Buyer’s remorse. And not even five hours have elapsed since the purchase. It happens every time. Why do I do this to myself? (W-Word: Why)
News of the Writers‘ League of Texas’ annual summer retreatarrived via email this afternoon, and I pounced–checked the calendar to confirm it doesn’t fall on an infusion week, asked my husband to confirm what I’d already confirmed, filled out the online form, and clicked Register. [W-Word: Writers’]
Some people think it over before clicking Register, especially when clicking Register requires an outpouring of funds.
If I made a list, it would look like this:
Don’t Go to the WLT Summer Retreat in Kerrville – Reasons
Time away from home – six days
The retreat is in July and I already miss David
I shouldn’t have to drive 100 miles to write what I could write staying at home
Can write at home without paying registration fees plus gasoline and wear-and-tear on the car
I miss David
Go to the WLT Summer Retreat in Kerrville – Reasons
I want to [W-Word: Want]
And then there’s the year I came home with a two-hundred-word timed writing that three years later turned into a 4,000-word short story, and a year after that appeared in a crime fiction anthology–the Murder on Wheels pictured in the sidebar to the right.
The house where we stayed is way out there–waaaaaaaaaaaay out there–and I had trouble finding it. It was one more instance of leaving the address tucked away safely in my email inbox.
When I reached the end of the road–literally–I turned around, retraced the route to the nearest post office and, fingers crossed, asked for directions to the nearest establishment offering free wi-fi. The postmaster directed me to her best guess, then said, “But it’s a bar.” I didn’t care. I can’t stand the smell of beer, but I’d have been glad to buy a six-pack for the privilege of Internet access.
I was on my way out when she said, “Wait. You can use my computer.” When the United States Postal Service declined to connect to gmail, she pulled out her mobile phone, accessed my account, and said, “You should change your password, of course, when you get home.” I wrote down the address, she gave me further directions, and in less than five minutes, I was where I should have been a half-hour before. Or maybe a full hour.*
I agree. I always travel hopefully and, most of the time, enjoy winding around, wondering whether I’ve passed the point of no return. There comes a time, however, when I’m relieved to finally arrive.
And so ends the obligatory account of my most recent episode of winding around. Now to get on with the retreat.
Come to think of it, there’s not a lot to get on with. We sat outside and watched birds flying and sticks floating; and discussed whether one stick, which stayed in the same place for a long time, wasn’t a stick but instead something that might crawl out of the lake and bite somebody, namely us; and monitored current events by periodically glancing at the television, sound off; and, when the spirit moved, ate.
But most of the time, we wrote. I slapped down over 1900 words in one day. It’s been ages since I did that. Many of them won’t end up in the final version of the story, and those that do will be shifted from page to page before settling. But, to quote novelist Nancy Peacock, in A Broom of One’s Own, “if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love.”**
I expected to take pictures but was too relaxed/lazy to get out my camera until Sunday. A cold front had come in overnight, and that morning the lake was choppy. I wish my photos had picked up the whitecaps. I also wish they could show the tranquility of our surroundings.
The other photos are wretched, but I include them to prove that on our writing retreat we actually wrote.
So what is it with writers and retreats? Getting away from routine, from everyday-ness and common distractions, refreshing the mind and the soul, opening new vistas, viewing life from new perspectives…
All of the above. None of the above. It doesn’t matter.
In the previous post, I announced my intention to get up, go to BookPeople, write for an hour on a project of not-email and not-post (because Ramona DeFelice Long told me to), and get off the laptop by 7:00 p.m.
Here’s how the day went.
At 8:00 a.m., I discovered Ernest experiencing grave digestive problems reminiscent of previous problems caused by eating string. No matter how careful we are, he’s always able to find string.
After practicing every sneaky tactic I know to wrestle him into the carrier, I hauled him to the vet, wrote a check, hauled him home, and spent the next twenty-four hours stalking him up hill and down dale, from litterbox to litterbox, to get an accurate picture of his post-doc activity.
If there wasn’t any, I would have to take him back to the vet today for reconsideration of the diagnosis of UTI to ingestion of string.
In addition to the X-ray, the veterinarian gave him a long-lasting injection of antibiotic so we wouldn’t have to catch him and fight over pills or liquid for a week. I could have chosen to start treatment without the X-ray and see what happened but wasn’t sure I could get him back into the carrier if the antibiotic didn’t work. Some things are not worth the effort.
Because we have two cats and two litterboxes, and because I knew isolation wouldn’t be possible, at least if I valued our doors, I sat up all night watching him. He slept. All night. Didn’t go near a litterbox. I played Bookworm.
David rose at 7:00 a.m. We changed shifts. I went upstairs for four hours of sleep. David stalked.
I woke at 11:00 to the news that Ernest had performed admirably. David had kept samples. I said I didn’t need to see them.
Ernest is in fine fettle. At present he’s lying on my arm, making biscuits where I wish he were not. I will tolerate this until the first claw penetrates my clothing and punctures my flesh. He means well.
