Last week I went on a Writing Retreat. Does that sound fancy? Serene? A tad self-indulgent? Are you picturing a secluded cabin in a beautiful, wooded, naturescape like the Catskills? Or perhaps a little seaside villa overlooking an idyllic rocky seaside in Maine? Are you possibly imagining a formally organized retreat, some lovely company that arranges for writers to pay a fee in exchange for a few days’ stay in their secluded cabins, where nurturing overlords turn off the wifi until 5 pm and wordlessly drop off a delicious prepared lunch each day?
Yeah, okay. It was none of that. Here’s the real anatomy of a Writing Retreat.
You will book a basic hotel room a short drive from your home, then congratulate yourself for remembering to request early check-in. Because you’re the ROCK STAR who remembered to request early check-in, you’ll arrive shortly after lunch. You check in, use hand sanitizer at least twice between all the driver’s license, credit card, and room key exchanges with the front desk, then step inside your room. Once you’ve set up your work station, you’ll have trouble accessing the hotel’s free wifi, so you remask and alert the front desk that maybe the wifi isn’t working? They ask to see your phone then go, “Oh, you have an Android.” It’s okay to feel slightly attacked. They show you the “special” wifi configuration that they reserve for you “special” Android users, and you’re on your way. Return to your room and stare at a blank screen for a bit. Check Twitter – it might spur your brain into gear! Realize about ten minutes later it has not, so respond to those waiting Instagram DM’s. Pat yourself on the back for being productive, until you remember you’re supposed to be writing. Decide this isn’t working because you lack proper reinforcements. Mask up, venture to the lobby, and buy a Diet Coke, a bag of Cheetos, and an Old Fashioned in a bottle. FANCAY. Now and only now are you ready.
Return to your room. Use the restroom. As you’re washing your hands, look in the mirror. Decide your arms look too flabby, then do some pushups. Follow with some half-assed yoga poses. Return to your laptop, write a short paragraph, then be reminded by your dinging ANDROID that you forgot a phone call appointment in fifteen minutes. Take the phone call, it’s too late to cancel or reschedule.
Your concentration is thoroughly broken, so eat half the Cheetos. Realize you are sitting directly in the path of the air conditioner. Don the socks you smartly remembered to pack, but also kick yourself for not remembering a jacket or long-sleeved shirt. Return to your half-assed yoga poses, but stop when your socked feet start perilously sliding on the carpet during down dog.
Write another sentence. Read it back, hate it, delete it. Repeat three more times. Decide your pants are the problem. You need to change something in your immediate physical environment to spur your brain into gear, so you will take off your pants. Okay! This feels daring and unconventional! Ernest Hemingway probably wrote without pants! Look down and think your legs look flabby. Do fifty squats. Sit back down. Feel stupid – and a little cold from that blasting A/C – and put your pants back on. That whole pants saga lasted about five minutes. You’re still blocked.
Eat the rest of the Cheetos. Realize you are dehydrated, so help yourself to one of your two complimentary water bottles this hotel has so generously plied you with. Sketch out a few ideas on your legal pad, then return to the blank screen. Start writing, just spew the crap! Spew it, I tell you! Keep going! Keep typing! It sucks, of course it sucks, you’ll fix that later!
Look up and realize you’ve been typing… something… for almost three hours! It’s almost seven pm and you notice hunger pangs. Hey, this wasn’t bad! And tomorrow will be better, you will tell yourself. You will tell yourself that because you have to tell yourself that.
Thanks to the COVID outbreak, the hotel has closed its room service restaurant, so order some food on your phone via Uber Eats. Time to relax a little, switch on the TV, then realize your remote isn’t working properly. Okay, so non-writers don’t know this, but this is the exhilarating point of Writing Retreats where you get to balance watching a food delivery app while alerting the front desk that your remote doesn’t work. The maintenance guy needs your explicit permission to enter your room, but you didn’t realize this because you’re in the process of discovering that the driver never picked up your food, and your taco salad is just sitting a mile away, sogging out on the restaurant’s counter. Verrryyy sophisticated and serene, amirite? Anyways, you finally get both your dinner and your TV remote straightened out, and horf your salad from starvation at almost nine pm. Without doubt you are pouring yourself half that bottle of Old Fashioned.
