Before I left for my writing retreat in Lake Arrowhead, courtesy of the Yefe Nof California Residency, I was warned by some that around the one-week mark of being solo I would go stir-crazy from the isolation and want to run screaming down the mountain. Perhaps they didn’t take into account my monastic tendencies, but I’m happy to report that I had no such problems. Not to take anything away from my wonderful husband and son (who got along fine without me, btw) but the time alone was, well, an inspiration.
The whole situation was ideal. The place I was staying at was no rustic cabin in the woods, but a modest 2-bedroom home, complete with wifi, a comfortable bed and most excellent shower pressure.
At the same time, there wasn’t a lot to do in the area. As in, nothing. Woods, woods, and a “village” that was basically a collection of souvenir stores, some outlets, a few restaurants and a supermarket. Unless I made a run for it and took my car elsewhere, there was nothing to do but write.
And write I did. It’s amazing how productive you can be when your sole directive of the day is to WRITE, DAMNIT. No other responsibilities, no distractions. Back home, the saintly Doug took over all household matters, so I didn’t even have to make decisions that weren’t about the book I was writing. I woke up with my chapters, went to bed with them, took long walks in the woods with them. It was like I was having an affair with my novel. Like when, on TV shows, two people get locked up in a room and are told “You can’t leave this room until you two work things out.” You had all the time of every day to finish, there was no not doing it. I was Jacob wrestling with the angel; there was no relenting until I got blessed.
The mandate for the Yefe Nof residency is to finish a project during your stay, which was the perfect goal. It gave me and end point. If I were just starting a project, I think I wouldn’t have been as driven. My duty-bound self felt compelled to get it done. The daily routine went something like this: wake up early (I blame/credit the curtain-less bedroom windows and the strong morning sun for never being able to sleep in); meditate; breakfast and puttering. Start in on the writing, putting muscle and sinew on the bones of the chapter I’d written the day before. Tea. Coffee. Lunch, or no lunch.
In the afternoon I’d go for a 4-mile walk through the wooded developments, sometimes ending up at the Village, sometimes just wandering through the woods, bear whistle and a handful of stones on the ready (I never saw one). Get back around 5 or 6, have a simple dinner (when I wasn’t fasting), like a salad, or split pea soup, or, twice, popcorn.
Watch something or read. And then, miracle of miracles—another round of writing! Night writing! Like a video game, when you’re suddenly awarded bonus minutes. And in that elastic space of time, get another chapter knocked out. Finish, sometime around midnight, or 1, or, whenever. Go to bed.
Do it again the next day.
In this way I was able to accomplish in ten days what it would usually have taken me at least a month to do. And at the end of ten days, I was able to type “The End,” do a little happy dance, and pass out.
In the few days I have left, I’m still writing, but I’ve let myself off leash more. Took my car out for the first time and almost wept, it was so foreign. Checked out Big Bear. Had a massage and expensive dinner at the opulent Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa, where I had to actually speak to people.
My time’s almost done here, but I can’t believe how much I got out of it. Thank you, angels at Yefe Nof. I feel truly blessed.
Congratulations James! Sounds like it was a well deserved retreat. What a great concept behind Yefe Nof, inspiring!
love it that you did this for yourself – and with your family’s blessings
I would walk across a lot of dead nuns for a chance to write like that. Congrats brother!
I don’t know how the poor nuns got mixed up in this, but I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.
OoooO what an awesome experience!