toronto Island, taking the ferry back and forth to gather the week’s groceries in a knapsack for my weekly meals. I’ve stayed in Johnson, Vermont, more often than not sleeping on the floor of my miniature studio with a coat flung over my curled-up body. In April, I’ll be living in a cottage in the woods on Whidbey Island.

I’m prolific in these places, which offer pockets of seemingly infinite time. Still, these gifts of retreats and residencies are few and far between, requiring applications and recommendation letters and often waitlists, and so I choose some weekends to become miniature versions of them. I pull time out like taffy. I don’t look at clocks. I sit at my desk and write surrounded by postcards, stamps, candles, jars of flowers, and a sign from the Makeshift Society that says WORKING HARD on one side and HARDLY WORKING on the other, which I flip back and forth to correspond with my moods.

Frequently I rearrange these bits and bobs around my desktop and notebooks, hoping to recharge my creative energies. While I type and hesitate and type, Daphne lies on the stained blue rug beside the space heater, silent and sleepy, occasionally lifting her head if I start to talk to myself, or if C pokes his head in to see how I’m doing.

Retreat weekends mean that I drink mugs upon mugs of PG Tips, which is always in stock at our house, and which is, apparently, England’s No. 1 Tea. All other mugs are relegated to coffee duty, which is more of a weekday, zoom-y beverage. Weekends are more gentle.

If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll plan dinner before twelve. I leave my studio and go to the butcher down the street. I chat with the men; I pick up what I can’t find there at the tiny market a little further down. Coq au vin in the crockpot is a simple, special occasion. I throw everything in — this is not a gourmet process — before I set the slow cooker on High and leave it alone for the rest of the day.

At about three or so, when the words have been wrung from my bones and I’m craving conversation and good food, I emerge with Daphne trotting behind me. I check on the crockpot: are the potatoes soft enough? What about the carrots? I sit at our farm table, where C is usually reading, and we chat, coming together at the end of the given Saturday or Sunday, letting our evenings ease into food and podcast goofs. The chicken is tender, the potatoes starchy and delicious. We share poems, or articles from the news. Sometimes, we chase Daphne around the house, and her mouth is open, panting, and wild with happiness.

Resources:

8tracks is my go-to for tunes & playlists.
Focus@will is a nifty brain-tuner.
Some writing residencies to apply for include Hedgebrook, the Vermont Studio Center, MacDowell, Yaddo. All of these require applications, and all of them are paid for by the residency — with the exception of VSC, which does offer fellowships.
A recipe for coq au vin.
I’m obsessed with this notecard system for book-making.