Some Days, You Just Need a Time-Out

Sunset photo shoes house and evergreens in silhouette under a sky awash in blue, gray and peach-colored clouds. 
The photo is here to show what I would have missed if I didn't look up from my screen.

“Don’t call me in the morning,” I tell everyone I know. I say no to breakfasts with friends, morning appointments, and a.m. meetings because that’s my WRITING TIME. Even the dog knows it. After breakfast, she spreads herself across the doorway so I can’t leave the office without climbing over her.

The world still leaks in. Notices pop up on my screen: X liked your post on ABC. Breaking news: crash on Highway 101. Friend request from handsome man who is a figment of Facebook’s imagination.

The phone rings: A stranger mumbles about helping me make my book famous, or a bot offers to help me with Medicare. I generally don’t pick up unless I recognize the name on Caller ID, but it breaks my concentration. Some days I take the landline off the hook and silence the cell phone, but what if a friend or relative needs me? What if someone is inviting me out to lunch?

What if it’s just Verizon telling me it’s time to pay my bill?

Sometimes I hope for a power failure.

At noon, the dog comes in, brushing my arm, anxious for attention, food, and a walk. I’m still not dressed, and there’s a zoom meeting coming up with my big old face exposed. Okay, I surrender.

It’s hard to hold the world back. When I take a bathroom break, the toothpaste gunk in the sink grosses me out. When I heat water for tea, I see the stove needs scrubbing. When I take my notebook to write by the fireplace, I see dust and dog fur everywhere.

When I don’t know what I’m going to eat for dinner, I haven’t practiced this weekend’s church choir music, and my bones ache from sitting too much, it’s time for a catch-up day. The brain needs a break, and life demands I stop and take care of things. Wednesday was one of those days. I turned up the stereo, cleaned my bathrooms and my kitchen, baked bread, practiced music, updated the spa chemicals, and put away the mail, books, and assorted coats left on and around the kitchen table. I swept the floors, trimmed my nails, walked the dog, played online Mahjong, and generally caught up with the non-writing part of my life. It felt great.

You’ve got to look up sometimes. Tuesday night, while listening to the Head for the Hills online poetry reading (Francesca Bell and Todd Davis, both fabulous), I glanced out my office window and saw a glorious sunset unfolding. I raced out to take pictures. Five minutes later, it was over.

A writer needs to gather material and let it percolate so she has something to write about. Some days, I do everything but writing, and that’s okay. I’m a happier writer for having taken a break.

There’s still dust on the piano, but my bathrooms and kitchen are clean, my refrigerator full, my bills paid, and my music ready to play this weekend. I can feel the firm calluses on my left-hand fingertips from practicing lots of guitar music.

I am writing this morning. Tomorrow, April 1, National Poetry Month begins. I have signed up for not just one but two poem-a-day workshops and also pledged with National Novel Writing Month that I would turn out 20,000 words on the third novel in my Beaver Creek series. Plus the usual social media posts and blogs and pre-publication work for the memoir coming out next year. Oh, and doing my presidential duties for Oregon Poetry Association, where we are hosting open mics every Monday night this month.

I’m writing. I have blocked Facebook notifications. If the phone rings, I will startle and check Caller ID, but I will not answer it. I will sip Earl Grey from my Jack Daniel’s mug and commit words to the page because that’s what I do in the mornings.

How about you? Do you need to trash the schedule and just catch up sometimes, whether it’s doing chores or settling in for a day of naps, novels and Netflix? How do you arrange it?

References:

Rebecca Smolen and John Miller poetry month daily prompts and writing sessions

Sage Cohen’s Write a Poem a Day

National Novel Writing Month’s “Camp Nanowrimo”

Oregon Poetry Association open mics (on Zoom, non-Oregonians welcome) Register at https://oregonpoets.org/events-all/#opa-events to receive the Zoom link.

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Retreat and re-entry: coming back from Fishtrap

Two weeks ago today, I had just arrived at Fishtrap, a weeklong writing workshop at Wallowa Lake, near Joseph, Oregon. Sleeping in yurts and tents in a Methodist campground, we spent our days attending workshops, writing, thinking, making new friends and listening to great writers read their works.
Fishtrap is really a retreat combined with a workshop. I often think I don’t need a retreat. Why go somewhere else when I already live alone in the woods? I don’t need to go into isolation somewhere else. But Fishtrap offers things I don’t have here, like great teachers and other people to eat with, talk with, and write with. It’s like finding a whole bunch of people to play with who like to do the same things I do. In the outside world, we might look like geeks sitting around writing, but not at Fishtrap.
It also offers me a chance to unplug. Literally. Normally I’m online all day and watching TV all evening. It’s a major eater of my time and a huge distraction. I also play a lot—too much—Spider Solitaire (don’t start, you’ll get hooked!). We had no Wi-Fi, no cell phone reception, no TV. Without them, I suddenly had lots of time to write, read and play music.
Back home, people ask “How was your trip?” I say “Good,” which doesn’t begin to describe it, and then we move on to the business at hand. In fact, yesterday my boss didn’t even mention my trip. He just started barking orders. Fine. He can’t disturb that peace inside me.
Imagine sitting by a river in the sun, with only other writers, deer, squirrels, Stellar Jays and robins for company, writing with paper and pen until a soft gong calls us back to the patio to talk about our poems and, by extension, our lives. Fishtrap was not a total retreat. We had classes and homework and a schedule, but we left everything at home behind. I could take the time to meditate on the bark of a tree for as long as I needed to truly see it. And then I could write a poem about it.
Of course there are inconveniences. Every time I went into town, I discovered I had book orders that I needed to fill before I got home. (I don’t know why I’m suddenly getting so many orders, but keep them coming. Visit http://www.suelick.com/Products.html) I had plenty of books in my car, but filling an order away from home meant finding a computer connected to a printer to print out the paperwork, putting together books, packaging, mailing labels and tape and getting the packages to the local post offices. It’s easy at home, but quite a challenge on the road. I’m thinking of recruiting someone to manage my Blue Hydrangea Productions business while I’m gone on future trips. Any volunteers?
Aside from the books, nothing else from home mattered. If something major happened, my family knew where to reach me, but otherwise, I could forget about everything. I didn’t have to cook; I showed up three times a day for fabulous food— French toast, pancakes, eggs and bacon, lasagna, fajitas, fried chicken, salads, fresh fruit, cookies, brownies, strawberry shortcake . . . and I got plenty of exercise to work off the calories. I didn’t have to take care of my dog, wash dishes or clothes, or deal with the massive piles of unfinished work that nags at me. I could just read, write, play music, do yoga, explore, eat, and sleep.
Before I came home, I went to Montana to do some research. I did turn on the TV, radio and Internet, but I kept that peaceful feeling and was conscious of not filling my mind with junk. I could and did turn them off and continued to write.
As I got closer to home, I started feeling the pain of reentry. Time to face all those things I put into the “after Fishtrap” category. I had hundreds of emails to deal with, tons of photos and pages of writing to process, meetings coming up, music to prepare, company coming, bills to pay, the dog wanting all my attention, and of course the need to come up with my own food. But I came home with a clear mind and thoughts about how to make my everyday life better. I’m looking at everything with fresh eyes. That’s a value of a retreat.
I long for the simplicity of my yurt, one room with only the things that fit in my car, and only the Fishtrap schedule to control my time. But I’m also enjoying sleeping in my own bed, snuggling with my dog, choosing my own food, reconnecting with my friends, and getting back to work. The challenge is to keep that peaceful, pared-down feeling at home every day. It is possible. I’m sure of it.
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