Discover more from Living Off-Brand
Writing Retreats Don't Always Go Well
And that's okay
This past weekend, I went an hour south to my favorite writing retreat location. It’s in the middle of nowhere. There are lots of walking paths. The cabins are cozy and outfitted with whatever you need. It’s pretty cheap. There is no internet. It’s the perfect place to get some serious work done.
I haven’t been since the summer - seven months, at least. There were years I’d go once a month. But now that my kid is in school and I have two days off a week, I get a good amount of writing done at home. Still, it’s hard to think Big Picture when I’m doing my writing and revising in chunks here and there.
I’ve had bad writing retreats before. I’m not saying it’s the cabin’s fault, but particularly when I’m in a specific cabin, the smallest one pushed way back in the woods, things tend to go south. What starts off cozy changes to confining. Of course, my writing tends to go the same way. I start off optimistic and motivated, but then I find fault and get discouraged. That happened this time. I had a collection of essays I was trying to coax into a book; the collection was already too small, and then I started pulling essays out because they were broken and I didn’t know how to fix them. With nothing to distract me, I just kept dwelling on the problem and got more and more anxious as the weekend went on. I threw in the towel a whole 20 hours early and headed home.
I’ve told people before that writing retreats aren’t always a good for me. That, at home, in my small chunks, I don’t have time to ask big questions or even to really hear myself think. I have a limited timeframe so I put my head down and work. In the woods, away from everything, nothing but silence surrounding me, I can hear ALL my thoughts, and that gets overwhelming.
But I still go because it always teaches me something. My visceral reaction to my work this time helped me see that the essay collection isn’t working, that I can keep working on the essays I believe in and sending them out, but ultimately, it’s time to put it in a drawer and move on to something new.
A writer friend of mine told me that there is no such thing as wasted writing. That whatever you write helps get you to whatever you’re supposed to write next. I’ll tell you, with a full memoir manuscript that no one wants, another half-done memoir, and a half-done essay collection, my drawer is getting pretty full, and it’s hard sometimes to stick with this game, to find the value. But I keep believing my friend’s words. That eventually, all this writing will get me where I need to go. I’m just not there yet.
See? Middle of nowhere. But I do love how the trails are so green amongst the still-dead meadow.
This week, Zach Braff was all over the news because he finally confronted the accusation that Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State is nothing more than a Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, meaning the only reason she exists in the movie is to inspire the “hero” (played by Braff himself) to find his true self. I was a bit disappointed when I heard that (albeit proper) assessment of Braff’s movie, because it was one of favorite movies for so long. Since I wrote about how 21 didn’t age well for me last week, and even when I reflected on the Mako Mori feminist theory of Pacific Rim the week before that, Garden State has been hovering in the back of my mind. I wonder, if I watched it again, if it would still be the nostalgia-bomb I hoped it was, or if it, too, aged poorly, cracked and wrinkled and beyond repair. I wasn’t sure I could take the risk of re-watching it. As Hemingway said, “We … have to go on and have other things because the old things are nowhere except in our minds now” (which, we also re-watched Midnight in Paris this week, and man, does Corey Stoll just NAIL Hemingway). Garden State holds such a happy place in my mind, I don’t dare ruin it by revisiting it.
At the same time, though, even without re-watching it, I do forgive Braff for not having a more well-rounded character, for seeing women as a means to an end instead people, because when I was 20 years old, when I was feeling depressed and unsure of where life was taking of me, when I was clinging fast to deep conversations with other emo kids who had the same insecurities I did, I, too, wished for a magic person to enter my life and save me. And if that person came in the form of Natalie Portman’s Sam, I would have considered myself lucky indeed.
Of course I've heard and respect the criticism, but I was a very depressed young man who had this fantasy of a dream girl coming along and saving me from myself.
- Zach Braff
My daughter has been in love with monster trucks since my husband took her to the county fair last summer and let her ride in one (yes, this is something they actually let you do in the country). And then we watched the following monster truck show, but as it was just a county fair one with amateur trucks, it was quite disappointing (and every truck was trashed after the first round anyhow). Funny enough, when my husband and I were newly married and living downtown, we went to Monster Jam for two Valentine’s Days in a row because…well, I have no idea. Why not? So we told our daughter, you just wait. We’ll show you REAL monster trucks. So for Christmas, our kid got tickets, and she waited patiently (sort of ) for three months. This past weekend she saw the real thing, and I think she’d agree it was worth the wait.
Monster Jam with the famous Grave Digger, who, of course, won, and Linsey Read driving Scooby-Doo, who, of course, I rooted for.
What I’m Watching:
My library hold on Everything Everywhere All At Once came in two weeks ago. Movies go out for a week, and I was nearing my last day and still hadn’t watched it. What I kept hearing was it’s so good AND it’s so weird. How weird was it? Was it going to be TOO weird? Why were people talking about butt plugs and hot dog fingers? My husband decided it sounded TOO weird for him, so one afternoon when I was off and my kid was at school, I bit the bullet and put it in the DVD player. And I laughed. I laughed a lot. I was not expecting to laugh that much. And then of course, for the last half-hour, I cried. I cried a lot. To sum up, it's so good. And it’s so weird. But not TOO weird. It’s actually pretty great.
What I’m Reading:
I have not been having a lot of luck finding my next book. I’ve tried two in the last week, giving up 10% in on the first and 20% in on the second. I am a firm believer in giving up on books you aren’t enjoying. Life is too short, people. But next in line is Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, which, like EEAAO, has the reputation of being SO GOOD, so I’m hoping third time’s a charm.
This book came in the drop at the library. I wonder why this patron wanted us to this so much that she taped a note to our book. I mean, hey, good for you, glad you got through it in time. But also…why? People are so weird. Oh, and don’t TAPE things to books that don’t belong you!
Follow my daily joys on my Twitter page
Hope to see you next time. Make sure you don’t miss it - subscribe!
Want to share with all your friends? Hit the button below.