Flip the channels, then discover that Nickelodeon now plays Friends reruns? Like, that children’s cartoon network that competed with the Disney channel when you were a kid? And now they air a 90’s-era show about sexual innuendo? Realize how OLD you are. Remember that you recently heard a Missy Elliot song over the PA system in your local Whole Foods. Are these two events connected? Have you officially reached the age where the controversial media of your youth is now considered tame and, dare I say it, inoffensive enough to be played on children’s networks and bougie grocery store chains? Oh God. Really lean in to this existential crisis. Flip it and reverse it, at the damn grocery store. “How you doin'” now gets asked mere minutes after Spongebob Squarepants. They’re playing the early part of Season 10, it’s not like you ever enjoyed that season anyways.
Awake the next morning, and after your coffee/breakfast/shower morning routine is done, decide much of your concentration problem yesterday was due to your work setup being too close to the A/C unit. Rearrange everything to the other side of the room. Dive into some research. Okay, it’s not technically writing, but you can’t write something you haven’t researched, DUH, so it counts. Spend all morning poring through articles, Googling, and chasing down relevant statistics. Reread your notes. Decide it sucks, you didn’t really find what you were looking for, and you’re probably not gonna write it.
Order lunch, but from DoorDash this time. You learned your lesson last night. Eat your lunch away from your workstation. Back to writing. Vomit up one paragraph, hate what you wrote, and decide this is definitely the appropriate time to launch a new social media project you’ve been planning. That takes almost two hours.
Realize there’s still one drink left in that Old Fashioned bottle, and you did a whole thing on Instagram, so you definitely deserve a break. In fact, you deserve a treat too! Cookies! Mask up and buy a single-serve package of chocolate chip cookies from the lobby store. Bourbon and Cookies O’Clock it is!
Write more. Just write, don’t even pay much attention to what you are writing. Look up and realize it’s, again, almost seven pm. And that you are starving. Look over your dinner options. Feel simultaneously hungry but too spent to even make a decision about what to eat. Text your husband and ask him to tell you what you should eat. Reject his suggestion. Finally get dinner in your belly while you find some dumb movie on TV. Text your husband to come over and spend the night. And also, bring wine.
While you wait for him, check your Instagram DM’s. Good feedback, this is encouraging! Welcome your husband, but maybe the wine even a little more. Get settled into bed, then realize you are in the ironic position of having an involved DM convo with one of your gay friends while your straight husband is groping you. Uh, resolve the situation.
Awake the next morning, feel super energized about getting more writing done. Except check-out is in a few short hours, but if you shoo your husband out now, you can get something accomplished, right? Especially if you don’t shower… The weather app says it’s gonna be 95 F today…
You write a little more, make some quick edits to one of the things you wrote the previous day, then realize you need to get packed up soon. As you pack, you engage in a bit of self shaming over how much you fucked around and didn’t take FULL ADVANTAGE of this Writing Retreat. Like, maybe you should have written instead of Doing Social Media? Was the bourbon such a hot idea? You ate take-out three meals in a row, good GOD you must go running later.
After you get home, you reassess and realize that through all the distractions and fuckery, you actually wrote almost three thousand words – okay, they’re not all good words, but still. This is just how human brains work. Or don’t. Whatever. Journey, destination, blah blah blah…
Fresh Cherry Margaritas
- 12 fresh sweet cherries, pitted
- 2 oz tequila blanco
- 1 oz (2 tbs) fresh lime juice
- 3/4 oz (1-1/2 tbs) agave nectar, preferably dark
- 1/2 oz (1 tbs) maraschino liqueur
- 1 fresh sweet cherry with stem, for garnish
- Slice of lime, for garnish
- Put the cherries in a cocktail shaker and mash them with a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon until well crushed. Don’t be dainty here. Add the tequila, lime juice, agave nectar, maraschino liqueur, and 8 large ice cubes. Cover the shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Immediately strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with the cherry and lime slice. Makes 1 drink.