Silent Retreat

I have been thinking that I need a retreat from the world. With the grief that’s accompanied my dad’s passing, my worries about my husband’s health decline, and my general malaise with the current leadership in these United States, I need a break. The long, cold Northeastern winter does not help.

A fantastic think piece this week in the Wall Street Journal about Tapping Into the Sound of Silence by Anne Kadet who took a silent retreat within the framework of her own day-to-day life, got me thinking, ‘Hey, I don’t have to actually do any big whoop to retreat. I can simply turn down the volume.’

Incidentally, since getting hearing aids, I can literally turn down the volume. During the school day as I help to monitor middle school lunches, this turning-it-down feature really benefits me in the noisy dining hall. I can still hear boys’ conversations near me, but I don’t have to take in the whole big din. The dining hall becomes a bit more civilized when it’s not so loud.

When we get silent, there is a “freedom from self-preoccupation,” according to Richard Rohr. His message popped up in today’s emails. It is as if the world is trying to tell me something.

When we recognize something as beautiful, that knowledge partly emerges from the silence around it. It may be why we are quiet in art galleries and symphony halls. If something is not surrounded by the vastness of silence and space, it is hard to appreciate it as singular and beautiful. If it is all mixed in with everything else, then its particularity does not stand out.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
From the Center for Action and Contemplation

To get quiet, one needs to focus, to control the kneejerk reaction to respond to every stimulus — whether it’s the red flashing breaking news update or the ping of a new email hitting the inbox.

The reward for this focus, this silence, this mindfulness, this absence, is the gift of noticing the world around you — be it the beauty of this winter season or the humor of children.

I know that I can be a little chatty. I love to joke around with my coworkers and family. But by freeing myself from the need to make noise, I am giving myself the gift of focusing more deeply on the natural world and on the people in my world. I am opening myself to all that is beautiful. I love to look at art and appreciate the specificity of words.

I’m tuning out, but not to drop out; my purpose is to drop in, go deeper, take time, listen better. Create a silent retreat right where I am.

Join me on the winter writing retreat where we will spend time in silence, in looking at art, and in noisy meal times.

I’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with acrylics and mixed media this winter.

Artists’ and Writers’ Weekend

I had an awesome weekend. I am writing this from the southbound Amtrak from Westport, NY to New York City. I am so high and grateful for the time to simply write and make art. I’m so happy about my (and Kelly Wallace’s) business, Boot Camp for Writers or Writers Boot Camp East and West, or whatever the hell we call it.

I’ve been offering writing workshops — sporadic, weekly, or weekend-long – since August ‘12. This weekend, May 16-19, the workshop was held at Skenewood, the Georgian manor house owned by my husband’s family on Lake Champlain, five hours north of New York City.

As in any adventure tale, this weekend had suspense, characters, details, and setting.

Suspense

Whether this weekend was going to go was a mystery. A week ago, after I came down from the high of being in the cast of Listen To Your Mother, a collective of New York city writers at Symphony Space, I wondered whether to offer the weekend retreat. The turn out was so small that I couldn’t foresee breaking even. But my passion for helping writers is bigger than my desire to make a buck (I know, I know. I have to work on this!).

My goal as a writing teacher is to make writers, skill writers up, and build their confidence.

So what if we were a smallish group? Fewer people meant fewer people to please and less dishes to do.

Characters

Every story needs some sympathetic characters. And my workshop crew — Rashida, Kathryn, Lena, Joanna —  was totally fantastic. They offered so much, so much artistry, integrity, skill.

We began on Thursday night with a candlit dinner in the dining room. On Friday we wrote in the morning, walked and made art in the afternoon. Late afternoon we hung out at Ted Cornell’s amazing art farm, populated by massive sculptures, oil paintings, Adirondack charm, intellect.

On Friday night, I invited a handful of local authors and folks to our evening salon. Several — Dan McCormick, Scott Gibbs, and Lindsay Pontius – joined us. The last two read some of their work. Brilliant. And we retreatants read some of our stuff or shared our book journals. Joanna Parson rocked us out with some guitar.

Details

On Friday and Saturday afternoons on the table in the children’s dining room, we spread images and words cut out from books, newspapers, or magazines. With Rashida Craddock’s and Kathryn Cramer’s guidance, we made collages and covers for our journals.

I got in the zone, getting lost in the details of visual art and print. Totally inspiring. I made a half dozen pages of my crazy art journal that I’ve been working on for a year.

Without diving too deeply into the waters of our writing, I can tell you we wrote about parents, grandparents, children, relationships, theater, and more. Some of our work was fiction and some non-fiction and some blurred the boundaries.

Setting

I slept so heavily over the weekend. Maybe it’s the fresh air or just the big house wrapping its arms around me.

I think the house likes it when a nice group settles in. Words fail me when I try to write about the feelings of being at Skenewood – because there are so many feelings, and so many smells and sounds.

Like the smell of the lilac bush.

Or the smell and feel of the earthy damp basement when I go barefooted for raspberry jam.

Or the crack of dry wood in the fireplace.

Thanks

The talent of my friends is not limited to words and music and art. Some of my friends are artisans with food. Thanks especially to Carolyn Ware of Ernie’s and David and Cynthia Johnston at DaCy Meadows Farm.

And Edward Cornell for the visit to the Art Farm. And Michelle Maron for the soothing, restorative morning yoga.

The thing about a literary journey is that the hero ends up in a different place than the one she set out for. But the journey makes her stronger or wiser. And that is the case with this weekend.

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Four of the five of us: Rashida, Lena, Joanna, Me

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A visit to Ted Cornell’s art farm

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We contemplated the beach.

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At the apple orchard near Kathryn’s house

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Making art journals in the children’s dining room

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with Ted on his art farm