books, Boswell Books, Central Wisconisn, Family history, Family story, lifestyle, opinion

Just me, at a writer’s retreat weekend, or “Three seismic paragraphs and a sandhill crane”

Last summer, I gave myself a gift. My friend Judy was offering a four-week writing workshop. I went on-line and registered. She’s one of the Writer’s lunch writers, owner of Redbird Writing Studio and the author of “Shut Up & Write.”

It was everything I hoped for and then some. You can draw a straight line between those four weeks and this blog – my way of establishing a regular writing routine that isn’t dependent on anyone else’s editorial agenda or timeline.

Then, in January, Judy sent me an e-mail. Here’s a condensed version:

“A small group of my students are getting together for a weekend in Waupaca, April 18-20. There will be 7 or 8 of us. All have made friends with one or more of the others in class. The point isn’t writing prowess or number of publications, it’s that they want to write and are good company.

Think you’d like to join us? You get to hang out with the group when you want to, or hide in your room to write when you want to. We’ll probably have one feedback session. No classes.

Let me know if you like the idea.”

Let’s see….a chance to spend a weekend at a bed & breakfast where all I have to do is write and hang out – or not hang out – with like-minded people?

I’d never done a writing retreat before, but it’s something that anyone with any sort of creative aspirations dreams about, I think. The chance to shed nagging day-to-day responsibilities and find out whether the void that creates opens you up to producing work you’ve sworn you would, if only you had the time and space, is true. If it turns out to be just a lie you’ve been feeding yourself for decades, it’s probably best to find out in a low-stakes setting. Judy’s invitation seemed like the perfect chance for a test run.

So, despite almost forgetting that this was the weekend – and remembering in the nick of time, on Thursday night as Sweetheart and I were walking Tuki and Judy’s name came up – I left work early on Friday,  packed the car, took the dog for a short walk, hit up the Public Market for some food, dropped by the nursing home to hug Mom, then headed up to the Crystal River Inn, the Bed & Breakfast where seven of the eight writers were gathered. (Barbara lives in Waupaca already, so she didn’t need a place to stay.)

Friday night we went in to town, where Judy was formally introduced, along with several other writers. She’d presented a workshop as part of the Waupaca Book Festival, and we hung about at the coffee shop and bookstore for awhile. I am proud to report that I only bought one book for myself. (I got two others, both holiday gifts.)

Saturday and Sunday both started with a walk and breakfast. On Saturday I went to the cemetery. Then, later, I went back with my camera to take a few pictures of some interesting tombstones.

Bette's tombstone. I think she's still around, because of the space below the date. So, Bette - if you read this, I like you and would love to buy you a coffee sometime.

Bette’s tombstone. I think she’s still around, because of the space below the date. So, Bette – if you read this, I like you and would love to buy you a coffee sometime.

I would love to have known more about Dr. Biberman, who clearly went to medical school at a time when she probably didn't have very many female classmates.

I would love to have known more about Dr. Biberman, who clearly went to medical school at a time when she probably didn’t have very many female classmates.

I've never seen a tombstone like this before, I really like it.

I’ve never seen a tombstone like this before, I really like it.

This morning, I saw a Sandhill crane. It was strolling in the grass along Highway 22, elegant as you please, occasionally bending down for something to eat. I watched from a respectful distance until it safely crossed the highway and headed into a back yard, then continued on my way. (I’d opted to leave the camera behind and just take mental pictures, so no photo.)

A couple of the other authors were staying at the B&B, and yesterday, I decided that one of them – Mike Mullin – needs to come and read at Boswell Books, and do presententations at my friend Marqurite’s high school and at Large Midwestern Technical College. Also, he needs to go to my friend Mollie’s library. She’s a children’s and YA librarian who doesn’t live far from him, so I’ll be doing my Yenta the Matchmaker thing sometime this week.

After Saturday breakfast, our writing pack arranged a time and parameters for a roundtable session (three pages at 3:30). Then Judy and most of the other writers went in to town, with plans for a short hike around a nearby lake between town and roundtable. I stayed back to write.

I decided to tear apart something that had started as a blog post and ended up as something else. I’d gotten feedback on its problems from two people I trust. This seemed a good opportunity to take a stab at addressing some of them.

Several hours and three paragraphs later, I realized a couple of things:

  1. I was really hungry.
  2. No one was back from town.
  3. There were tasty leftovers in my room thanks to my Public Market run.

So, I had myself a picnic on the front steps of the B&B. Then, I took another walk, snapped a few pictures of the wedding party that had shown up to take some post-ceremony pictures and went up to my room to play guitar for a bit.

Wedding

When the others came back, four of us headed off to Hartman Creek State Park, where we hiked around the lake and I got to indulge my inner 11-year-old. After our round-table session, we went Culver’s for dinner, then home to bed.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit blooming in Hartman Creek State Park

Jack-in-the-Pulpit blooming in Hartman Creek State Park

My inner 11-year-old had a great time at the Hartman State Park playground. (Thanks, Rooney!)

My inner 11-year-old had a great time at the Hartman State Park playground. (Thanks, Rooney!)

This morning, I shared, via e-mail, the group picture we’d drafted a Culver’s staffer to shoot, along with a helping of gratitude.

Judy and the curated writers

Judy and the curated writers (a great band name, if anyone is in the market….)

I’ll end with a condensed version of the e-mail that accompanied our photo.

“Dear Everyone:

Thank you all – and especially Judy – for an incredible weekend. Even though I probably only wrote three original paragraphs, they were seismic in terms of what I’m striving to achieve with my word-pile.

I’ve grown pretty accustomed over the years I’ve been mulling the story I wanted to tell and have achieved a comfort level with many of the details of my father’s story and its fallout.

Realizing how important Debbie is as a character in this story is a recent and unsettling development, in no small part because she is (was) a public figure. I feel like the owner of a very small house and now I have to build on an extra room for the elephant. (Sigh.)”

Anyway, extreme gratitude to all of you and I look forward to Judy getting us all together again.”

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