As it turned out, I was not as happy or productive being completely alone as I’d anticipated. In fact, things got a little weird during the three days I was in the Crabby Cottage on my own, before my friend M arrived.
I’d been at many colonies and retreats before – LOVING the solitude – for periods as long as eight weeks. But those situations involved being alone for most of the day but then gathering with other writers for dinner in the evening. I had no idea how different it would be 24/7.
It wasn’t just being lonely. I was pretty lonely. It was more that I somehow lost the ability to take care of myself. Which shocked me. I’m a mother, a daughter, an uber-caregiver. And when I was on my own, things just sort of fell apart. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I kept putting off taking a shower. The idea made me nervous. I didn’t want to be cold, wet, or naked. I lost the ability to make decisions around eating (ME!?!?!? yes.) and would either eat strange, random food, or nothing. At one point I got nervous that the tilapia I’d purchased would go bad, so I found myself cooking it at 10pm and then eating it alone on a melamine plate. It looked pretty sad. I also “forgot” (huh?) to turn on the heater, and found myself shivering under a thin blanket all night, curled up like a shrimp. SAD.
I could not face my Pages. I did not, could not, go there. I did other stuff. I wrote letters. I read some. I watched some junky TV (okay, a lot of junky TV) on Hulu. I walked (no, hobbled to town) every day. My hip was bothering me pretty badly. I spent a good part of one day seeking out the little town’s only physical therapist. It turned out, after it took me hours to figure out my insurance coverage, that she didn’t even have any openings in her schedule until the following week.
It was all rather sad and strange. It was like I didn’t even know myself. But on Friday morning, when I knew M was on the road and would be coming soon, I perked up considerably. I took a shower and cleaned the cottage. I fixed myself a proper breakfast.
As soon as M’s little red car pulled into the driveway, I got happy again. Really, really happy. It was sort of stunning the difference that it made to me. And it made me realize that I need the balance of alone + company to really make it work. She jumped out of the car and then everything Started for real.
M is a meditation teacher. When I described to her my despair over the previous few days, she nodded and said that this was not uncommon in people who do long meditation retreats. Suddenly their bodies and minds are wildly uncomfortable. People are convinced they are dying, she says, when all of the distractions are taken away.
We immediately went out to the beach for a walk. She and I began this practice of silent walking, and then writing, over fifteen years ago. It felt like home to me. We walked up and down the beach, not speaking, for an hour, and then returned to the cottage, put water on the stove for tea, and wrote for an hour. Then we shared and talked. This is the core of our practice together. It was such a relief and a joy.
So much happened in the next four days together.
- We wrote out our writing goals for the month of April, for the periods of May-September and then October-December 2013.
- We made a daily/hourly schedule for the rest of the weekend. Walk, write, share, individual work, collaborative work, meals, a trip to the library,
- I taught her what I knew about Scrivener.
- She taught me what she knew about organizing my computer, which was a painful, tear-inducing mess.
- We spoke out loud our fears and hopes. The things – the many things- that have gotten in the way of our writing work.
- I realized that I have EIGHT unfinished book projects.
- We began to dream and process about her writing retreat space in her own beach house (still under renovation) and elsewhere
- We committed. Over and over and over.
- Lots of crying. Lots of laughing.
- Pages were written. Amazing pages.
- I procured a used softball for $1 and fixed my own hip.
After flying back to California and taking care of some business, I’m ready to head off for the next leg of sabbatical – this time another retreat in the woods – with two friends. (thank goodness) Next stop: Volcano, California.