Life’s Issues … and a Writing Retreat

Night at Castlekeep

Night at Castlekeep

Life’s issues have their way of meeting us everywhere, even a writing retreat!

We six women meet once a month in this place outside of time. Castlekeep, as we have come to call it, is a large, usually unoccupied house surrounded by blackberry brambles and jonquils who’ve lost memory of flower beds. The ranch house was built on the location of a stagecoach stop and, before that, a camp for First Peoples, their middens along the creek just down the path from the house. Now its 30 acres and abandoned apple orchards are primarily a safe haven for the local coyote and bobcat populations when its owners (or we)  are not spending the occasional weekend here.

Our writing group has met for the best part of 35 years, at first late into Thursday nights once a week and then monthly in this two day format. The last ten years we have met here. I value this time away from my busy life, planning work on projects that I want input on or that require undisturbed time to concentrate. To my efficient state of mind, it is critically important that I use this time wisely and carefully.

I spent all yesterday afternoon doing nothing I intended. Let me list all that I did not do: I did not write the blog I planned; I did not plan the class I teach in exactly two weeks; I did not read the next ten pages of the alchemical treatise that I am determined to finish by the end of February. I did not receive the inspiration for the Letter to the Editor regarding the land use issues in the County of Napa.

Instead I ate a forbidden wheat bread sandwich that always ends up making sores on the insides of my cheeks (because I like it), I browsed books like the goats browse the hillside, sampling only what seemed delicious before moving on to something else. I conducted a wine tasting of three inexpensive sauvignon blanc wines that I will purchase a case of for an event next weekend, drank too much in the process, and then countered by eating too much cheese to enjoy the chicken but not enough to enjoy the chocolate cake. Oh yes, and I napped.

After all was said and done, I went to bed at 9 pm and slept like a baby, awakening once at midnight with a dream about an elephant trying to drown a whale and again at 2 am to pee. But I slept 9 hours, finally rising at 6 am, when I ate a piece of the remaining chocolate cake for breakfast, and—finally! got to work— refreshed and with a certain amount of joy!

On my walk this morning I thought about the things that I fear I will not accomplish in this life. (Jimalee so kindly brought up this topic first thing.) I fear that I will never take a 6 month sabbatical to read all the books that require the quiet of a retreat space.  I fear that I will never hike the Pacific Crest Trail for a summer, or even 2 weeks! That we will never live in Europe for 3 months, or six, and I fear that I will die before I retire, all experiences, I realize, that require this kind of browsing attitude.

Do I need to save some of these agendas for future lives, like you transfer unfinished items from one to-do list to another at the beginning of the next day? Then again, why am I not doing these most important things in this life? It is a question I contemplate, and then realize the price: it requires suffering the anxiety of yesterday afternoon: my agenda broke down, and something in me played. Yes, it is risky! At times following one’s interests and passions can be like being taken on a wild ride by a puca. But this time, I was restored. When I got up this morning, the words danced onto the paper, without effort, and it was play.