I’m not talking about the kind of retreat where you slowly back out of the room, or head for the hills, screaming for mercy, in the heat of battle – I’m talking about a writer’s retreat, the one I’m going to run, the one I’ve alluded to in another post this summer, which you might have picked up on if you were really paying attention. I digress. Before we can talk about that retreat though, let’s go back to the beginning of my chaotic morning where I finally drop the kids off at the splash pad, with their teenage babysitter, after getting snacks ready, bathing suits packed, water bottles filled, breakfasts eaten, pizza lunch prepped, bathroom trips executed, the dog walked and fed, and sunscreen applied. No problem!
I usher the children out of the van and on their way to splash pad bliss and breathe a huge sigh of relief. Writing time. Writing and running are the two things that I do just for me that also feel productive, if that makes sense. I see both activities as essential to my health, both physical and mental with some overlap in-between (I sometimes do squats while I’m writing – just kidding!)
I take a quick detour to the café on my way to the library where I plan to work, and grab myself a London Fog and an almond croissant, yummy. I’m watching the bespectacled youth prepare my beverage and I’m impressed with her barista skills – the abundance of milky froth. Except – this isn’t my drink. There’s been a mix-up, which I will only discover once the acrid taste of cappuccino hits my tongue, my aversion to coffee remaining as strong as ever. Now, by the time I realize the drink switch, I’ve already lugged my books across the street, trudged down to the library basement where I like to camp out, and arranged my belongings, scattered about, in my favourite spot.
Halton Hills is so saaafe I bleat internally like an innocent lamb, making a judgement call based on split-second bad decision-making that should only be reserved for last resorts. I bail on my laptop and notebooks – just my life’s work, no biggie – and head back across the street, where as fortune would have it, the café ladies are expecting me, and we seamlessly make the switch in one swift motion, exchanging acrid cappuccino for misto sweetness, and I’m back at my desk before you can say, “Wait? You did what …”
There is a funny part to this story, and it isn’t that I risked having my computer stolen for a five dollar drink. When I was back at the café the first time, loaded down with my purse and book bags and holding the scalding hot cappuccino in one hand and trying to finagle a cardboard sleeve onto it with the other hand, the hand that was also holding my croissant, a gentlemen beside me, whom I’d barely perceived in my periphery, reached out his hands and said, “Here, let me help you.” And before I could object, he did. He slid that sleeve right on while I tried to squelch any embarrassment at having needed his help. After all, I’m a grown woman. I am capable! I can do things! I am a mother and look after three children for god’s sake! I may have picked up the wrong drink order, but that’s beside the point.
Having others do things for me is both a strength and a flaw in my personality when it leads to laziness. While I’m repulsed by helplessness, I am all for resourcefulness, and I know that wherever I go I will be able to use my friendliness as a resource to not only make new friends and connections, but also to get help if I need it. This skill, of needing others, is both a blessing and a curse. The classic story, which Dan loves to bring up, took place on our one-year anniversary pre-kids. I have a long standing history of struggling to cut the meat on my plate. I know, I know. This is super embarrassing. Anyway, so here we are on this glamourous European Mediterranean cruise, and I’m privately wrestling my prime rib with my steak knife.
Dan discovered early on in our relationship that cutting meat was a challenge for me. On one of our first dates, I started cutting my steak and flung it onto my lap. No joke. Stop laughing. I was mortified, but he’s still with me, and kindly offers to be the one who cuts our kids’ meat without making me feel like too much of a failure.
Anyway, back on the cruise ship, at the gala dinner with me dressed in a ball gown, I’m wrestling my steak when our waiter comes over to our table and rushes to my side. “Please ma’am,” he says kindly and without a trace of judgement or disgust at my ineptitude, “allow me.” And he proceeds to cut my steak.
I’m just going to say that I’ve had to accept this about myself, that I’m not so great at cutting meat and that most other people are. I’m not going to stop eating steak, so I have to accept that there are better meat cutters than I in the world, and if sometimes they see me struggle and want to help, why should I say no? I have other strengths, and others would be wise to accept my help in those areas. Just don’t ask me to cut your steak.
Generally speaking, I often feel like I am a person others like to assist. I waiver back and forth on whether this is a compliment, or a huge character flaw, but more than likely it just is. Just like how in looking over photos of me, my headshot photographer and some of Dan’s work colleagues called me “cute” instead of say “sexy”, “hot” or “beautiful”, barring the appropriateness of said comments. If cute comes to mind, I’ll take it, but I’m sure most grown women would rather be called something else a bit more alluring, perhaps be taken more seriously than “cute”. Stuffed animals are cute. Baby chicks are cute. Toddlers with curls are…okay, I’m thinking of Penelope and frankly, she’s adorable! Cute doesn’t cut it. Cute has a youthful connotation to it, so I’m going to stick with that and not think of youthful as “child-like”. I am a woman, and I am cute, and I hate cutting steak! There, I said it. I feel much better.
The universe works in mysterious ways. Now the gentlemen working beside me in the library has abandoned his computer station and I’m thinking to myself someone could take that laptop, but they won’t, because I’m going to keep an eye on his stuff for him. He doesn’t know it, but I will. My way of giving back. Good karma.
Speaking of good karma, and giving back, and the fact that while others often feel the need to help me – one of my high school teachers told me I have a barometer face, and that he could look at me and gauge what the rest of the class was feeling about his lessons – maybe I look lost? Regardless, I love to create pieces that are all my own and bring ideas to life through projects, and strive in the direction of my goals. We should tell ourselves every day that I am capable. And also, that we are here to connect with each other. It isn’t so bad to accept help and a privilege to give it in return. So my idea for a writing and wellness retreat was born. I’m not retreating at all! I’m walking toward something.
That guy’s computer has gone to sleep. He’s been gone a while and really should come back soon.
I came up with the notion of running a writing and wellness retreat while vacationing at a beach cottage on Lake Huron. I knew the idea of writing retreats interested me, and I had planned to attend a few this year. Perhaps I was feeling inspired by the sparse, paired down simplicity of life at the cottage, but something was telling me my retreat didn’t need to be fancy or perfect, just plan it, plan your retreat. I was suffering from what I would describe as “imposter syndrome”. You’re not a writing teacher! You don’t know what you’re doing! You’ve never even been to a retreat! Who do you think you are? Those beauty questions and shame-filled statements haunted me, and while they carry a tad of merit, they also just – don’t. There is nothing productive in those thoughts, nowhere to go with them. I rejected each one, and came up with my own notion of a writer’s retreat. There would be a wellness component: a chef to prepare our dinner using locally-sourced ingredients. There would be yoga. And the thing every writer craves the most: time and space to write. There would be some group discussion and opportunities to share work with an audience. I could afford to give other writers these things and it happens to be one of my strengths to bring people together. I didn’t need to be an expert teacher, I only needed to have the passion and organizational skills to make it happen. Passion I have, in abundance.
I’m pleased to announce my first writing and wellness retreat is well on its way to being born. I have space for ten ladies total. I have a beach house in waiting, a chef prepped to indulge us and a yoga instructor ready to vinyasa on the beach. I have several wonderful women writers and creatives who are ready and willing to come and a few who can’t make it to this one, but who can’t wait to come to the next one.
No matter how cheesy it is, as the retreat comes together, I can’t help but think of the movie, Field of Dreams, with Kevin Costner and the famous line that incites him to action, “If you build it, he will come.” Building my retreat has been exactly like that. Like a dream whispered in my ear that is about to come true.
The guy with the laptop never came back. I hope he’s alright. Though my writing time for the day is up, and it’s time for me to head home; I’m not going anywhere. I’m just getting started.