Deb: Beat a Retreat

Sunrise at Tutka Bay Writers Retreat

Sleep on your writing; take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal.”
~A. Bronson Alcott
Like a note held long in a song, a pair of eagles glides
effortlessly across a crisp September sky as sixteen writers prepare to leave
Tutka Bay, refreshed and renewed thanks to a gracious couple who for the last
three years have opened this little pocket of paradise to writers. The
stillness, the energy, the community, and the restoration fostered at the TutkaBay Writers Retreat will no doubt make Carl and Kirsten Dixon godparents to
much fine writing conceived at their maritime hideaway. But the retreat sells
out early each year, and even those lucky enough to snag a spot find themselves
all too soon back in the daily grind, their transcendent experience already
seeming a collective hallucination.
For writers, retreating is crucial. A getaway to an
almost-island like the one at Tutka Bay
is the perfect getaway, but it’s not the only way to achieve or maintain a
retreat state of mind. Within our daily routines, we must covet retreat, which
means simply that we must consciously balance away-ness with being, stillness
with energy, community with solitude, and learning with practice. The retreat
state of mind yields refreshment, opening, insight, and change, all critical to
our craft.
“Writing is utter solitude,” Kafka says, “the descent into
the cold abyss of oneself.” But you can’t operate solely in the abyss, which this
year’s Tutka Bay Writers Retreat leader Pam Houston calls “a very strange and self-absorbed
place.” Writing is a dance between living and stepping back from that living,
between falling into yourself and engaging in community and the literary dialogue.
Life is where our stories find us; retreat, be it for a week
or a day or a quarter-hour, is where we find them. Though she writes fiction, Houston
says she never makes anything up whole cloth. Her stories grow from glimmers of
experience – visceral, powerful scenes and images. One-third of her time is
spent in teaching, one-third writing, and one-third in travel, which serves as a
retreat of sorts when coupled with attentiveness.
The retreat state of mind involves paying attention. It
involves spending time in what Houston
calls “the forest of not knowing.” Space and time away from daily demands
restores balance. It encourages generosity with yourself and others. It reminds
us of the value of patience, and of backing away. It calls us into solitude and
nudges us back toward community and the restoration offered by good writer friends.
Because our business is words, writers are way too good with
excuses. If only I could get away for a
week or a month or a year
, we say. Then
you’d see what I can really write.
But retreat is a state of mind. The
daily grind that we long to escape generates the raw material for our work.
Writing happens in living, and in getting away. It happens in solitude, and it’s
enriched by community. Even when you can’t pull away to a place as remarkable
as Tutka Bay,
you must find and use the reset button in your head, where retreat is a state
of mind.
Check This Out: Pam
Houston’s latest book, Contents May Have Shifted, is a novel constructed of 144
Try This: In your
retreat state of mind, try this exercise from Pam Houston: write about three “glimmers,”
one from the past 48 hours, one from at least ten years ago, and one from
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