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On Thursday I wrote about getting the news that I hadn’t been awarded a writing residency I’d applied for. In their comments, Heidi from Wordsmithing and Akilah from The Englishist expressed interest in the DIY writing retreat I made for myself in 2012, and Akilah’s comment made me realize that I’d never written about it. So today I will.

In 2012, I decided to send myself away to write. In both 2010 and 2011 I’d gone to VONA and had my heart and mind and craft blown wide open. For 2012, I decided not to apply, but rather to take the money I’d spend on a VONA week and create a two-week writing vacation.

I was nervous about doing it because I’d never been particularly successful with writing on vacation in the past. I’d turned out a few pages, but mostly spent my time vacationing and maybe (maybe) writing in my journal. But those had all been vacations and not specifically writing retreats, and I wanted to believe that calling my trip something different would actually help flip whatever switch in my brain needed flipping to get me to be more productive.

So I planned.

  1. Find a place to go. I searched on Flipkey (like AirBnB) for a place to go. I searched in Mexico, in the Caribbean, in France, in Canada … Everything looked great, nothing looked right. And then I clicked to an apartment in Tulum and the first photo won me. It was a slightly fuzzy picture of a sunny kitchen table. When I saw it, the first thought I had was, “I could write there.”
  2. Figure out when to go. The retreat was going to be my birthday present to myself, so I wanted to go in the fall, as close to my birthday as possible.
  3. Make a plan for writing. I made my schedule very simple: I would write all morning and go to the beach in the afternoon (it was going to be Tulum, after all, home of one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet). I also signed up for an online writing class and planned the timing of the trip so that I’d be in the middle of the course while I was in Mexico.
  4. Make a plan for what you want to get done during the retreat. There was a story I’d been fighting with. I knew that, if I was ever going to find my way through that story, I needed to understand this one character I’d been avoiding. So I decided that I’d use my retreat to write about him, to figure out who he was so that I could make sense of what he was supposed to be doing in my story. I don’t know if this part of the equation is necessary for everyone, but having a specific project in mind before I started helped me. I wound up writing other things during the retreat, but having this clear idea already laid out in my head helped me know exactly where to begin on day one.

So I was good to go. I was still worried about whether I’d get much work done, but I figured I’d done as much planning as I could or should, and that I’d have to trust myself.

I got to Tulum, the apartment was as lovely as the photos had led me to believe, I set up my writing corner of the dining table, and went to sleep early so I’d be ready to dive in with my schedule the next morning.

My schedule didn’t work out at all. Not even a little. Here is how almost all of my days went:

I got up early and had a little something for breakfast. I sat down with a cup of coffee or tea and started working. After working for a while, I started to feel ravenously hungry and had to stop writing … which would be when I’d discover that it was somehow 3 or 4 or 5 in the afternoon, that I had been working all day.

Two weeks in Tulum, and I made it to the beach twice. Twice. That is actually a crime, I think.

But —

I wrote like a crazy person. I wrote more in those two weeks than I normally write in a whole year.

I have never felt more content, more perfectly at ease in my body, more perfect. I was completely exhausted at the end of every day and fast asleep before 11pm … and then up with the sun to start all over again.

A big part of the success of my retreat was signing up for that online class. It was a class with Minal Hajratwala. I’d taken an online class with her once before, so I knew what to expect. Minal is an amazing and amazingly generous instructor. The materials she prepares, the exercises she gives … always fabulous. I was taking her Blueprint Your Book class during my retreat, and I had a huge breakthrough thanks to two of the exercises she gave us. She is an entirely lovely person, and if you have the chance to take one of her classes, I enthusiastically recommend it.

__________

It’s definitely not necessary to go to Tulum or to go away for two weeks to make a DIY retreat work. You can stay right in your town. You can:

  • Find an AirBnB place that’s not crazy expensive (my apartment in Tulum was $50 a night), rent it for as many days as you can, and go write.
  • Apartment swap with a friend who lives a short train ride or drive away, sit at her desk or at his kitchen table, and write.
  • Stay in a hotel for the weekend, order room service, tell housekeeping to leave you alone, and write.
  • Find a co-working space that will let you rent for 2, or 5, or 7 days, and let the fact that you’ve paid for the space inspire you to actually spend those 2, or 5, or 7 days writing.

The important things are to 1) set aside time to work, 2) be in a place where you can work without interruption, and 3) hold yourself accountable to giving yourself that time.

I’m looking forward to planning a retreat for myself for the end of the summer. I don’t know if I could ever be as insanely productive as I was in 2012, but I like having that bar to aim for.



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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Today is Mom’s birthday, my paternal grandmother, the calm, smooth-tempered Eva Nora. How is it already 14 years since she passed?