In fact, he forgave and forgot as soon as we returned from the veterinary clinic. He swished around as if I had never betrayed him, sat in my lap, pinned down my left arm while I typed, lay on the footstool, gazed at me lovingly.
I’m grateful he doesn’t hold a grudge. In the fight for proper medical attention I nearly dislocated his shoulder. I’m trying to forgive and forget that my back and my right arm will once again have to be put right by the massage therapist. The carrier alone is heavy, and with Ernest inside it gains seventeen pounds.
Concerning the writing life: I did not go to BookPeople; I did not write for an hour; I did not eat breakfast or lunch until nearly 3:00 p.m. I did not do anything except be nurse and mama to a big, hulking guy tabby cat.
But hey–I got another blog post out of it.
The craziest thing is that it’s almost the same post I wrote two or three years ago, about the day I was
determined to write write write but instead spent the day lying on the floor in William’s bedroom, trying to coax an ailing Ernest out from under the bed and to the doctor.
Now the question: Do these things happen because I’m crazy, or am I crazy because these things happen?
What is the moral? (Must be a moral.)
Change in the Davis-Waller house doesn’t seem likely, at least while Ernest and I live here. Might as well accept that and go on.
I should never never never publicize my intention of writing writing writing.
Writing writing writing equals change. See first moral, above.
And failing to follow through is embarrassing. Especially reporting the failure, as is only fair. Readers deserve to know.
When this post is safely online, I shall throw things into a bag and head south to retreat with Austin Mystery Writers. I will have a cabin and a river and some pecan trees. I will not have Internet connection or decent TV reception. Phones will work only outside.
And for the next two days, I promise to sit in a porch swing and Write. Write. Write.
If paragraphs in this post are incorrectly spaced, please pretend they’re not. Today’s format is like Ernest–not under my control. It’s just one more miracle of modern technology.
I am at a writing retreat with two critique friends, deep in the heart of Texas. Have been here since 11:30 this morning. Two other writers arrive tomorrow.
Have written some fiction for me, some nonfiction for my friend Em. Before e-mailing Em’s to her, I read over it, as every conscientious writer knows she should, and discovered the nonfiction may be more fictional than the fiction.
Em will just have to deal with that.
I am tired. Fatigued. Exhausted.
And the phone will ring at 8:00 in the morning.
I shall retreat to my bed, where I shall dream about sweaters.
As I’ve no doubt made abundantly clear, I spent last week at the Writers’ League of Texas Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine, Texas.
The seat of Brewster County, Alpine, population 5905, lies at an altitude of 4485 feet.
My altitude, during the retreat, was about double that of Alpine’s.
I was enrolled in Karleen Koen‘s Writing the Novel: The Basics class. Karleen, author of four historical novels, is an inspiring teacher. I won’t attempt to replicate her class here—couldn’t anyway, if I tried, because I have neither her expertise, her experience, nor her personality, all of which are necessary for the full effect.
I don’t have any little bells, either. There must be bells.
I will simply say that Karleen kept us writing and loving it for five days straight. She reminded us that to make art, we must play. And play we did.
On the last day, however, she reminded us of something decidedly un-playful: On arriving home, she said, we would fall into depression. And we must quickly find our way back to writing.
That was not news to me.
Long ago, I learned that retreats are like Disneyland—great to visit, but impossible to homestead.
After every one, I come home, embrace my family, babble about the glories writing, and the next morning wake to discover that, in addition to rapturous fervor, I’ve brought back a suitcase filled with a week’s worth of dirty laundry. And awaiting me are grocery shopping and cooking and all the responsibilities I’d set aside while I was away being an artiste.
Just a glimpse of the Crockpot is enough to take the oomph right out of me.
Oh, Auntie Em, I want to say, there’s no place like Oz, and with three clicks of the ruby slippers, I’m back there in a flash.
So it goes, and so it has gone.
I spent yesterday on laundry detail, surfing to fill in gaps made by wash, rinse, spin, and dry.
Today I turned on Netflix and watched an old PBS Mystery: P. D. James’ The Black Tower. All six episodes. With sound and video badly out of sync. Then I started episode one of Devices and Desires.
But things are looking up. Last night I went to critique group.
In the morning, if all goes as planned, I’ll swim for a half hour, then head for a coffee-shop office and transfer words from brain to hard drive.
If things don’t go as planned, I’ll save the swimming for later.
Climbing out of post-retreat depression is a delicate activity. Too much vitality too early in the process could prove a shock to the system.
Karleen Koen is the author of four historical novels. Her latest is Before Versailles.
Four one-paragraph novel beginnings (from photos taken this week)
One one-page novel beginning (from photos taken this week)
Optional but encouraged: Choose one short piece of writing to present at tomorrow night’s reading
And seventeen people call this a vacation.
P.S. I suspect this mammoth task has been assigned so we won’t have time to revise and polish. Beginnings are supposed to be bad. We have permission to write badly. But no one wants to turn in bad writing. So the instructor resorts to subterfuge.
