Monday, April 30, 2018

Reflections From a Connecticut Writing Retreat

How does a writing retreat renew and inspire? Maybe just getting out of the comfort zone. I don't mean sleeping in a strange bed or driving four and a half hours. Maybe it’s being alert to learning, to staying open to new writers and their way of viewing the world which might be different than yours.

The downside to a writing retreat—you are forced to sit and write spontaneously. Some people don’t do their best work creatively that way. The retreat demands time commitment to the craft. Retreats offer raw writing from prompts. Write this ....

But no one is asking you to write a polished piece for publication, or at least they shouldn’t and critique was not our focus. This wasn’t a competition as to whose work is “better” than another’s’ so confidence boosting isn’t the reason to go on retreat.

I drove to the retreat from Chester County, Pennsylvania to Chester, Connecticut, another place whose namesake derives from that county town in northwest England. As I parked along the winding Main Street, our writing teacher, June Gould, pulled up in her car, and waved.

"Let me show you the town," she said. We walked past a pottery shop, and a brew pub. We entered a boutique June liked. A colorful top caught my eye. “That’s you, Susan,” June said when I modeled it. Elegant, artsy, chic. A good way to start this retreat. That and lunch at the River Tavern with seven other women who shared their excitement and pleasure at being on retreat.


“A labyrinth,” (Wikipedia notes), is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. It represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world.”

We spent three and a half days at the Guest House, immersed in poetry—"The Berlin Wall Tune” by Joseph Brodsky …"The Asians Dying” by W.S. Merwin—as jumpstart to writing about injustice, racial discrimination and discrimination against immigrants; the horror of the Holocaust; disease and untimely death. It wasn’t what I expected, but, then again, I didn’t know what to expect. I like June and valued her expertise in facilitating creative writing workshops which I have taken with her before through IWWG.

The Guest House is a restored 18th century farmhouse and barn; flowered wallpaper, private bedrooms and lobby replete with grand piano, gorgeous floral arrangements and original artwork offer picture-perfect ambience. Woodsy trails winding past creeks brimming with skunk cabbage and leading to a labyrinth serve as meditative and mindful outdoor resting spots.

No matter our experiences, our social or political proclivities or backgrounds, we all have stories to write. How and what we chose to tell matters and each voice is unique.

I write on retreat: There’s the fear of becoming useless …. There’s the fear of losing the writing; the fear of the black tunnel of writer’s block. But then, I think, maybe it’s just me taking a break, and soon I’ll be back, tapping away at that keyboard.

With June Gould

June titled the retreat, “The Stamina of Language.” The strength, the endurance of the written word. Language defines us." Language sums up who we are, our place of origin, our “social status.” Why has English been deemed “superior” to Spanish?

Our group of writers talk about code-breaking poetry ... a line of Spanish here and there to express the plight of Chicanos in the distinctive voice of the Hispanic poet. We learn about confrontational poetry that is insistent and unrelenting in its message of injustice. No apologies. Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddam.

Stay alert to learning. Stay open to voices different from your own. Read your work aloud in community. Luxuriate in the joy of moving out of your comfort zone. 

I write on my Connecticut retreat: There is a place where the artist goes, built on pain and sadness. Pages torn from the past lead to the present, to this day, this place, somewhere on the dividing line between the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Can you share a writing retreat and your experience? Comments and thoughts most welcomed.

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