Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Taking Time Out To Read, Rest, Relax, and Laugh

Today I want to write about the importance of getting away and treating yourself as a break to your overstressed life. Over the weekend I attended Deanna Adams' annual Women’s Writers Retreat at a lovely Victorian bed and breakfast in Willoughby, Ohio, The Homestead House, where each room was decorated with comfort and serenity in mind. They came with names…the Sanctuary, the Fine Arts Room, The Victorian Rose, the Speakeasy, the Railroad. Mine was the Railroad room, and boasted a train motif and a genuine pot-bellied stove. Others had canopied beds, gas fireplaces, claw-footed tubs, and heart-shaped Jacuzzis.

About twenty women attended the retreat, some driving in for the speaker sessions, and others staying in the B&B. The sessions included tips on public speaking, inspiration for your writing, including on-the-spot creativity exercises, and how to fill your writing with suspense, as in how to keep your reader wondering what’s going to happen next.

The atmosphere was casual and relaxed, with an assortment of wine available each evening. Oh, and chocolate. Plenty of chocolate. Some of us staying in the B&B attended the sessions wearing slippers, while the cold wind and snow blew endlessly outside. But inside we were having pizza and salad, and sharing stories and offering tips to each other on how to craft and market a better story, article, or essay. One woman had also taken up beading, and invited us to her room to show us what she'd been working on over the past three years. More than a few of us, I suspect, returned downstairs in awe of her creativity, and wearing a sparkly little souvenir of the weekend.

When the evening ended, we retreated to our rooms to relax and refresh our minds and bodies after the stressful drive to get there during one of the worst snowstorms of the season. In the morning we were treated to a four-course gourmet breakfast before launching into the day’s program, which included a roundtable discussion of our work and feedback on any problems we might be having in our writing.

I didn’t know any of the women at the retreat. Had never met any of them before, including my roommate, who generously offered to share her room with me so I wouldn’t have to stay at a hotel down the road. But conversation flowed. At tables and in artfully arranged sitting areas and in our various rooms—being the curious lot that we are, everyone had to go and check out everyone else’s room--we talked writing and editing and marketing and promotion and exchanged tidbits about our families and the endless amount of balance it takes to juggle all the roles we fulfill: wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, family caretaker and often breadwinner, in addition to being a writer.

What impressed me most about the group was the enormous amount of creativity and determination that existed in that one room alone. At the end of the second evening, we had an open mic session, which is best described as karaoke for writers. Whoever wanted to could step up to the podium and share something they had written with the others. We heard humor, irony, drama, history, angst, and pain. So much pain. I’d say most writers are drawn to writing as a means to express their innermost emotions. It’s a gift we have, that allows us to share our joys and our sorrows, our triumphs and tragedies, and in doing so inspire others to have hope, carry on, or even take up the pen themselves.

As I looked around the room at this marvelous pool of talent, I found it sad that women in our society are still treated as second class citizens with little to offer outside of our sexuality. In that room I witnessed kindness, compassion, creativity, courage, inspiration, intelligence, wit, and grace, and a kind of enduring strength that made me feel blessed beyond belief for the opportunity to meet and get to know these amazing women, most of whom I will probably never see again.

But for that brief moment in time we all came together, united in one goal, to improve our craft and share our love of writing with someone outside of our families, who quite often don’t understand the need to write and resent the time it takes away from our roles as listed above.

I think every woman, whether you’re a writer or not, needs a getaway weekend like that now and then, to help you to appreciate who you are and what you have to offer the world, and to help the people in your life who depend on you appreciate you a little more in your absence. I know when I get back my family is always happy to see me, and they wouldn’t have that eye-opening opportunity to miss me if I didn’t disappear every now and then for a few days of mental and emotional recharging.

Also, just to have a little fun. At the end of the second evening, those of us staying in the B&B decided to trundle through the snow-filled night into town and visit one of four drinking establishments available—including a wine shop, an Irish pub, and a martini bar. We chose the martini bar, where we each ordered a generous-sized martini from a menu of almost 40 varieties of martinis and, being responsible drinkers, a sampling of appetizers to go with it. Amid toasts and laughter, we shared pumpkin ravioli, fruit and cheese and crackers, bruschetta, and toasted pita bread with blue cheese buffalo chicken dip. For my martini, I settled on something called a Campfiretini, which was made up of Bailey’s Irish Cream, vodka, Godiva chocolate and toasted marshmallow syrup.

It was supposed to taste like S’mores. Instead it tasted like Bailey’s, which was no hardship :).

I didn’t even feel the effects, but knew better than to order a second one. All I know is I laughed and laughed, and at the seemingly dumbest things, just because it felt so good to be out and in the company of so many women I admired. Strong, independent women, with wit and intelligence and the ability to turn any story into one that had us hooting. Then we walked back to the B&B, still laughing and joking, and retired to our special rooms again, where my roommate and I stayed up a while longer, talking and getting to know one another.

The following morning breakfast was light—only three courses—but enough to keep me from getting hungry again until well past dinner time. More invaluable advice on how to make our writing shine followed, and then it was time to load up our bags, dig our cars out of the snow, hug everyone goodbye and head home, filled with renewed energy and inspiration and a determination to see our writing goals achieved.

I made a lot of professional contacts over the weekend, but also made some new friends. Friends I hope to see again and again as we return each year to be renewed and refreshed by good food, good wine, good conversation, good speakers, good writing, the soft glow of a gas fireplace and the warm hum of a Jacuzzi.

And maybe another one of those Campfiretinis :).


jodi said...

It sounds like you had a wonderful time. :) A campfiretini, huh? hmmmm....

LK Hunsaker said...

Sounds wonderful. I've been thinking I need to plan a little retreat for myself.