I take from Mom: in my face, in my hands, and in my temperament. She had a tranquility, a stillness, a quiet peace. And I have, my whole life, been known for that kind of calm, smooth-tempered-ness. People who know me mostly these last few years may be surprised to read that. Me, ever-angry Stacie, known for her calm, even temper? How sway?

That was before. A lifetime ago. Back when students would tell me they couldn’t imagine me angry and hoped to never see me so. Before George Zimmerman was acquitted. Before Ferguson. Before.

And I think about Mom and what she would have to say today. Would she have been able to hold onto her slow-to-anger serenity? Or would she, like me, have come to a place where embracing her anger, sharing it around liberally, made more sense, became better self care than her ability to stay calm?

I am certain I know the answer, certain that she and I are still mirrors.



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

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My mentee, Sophia, and I are working on our submissions for this year’s Girls Write Now anthology. Every year, GWN mentees and mentors get published together. It’s a lovely thing. The mentees, of course, are the stars of the show, so their pieces are more substantial. That’s the tricky part for someone as long-winded as I am! How to say what I want to say in only a handful of words?

Sophia and I have been brainstorming and free writing, trying to decide what we want to write about. She’s had a couple of writing deadlines in the last month, so some of our free writing has led to work that she’s developed for her other submissions. In January, she wrote a snippet of something that seemed like the tiniest frozen sliver hiding a colossal iceberg beneath its surface. I suggested she think about working on that for the anthology since we had so much time before the anthology piece would be due.

But now the piece is due (in a week), and our work is still pretty amorphous. She has added several additional snippets to the first, and each is powerful and compelling, but the work hasn’t yet come together. We’ve been in this place before, with Sophia writing all the way around a thing and then — just in time for the deadline — writing exactly the bit she needed but couldn’t find. We’re going to work for a while on Saturday, and my fingers are crossed that we’ll have one of those breakthroughs. I shouldn’t expect it, of course, but it’s clear that this is one of the ways Sophia and I mirror each other as writers. How many times have I woken up on the day of a reading with nothing to read? And on how many of those days have I “magically” managed to write something in time for the reading? Hmm … I’m seeing another mentor goal for myself: help move Sophia away from this nerve-wracking habit!

While it’s not necessary, each year that I’ve been volunteering with GWN, my mentee and I have chosen to write on the same subject. I like the companion-piece aspect of that, like that our pieces seem to expand in relation to one another. Sophia is writing about her relationship with her father … and heaven knows I have more than what to say about my relationship with my own father, so I thought writing my anthology piece would be easy.

Ha! Guess again.

Of course.

I’ve written so much about my father. And in some ways, that’s the problem. Not that I think I’ve said everything there is to say, but maybe I’ve said all of the easy things to say, the things I can say with the fewest words. And, too, I have to write something that connects, at least tenuously, to this year’s program theme: Rise, Speak, Change. I really like that theme, but I’m not sure any of the things I’ve been thinking to say about my relationship with my father can be bullied into fitting the theme.

Oy. Time to get to work.



It’s March 1st: The start of the 2017 Slice of Life Story Challenge! This is the 10-year anniversary of Slice of Life, which is hard to believe. I started this blog a month before discovering Two Writing Teachers. When that first SOL challenge started, I had no idea what I was doing as a blogger. I always credit that 2008 SOL crew — I think there were 12 of us then? — with making me into a blogger, and I credit them still. Today, there are hundreds of folks participating in the challenge. Every day, writers will post their links over on TWT. I definitely recommend clicking through to the site and checking out some of the work there!

 

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This is Mr. My President and Mrs. My First Lady’s last night in the White House. I’m sure they’re doing it up, dancing and laughing through every room, singing old songs and clinking glasses. I’m betting there’s even a little cuddling under that last piece of mistletoe they saved just for this night. I’m sure they’re looking forward to having the tiniest bit of their real lives back — they won’t get too much of a return to normalcy, but that smidgen will surely feel like heaven.

Just about every day since Mr. My President was elected, I have said a prayer for him. (Does this surprise you? You couldn’t be more surprised than I’ve been.) Every clear night, I’ve given up my wish on the first star for him. I’ve prayed and wished for his life, for his health and safety, for the health and safety of his family, for him to have the love and support of his rockstar lady-wife and his fabulous daughters, for him to find the way to be the president we voted for.

Eight years of wishes. Eight years of dreams. And now I have to learn to say goodbye.

