retreat
Tuning out the world can help tune in to creativity. COURTESY SAM O. PHARO

By MELISSA D. SULLIVAN
For Montclair Local

“All Write Now” reflects the writing life. Melissa D. Sullivan is an attorney by day, writer by

retreat
MELISSA D. SULLIVAN

night, mother of two, and recipient of the 2016 Parent-Writer Fellowship in Fiction from the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. Melissa splits her time between Montclair, New Jersey and Bucks County, Pennsylvania. You can learn more at melissadsullivan.wordpress.com.

“We are all terrible people,” Debby said, looking at her cards.

“More then usual?” Kyrce asked.

Everyone agreed that the level of terrible was about on par with what we had come to expect from our small writing group over the past two or so years.  It was the final night of our writing retreat at a cabin in the far north of Pennsylvania, and we were playing a very writerly game of Cards Against Humanity after making s’mores over the fire that was absurdly still necessary this late into April.

The cabin had heating, of course. The necessity was entirely driven by the s’mores.

Between the sugar, the game and the wine, we were all feeling pretty relaxed by this point, but it had been stressful getting there.  Finding a long weekend that worked for six professional women with small businesses, multiple jobs and various family obligations had taken almost six months and several reschedules.

Planning what we actually wanted to do on our retreat was a only a little less difficult.  What about an early morning yoga class? How about set hours for free writing?  Maybe a playwriting masterclass, complete with improv?  What about a silent meditation to set our intention each day?  And what in heaven’s name were we going to eat?

Despite our group’s singular ability to hold strong yet differing opinions, somehow, after months of discussions and planning and some last minute tips on how to drive on dirt roads, we were all there, for three nights and three days of writing related activities.

And though it was a familiar place filled with familiar people, it felt like a step into the unfamiliar.  There, in a cabin in the woods, we had retreated in more than one way – from New Jersey, from our obligations, and from our distractions – and had travelled to somewhere completely new and different where we could focus only on our writing.

Retreats, in general, seem to be on the rise.  There are retreats for yoga, for fasting, for emotional healing, for nature enthusiasts and for lovers of Yucatan cooking.  And they happen everywhere – Italy, Thailand, Camel’s Hump, Vermont, and Nashville, Tennessee.  For a lot or a little money and a couple of vacation days, you can retreat from your life to do X, where X equals the one thing you really want to do that you never have enough time for.

And that, I think is the point of a retreat: to take an period of time and set it aside with purpose and planning, saying to the world that for these days, I will be devoting myself to X, the way I’ve always wanted to.  Afterwards, you feel refreshed and renewed, not only about your chosen X, but also for all of the other things in your life, as if the fog of complacency and fatigue has been lifted and you can see the world, the good and the bad, in a new and better light.

But a retreat does not need to be a physical retreat.  In some ways, an exotic location may take away from your X.  I, for one, couldn’t see myself just focusing on writing in Nashville, with all of that barbeque around.  And frankly, a multi-day retreat is a luxury that not everyone can afford, not to mention that most of us have obligations that can’t be easily rescheduled or handed off.

But if a retreat at its core is about setting aside time for that chosen X, I can retreat for an afternoon or an hour or even 15 minutes.  At lunch, I can put my headphones on at my desk, set a timer and listen to Ambient Ocean Waves while I work on my next short story.

Of course, its not the same as a cabin in the woods, filled with my fabulous writer ladies.

But it’s a start.

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