Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sound the Retreat

A year ago this time, give or take a few days, I was ending my week at the Kenyon Review Summer Writer's Workshop. The morning workshops were extremely valuable but equally as valuable, for me, was spending a week in a sparsely furnished college dorm with no TV or radio and no e-mail or Internet, except in the computer labs where I usually had just enough time to print out and proof my work before class. We'd also been warned that cell phone signals might be unreliable due to the location. This proved not to be the case, but the demanding schedule made it more practical for me to call home rather than for home to call me, so even my phone conversations were drastically limited.

Workshops ran from early morning until just before lunch. Breakfast was included, and that was a time I mingled with other workshoppers and leaders. Dinner at a small on-campus restaurant was another good opportunity to compare notes with those from other groups, after which we attended readings in the auditorium. But every other moment outside of showering and sleeping, including the take-out lunch I picked at over my laptop, I devoted to writing. It was summer 2008 and our farewell dinner was the first time in a week I heard one word about the primaries.

For the first time I understood the meaning of a "writer's retreat," and ever since I've been wondering how I could recontruct that experience without attending the workshop every single year, which pretty much precludes a vacation with my husband––in fact a vacation for my husband, which really isn't fair.

My part-time job involves bringing tour groups into the area and accompanying them on bus trips to local historic sites. This leaves me fairly incommunicado with my extended family during that whole week, except for emergencies and they must go through my husband. I've tried, um, "stretching the truth," saying I have a tour in town when I don't. That takes care of the family phone calls, but does nothing for the e-mail.

Oh sure, I can ignore the e-mails and keep writing, just like I can ignore that bag of chips calling to me from the kitchen––NOT. And I really must check into the forums I frequent from time-to-time. What if someone says something important I really need to know, like that the editor of a journal I'll never get into was recently fired.

I'm not one to spend whole days checking out YouTube videos, but as I like to include specifics in my stories I can go online several times a day to check facts, and then, well, you know, I see a link to another site that leads me to another and so on and so on.

Then there's that stupid ringing phone. Yes, my family knows not to call me except in an emergency, but the local Democratic Committee doesn't know that nor does the theater group soliciting donations, and any call could be an emergency. I listen to the message. Was that my mother's voice telling me to call 911 or just another recording urging me to contact my Congressman about healthcare reform? They all sound amazingly similar from a distance.

I often do munch my lunch at the keyboard, and if I were still in charge of dinner, we'd be throwing something together out of the fridge most nights. But when my daughter left for college five years ago, my husband took a shine to cooking, and so he likes to prepare a meal every night that he wants me to sit down and enjoy with him, and when I'm writing all day, the evening is the only chance I have to check out the news. I do feel it's my duty to stay an informed citizen.

Let's face it, sitting in my home, with Internet access, e-mails arriving several times an hour, food just downstairs in the kitchen, and phone calls every few minutes, will never be the same as sitting in a cell-like structure with nothing to do all day but write and learn how to write. I need a good friend with a cabin on the lake and no wi-fi.

Maybe one of these days.


Angie Ledbetter said...

Hear ya! I'm at said cabin right now, but hooked up to neighbor's wifi. :)

There truly is nothing like being totally surrounded by writers and writing to bring focus.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Well, I can offer a log house on a mountain with a creek (but we do have wireless and internet! teehee)


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