It hasn’t been an eight-year love fest. There have been those times … those times when Mr. My President has annoyed me, angered me, disappointed me, driven me crazy. He has backed things I’ve wished he wouldn’t, and turned his back on things I know he should have picked up and carried. But he’s always been my president, and I have always loved him, will keep on loving him. I love his poise, his sense of humor, his intelligence, his graciousness, his calm, his speechifying, his love of children, his measured contemplation of issues, his friendship with Uncle Joe, his love for his family … and most especially, his love for Michelle. For eight years he has stood center stage showing us what Black love can look like, showing us strength and grace, swagger and humility. And now, in his last act of modeling classy behavior, he will hand over this country to a man he would surely rather read for filth. And he will do it with dignity. Of course.

Thanks, Obama.

(Surprise me tomorrow morning and change your mind about Leonard. It’s really the one thing I’ve most wanted you to do these last eight years. There’s still time.)

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Today is National Watermelon Day. No, really.
Who knew?
So, in honor of this, here’s a watermelon story from my June trip to Florida for VONA: There were a lot of different camps happening at the University of Miami while the writing workshops were in session. Ballet camp, football camp, etc. So we were often surrounded by kids when we were in the dining hall. One morning, I saw a tall, slender, bored-looking, blond girl at the salad bar filling an enormous bowl with watermelon (in other words, doing exactly what I was approaching the salad bar to do!). I smiled and told her she was a girl after my own heart because I so love watermelon. Her whole demeanor changed. She smiled and laughed and told me that she is from Serbia and how her mother always teases her because all she ever wants to eat is watermelon. She will spend her last money to buy the biggest one to bring home, just for herself (definitely sounding a lot like me), and her mother will ask her how she expects to eat such a huge melon herself, and she always just says, “Watch me!” I’m telling you, it was as if I was talking to myself!
And here’s a roundup of watermelon things I’ve had to say on this blog:

Source: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

(I don’t know why the spacing is off in this post, why I can’t get a blank line between paragraphs. I’ve messed with it for more than half an hour, and I now officially give up. Feh.)

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Before I wrote my slice, before I splurged and took a cab home from Brooklyn Heights …

before I stood in the cold on a windy Montague street laughing with Mercedes and hugging her goodbye …

before I rode the R train from SoHo to Brooklyn …

before Mercedes and I ate lukewarm-but-still-delicious asparagus soup and sandwiches in an Italian place I never saw before on Lafayette …

before I found Mercedes waiting for me in the REI on Houston where she had just bought new hiking boots for her coming-this-summer trip to Machu Picchu …

before I walked up Broadway from Prince Street marveling at how all the stores seemed to sell the exactly same clothes and that all of them seemed to think the world is peopled by young white women planning for Coachella …

before I ran into a co-worker with her mom on the train …

before I stepped outside and realized trusting the weatherman was going to leave me shivering all night …

before putting on my coat and leaving the office …

I looked at the clock and realized it was time to head to SoHo to meet up with one of the dearest people I know, my beloved sister-from-another-mister, Mercedes, who is in town from Mexico for just a few days!!


It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

SOL image 2014

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Today was a Girls Write Now day. A chilly-warm day that gave enough of a tease of spring that I wore a short jacket and my favorite of my new dresses … more fool me. Because this dress has a loose, flippy skirt, and it’s a windy chilly-warm day that has had me doing an awkward Seven Year Itch reenactment every three seconds everywhere I go. Hardly ideal (but also comical, I can’t deny it).

No matter. GWN was great. I had, as always, a great time seeing and writing with my mentee. I saw another mentee I love but don’t often get to see. I met anotger mentor and discovered a shared passion for Octavia Butler. And I started a piece that could definitely turn into something. Result!

Tonight I went to an Orpheus Chamber Orchestra concert with RedEmma. A creativity-and-culture-filled day is always a good thing. The concert was excellent. Because the music was lovely, because RE had seats in the second tier boxes, and because we arrived early enough to have a delightful conversation with an even more delightful couple who joined us in the box.

I’m on my way home now, hoping I can cap the day with a poem I like as much as last night’s (and get it posted by midnight!). Hmmm … not likely, but let’s see what I can do.

Staying Power

“Only the best for you, babe,” he says, handing her into the red, plush seat, standing a moment to be sure she’s comfortable. “We’re together 71 years,” she tells me. Only the best, I think. For nearly three-quarters of a century. I can’t fathom them. My fantasies of “long-term” fall decades short, don’t graze twenty. Seventy-one is outside my ken. Laughing at each other’s jokes, ready to tell strangers how they met. Almost three-quarters of a century. He gets a special smile when he remembers seeing her the first time, still calls her “babe.” I’m seeing them, hearing Otis as their sound track, giving me “That’s how strong my love is.” Yeah. All of that.


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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a seasonal poem, but my day had other ideas. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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