Ah! Home

I’ve come back down from the mountain (or “down the hill,” as the Idyllwildians say), with my books, my notes, my well-used computer, my drafted pages, my dirty laundry, and whatever leftovers I had from the refrigerator, including, surprisingly enough, a Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate bar and a handful of M&Ms, and so glad to be here.

While I was away, I received an email from my friend and sister writer, Anitra, asking if my experience of a month-long writing retreat might be a productive topic for other writers who might like to go on such a retreat, and asked me several good questions.

Whether my writing about my experience on retreat might be helpful for other writers, I can’t say, but I’m a believer in sharing our experiences, strength, and hope and so following is the first of two parts of my responses to Anitra’s questions.

Anitra: Were you joyful to go to the page in the mornings?
Judy: Yes. But not every morning. Some mornings I was distracted by anxiety—this is where my morning yoga practice and a brief meditation really served. Lighting my candle helped, too. The ritual of doing these things each morning calmed me. There were mornings I had doubts whether I’d be able to come up with any words. Not even good words, just any words at all, or had I used them all up the day before. And some mornings I took my time going to the page, building the sweet anticipation of another whole day to spend doing what I love.
photoAnitra: Did you get lonely, and if so, was that a drag on your forward motion with the writing?
Judy: I’m an extrovert; a bit unusual for a writer I understand. That’s probably one of the reasons I do so many writing groups and workshops. Why I hang out with so many other writers, and go to readings and literary events. Why I love living where I live. I know some of my more introverted writing friends don’t understand this about me, and I sometimes think they don’t approve, but I am by nature, in love with people and so, YES! I got lonely. Read my journal for the pitiful details.

But was it a drag on my forward motion with the writing? Not really. I’d created an order to the days as mentioned above—the yoga, the meditation, the lighting of the candle, and setting to work. While I was working, I wasn’t conscious of the loneliness, or the anxiety I might have experienced earlier. It was only after I’d finished for the day that I became aware of how alone I was, how no distractions, how nothing planned, how dark the night.

stock-footage-full-moon-and-pines-at-nightAnitra: Did you have to take “people breaks” to socialize?
Judy: There’s a café in Idyllwild—Higher Grounds Coffeehouse—where I went a few afternoons each week after I’d finished the day’s work. I’d order a delicious Americano, sometimes a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, maybe flirt with the barristas. Never mind if they’re as young as my youngest students. I was lonely! Here’s where I answered a few emails, and occasionally listened to some music. I also came “down the hill” one weekend during the month away for a workshop I had previously scheduled. While I was in town I had dinner with a friend, attended a book party for another sister writer, Dylan Yates, whose new book The Belief in Angels, was just released, had Sunday morning coffee with my Thursday Writers cohost, Steve, and generally talked to anyone who would listen. Also, I’m a member of a certain, anonymous 12-step group, and I attended meetings in Idyllwild a few times. That helped hugely with the loneliness and isolation. And I had my iPhone for a few phone conversations when I needed a shot of friendship. (Always after the days’ work was done.)

I’ll share more experience, strength and hope and respond to more questions in another blog. Right now, I need to get back to work!

What about you, writers. How would you respond to some of Anitra’s questions?

8 thoughts on “Ah! Home

  1. I happened to step in to your website, and found the talk about writing, loneliness, interesting. I am an introverted extrovert (yes, there is such a creature). Years ago, I did a stint at the Pasadena Playhouse, and taught much later motivational classes for the government. Yet, like Johnny Carson at a party, I hide behind a drink. My ex co-workers, each, would tell you I am totally extroverted. Shows how I fooled them. I’m a widower, so I live alone, and write in my upstairs bedroom. Most of my short stories have a café in them. I visit cafes and small bookstores wherever I travel. I write alone, begin a story without too much control, and let it take over, the characters taking on their individual personalities. When it is over, I feel sometimes surprised by them and sad and in need of a new story. In person, with people I know and meet, I change, and use gentle humor, which does not penetrate my stories. I find the whole process fascinating My eating habits are much like yours, Judy, Trader Joe’s, snacks, take out. But I think writing is a need, whether something comes out that is good or not, does not really matter, it is so subjective, like a letter to a close friend. or lover, or stranger, not for everyone.
    I think writing is a blessing.

    • Hi Ariel
      Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you’ve got the disease alright. Sad to say, no cure. I also find this writing madness is contagious. Hang out with a bunch of writers and next you know, you’re at the desk late and later. Thank goodness for quick snacks. I love cafes, too. I’m writing this at Bassam’s, 5th & Redwood, a favorite place. See you sometime in some cafe or elsewhere. Judy

  2. When you summarized your experience briefly last evening at our group, I was, frankly, wildly attracted to the idea of being alone with my writing for a solid month. I’ve often wondered how much alone time would be too much and how much I depend on the structure created by living with and around others. While I believe that most of us have a the qualities of introverts and extroverts, most also tend to sway in one direction more than the other. I swing more the introverted way but I fear that side of myself sometimes. I’m glad you are sharing your experiences here. Share more when you can.

    • Thanks for your comments, Betsy. I gathered from your interest last night you were attracted to the idea of getting away and especially getting away for such a long time. Looking back from being home for a few weeks now, I can see the effect that time alone in the mountains had on my work. In her comment Narimane spoke of clarity of mind, and that was definitely one of the effects.
      Maybe you should try a few weeks away by yourself first before you commit to a month.
      Also, I think if I were at a writing retreat where other writers were, each of us with our own private, secluded place, but then a community for dinner or something like that might be more to my liking than the complete isolation. But you know what an extroverted person I am.

  3. welcome back “down hill” miss happy to meet you again in here .
    ur journees and isolation was one of a priest waw i ilke it.too;its really hugly helped i see,for some coolness,goodness and meditating in godess power on this globe and an extra refreshness and clearness of mind that a writer needs a lot.
    and thats why we see that great fertility of mind for which the old writers were well known for . as edgar allan poe .jack london …………etc .

    • Hello Narimane, so good to see you here, too. thank you for your comment. And yes, the isolation can be difficult, but it is sometimes necessary to be quiet enough and still enough to hear the whispers. You’re right about the necessary clarity of mind and sometimes going away from everything familiar is necessary. Good writing to you.

  4. Hello wanderous one,

    Good to have you back and among the people again. As for your question, or Anitra’s rather, being alone does not bother me. It is the only way I can go as fast as I do without someone whining I go too fast, or getting tripped over (by me) etc etc. Because even though I have no patience I do like people and I do love to talk too much so it ends up that I talk instead of do task at hand and deter them too. I like cafes as those are noisy, beautifully friendly noisy, but the sounds is not directed to me so I can write or just gaze out the window. I prefer public space over social space in other words.

    While I do go joyfully to the page sometimes I usually catch myself sit there and say okay just get to it. Now. Shut up and do it. Funny the way this story just keeps on going, one little picture like Anne Lamott says, and the rest just keeps going.

    I don’t sit more than an hour, bad for the capillaries but interspace everything with something else. Exercise. Coffee. Exercise. Some writing but not usually at the same times ever. My job. Walking. Yoga. Meals. And Judy what the blazes is LEFTOVER chocolate? What a concept.

    See now I’m talking too much again.

    • Hey Linda, Thanks for your note. I love those cafes, too. In fact, spent the better part of four hours at one today, but, surprisingly, didn’t get nearly the amount of work done I get done at home. There’s a surprise.
      Also a surprise: that chocolate. Loved your comment about “leftovers.” You’re right, of course.
      Good writing!

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