I’m off to a writing conference where Internet access will be iffy at best.
We’re about to load the car. David is getting the cat hair off my suitcase so people will not think I’m a cat lady. First, however, he will have to get Ernest off.
I’m supposed to take my very favorite novel, not the one I talk about to impress people. I don’t know what my very favorite novel is. I have several. It probably doesn’t matter too much anyway. I have a feeling everyone in the class will show up with a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
There’s a long drive ahead, so I must hit the road.
I’m home from the Texas Mountain Trail Writers Writing Round-up. Post-retreat blues–why do retreats have to end?–have lifted. Fatigue from hauling suitcase, duffel bag, and a stack of books halfway across Texas and back has vanished. Euphoria from seeing a basket filled with real homemade biscuits sitting beside a pot of gravy has settled.
Delight at hearing Blair Pittman tell stories about his experiences in Terlingua and the Big Bend, and then making a spur-of-the-moment decision to swing through the Park before coming home remains.
Resolve formed while listening to author and editor speak about writing balks, needing a good swift kick, which shall be administered forthwith.
The Just for the Hell of It Writers leave tomorrow morning for the Texas Mountain Trail Writers 19th Annual Writing Round-up. We’ll stay two nights at Paisano Baptist Encampment near Alpine, where the retreat will be held. Then we’ll stay another night in Alpine and head home Monday morning.
I’ll save the program for a future post, except to say it includes a Cowboy Breakfast on Sunday morning. I don’t know exactly what a Cowboy Breakfast entails, but I’m hoping it involves gravy.
The 500-word optional and fun assignment that was perfect three weeks ago turned out to be not so perfect, so I’ve spent the past several days revising. I had to add some material, which meant I had to take things out, which led to taking out other things, which led to…a lot of complaining.
It also led to research. I spent five hours hopping around the Internet so I could remove dotted swiss and it, and substitute tea gowns and white linen. Or I hope I substituted tea gowns. At one point I had lingerie dresses in that spot, but I was afraid my readers might not be familiar with the term. The story is about a one-room school teacher. I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.
I made other changes, too. The nameless narrator now has a name, and two other characters were rechristened. Vilbry Hollan is now Milroy Dunne. Harley Lubeck is now Harvey. I had nothing against the original names, except that I got tongue-tied every time I tried to pronounce them. Since I have to read the story aloud, I thought it wise to choose something I wouldn’t trip over. I kept saying Harvey anyway, even when Harley was staring up at me in 12-point Times New Roman.
I may also have to do something about the Imogene that appears twice in the narrative. The child pronounces her name with a long i, but I don’t always remember to.
Several times I’ve asked myself what difference it makes, long i or short i. The answer is, it just does. Imogene is a figment of my imagination, but she pronounces her name with a long i, and she wants me to say it that way too.
So that is the story of my week: wrestling with words. Of course, after all the grumbling and the shuffling, I have a better product. Characters’ motivations are clearer. The plot is improved. Dialogue is smoother.
Revision worked. My perfect story is now more perfect.
I hate it when that happens.
It’s late and I have a long day before me and the laundry is finished–that’s why I’m still awake, I had to do a load of laundry or go sockless, not what I want to do in Alpine in April–anyway, I shall end this post and go to bed.
But here’s the thing: if I saved this and then revised it tomorrow morning and posted it before I left town, it would be a much better piece of writing, and probably half as long as it is now. And it wouldn’t have sentences like the two previous.
But no. I’ve done my revision for the week. Enough is enough.
And if anyone wants to get out the red pencil–be my guest.
I do it because retreat participants will get to read their stories around the fireplace. And then the stories will be collected and included in the next issue of TMTW’s annual publication, Chaos West of the Pecos.
I refuse to be the fireplace spoil-sport, and I’m sure as all get-out not going to miss an opportunity to see my words glued between the two covers of a publication.
And then there’s the other thing. It’s fun. It says so in the retreat literature: “This is fun, and optional.”
Despite having written myself into a hole I can’t crawl out of, writing “A Day in the Life of a Rancher’s Wife” is fun. It’s like creating a puzzle and solving it at the same time. I’m partial to puzzles.
But fun and writing seldom appear in the same sentence, at least sentences that come from writers. Red Smith said to write you have to “open a vein.” E. L. Doctorow said writing is “a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” Colette’s husband locked her in a room to make her write. He wouldn’t let her out until she’d produced something he could sell (under his name).
I don’t have it that bad. My husband doesn’t lock me in, I have most of my marbles or at least know which pile of paper they’re under, and I’m not anemic.
But because I’ve yowled around to family, friends, and acquaintances that writing is equal parts wormwood and woe, I have to stick to the story. Claiming the TMTW assigned a composition is a minor fudge, but it’s enough to convince them I’m suffering. They remember senior English.
Confession over, I’ll end this post and move on. There’s a hole I have to write myself out of.