I’m Alive…and 49 Pages Closer to “The End”

You lookin’ at me?
(Thanks MKD for the photo.)

Another heavenly week has come and gone. This was year 2 of my Virginia Beach writing retreat with the Doll Babies. If that’s conjuring up images of sweet, little ladies popping bon bons as they write, well, the bon bons are not far off course, but sweet…nah. If you saw us coming, you might think we were a gang. We’ve got the thriller-writing motorcycle mama, and the tattoo-covered fantasy writer. Then there’s the one that sounds like My Cousin Vinny. Ahem. Throw in a former investigative journalist, a nuclear plant engineer, and a flamenco-dancing biologist. Don’t let the two southern belles fool you. And beware of the one who induces death by chocolate every night. Scarier still, the one who cannot be bribed with chocolate cake and has some frightening ideas on revenge. You don’t want her moving those ideas from the page to the street. Trust me on this.

Were we having fun yet? Hell, yeah!

Long story short…I had hoped to complete another 18 manuscript pages, but I ended up with 49. Don’t ask me how. As everyone sat at their computers for hours, I got up for a snack, and then some relaxation on the beach, and then a run and shower, and then a nap. Oh, look at the time—dinner. You get the idea. Whatever works.

There were moments I wanted to skip over the tough scenes and write the easier ones. But I knew I’d never have this kind of uninterrupted time again, so I forged ahead. It was a good decision. It forced me into the dreaded middle of the novel and I got some momentum going.

Besides the writing, there were a few other highlights:

I went down to the beach, one morning, sheet in hand. I kicked sand into a few umbrella holes, laid out the sheet, and then lay down with my eyes closed. The sound of the surf lulled me into a meditative state. A short while later, the excited screams of two women disrupted my peace. “Oh my God. Look at all those crabs.” I lifted my head slightly, shaded my eyes with my hand, and realized the women were pointing at me. My sheet was surrounded by crabs. Those umbrella holes I covered up…not umbrella holes. The crabs were digging themselves out of their wrecked homes. They looked angry. Some of them wielded little beach sticks in their claws. Frankly, they were menacing. I grabbed my sheet and ran.

Another day, a fellow writer and I walked to a nature preserve. It was a long walk. A very long walk. It was hot. We didn’t have water. All the snack bars were closed because it wasn’t quite the season. When we arrived at the entrance booth, a friendly man gave us each a cup of water and then told us to mind the venomous snakes and the wild pi-igs. Wild pigs? Yup, those ones with the tusks. I was convinced he was having some fun with me and my New York accent. Not so. There’s something about the word pig pronounced with two syllables that scares the hell out of me.

So now it’s back to the real world. Work. Bills. Chores. Not enough time to write. No worries. I’ve got memories of ten women sharing their stories, eating good food, laughing like crazy, not a care in the world. It’ll keep me going until next year.

A strong suggestion for my readers: Do this for yourself. You don’t have to be a writer. Carve out a week with like-minded people. It’s food for your soul.

Felix the Cat and MacGyver Picnic on a Purple Sarong

I’ve been on holiday in England the past couple of weeks. A travel blog post is on its way, but in the meantime, I was wondering…

Do you have tangible items in your life that are symbols for your dreams and desires?

You might remember that I attended a Writers’ Retreat in Virginia Beach back in May and, while there, visited the Edgar Cayce Center. In addition to several books, a purple tie-dyed sarong with fringes caught my eye. It didn’t match my bathing suit, and yet I knew I had to have that sarong. It was more than a beach cover-up. It was a fabric talisman that would transport me from suburban mom to sophisticated world traveler with a minimum of luggage. I would carry it with me on every trip and this one item would eliminate the need to pack several others. Sure, at the beach or pool, it would function as a cover-up, but there were several other uses for this piece of plum material. Felix had his bag of tricks, but I would have my sarong, and like MacGyver, I would transform it into anything I needed at the moment.

On a windy day, it’s a hooded scarf.

When there’s no time to change for dinner, it becomes a wrap that dresses up my outfit.

Tied in a few places, it’s a halter top…

…or a bohemian skirt.

At the outdoor market, I’ll pack up my fruit, cheese, and wine and carry it over my arm.

In a pretty meadow, I’ll lay it down for an impromptu picnic.

Back at the hotel and without a proper dining table, I’ll drape it over my suitcase and serve a decent cup of tea.

Caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella, I’ll hold it above my head and run to shelter.

When injured, I’ll use it as a tourniquet or to support a sprain.

Even when I don’t speak the language, I will delight children with a game of peek-a-boo.

In a church, I’ll cover my shoulders.

Where religious norms in other countries require my head to be covered, it shall be…in purple tie-dye. Hmmmm, maybe not.

In a pinch, it’s an extra towel.

After waking up at 5 AM and traveling hours to Bath to take part in the Jane Austen festival and consuming way too many scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, I’ll lay my sarong out on the grass in a park and take a two-hour nap.

And at the end of the day, I’ll wash it and hang it to dry so it’s ready for another day of adventure.

That was my thought as I stood there holding the purple sarong in my hands. And it was a thought that made me very happy indeed. So, I bought it and brought it with me to England three weeks ago. I’m happy to say it came in handy after the Jane Austen festivities. 🙂 See photo below.

Lack of sleep + cream tea sugar high = eventual coma. Would Jane Austen have behaved in such a manner?

Are there items in your life that are symbols or reminders of who you are at heart or where you’re heading in life?

A Vacation for My Soul

I’ve always believed that the universe sends gifts our way when we most need them. My most recent gift came via email from my friend Julie Compton. There was a spot available at a writers’ retreat at a rented beach house in Virginia Beach. Nine other women who had known each other for years had room for a tenth. Was I interested? I admit for a brief moment I was transported back to school yards of yore and uttered “that sounds like hell.” My friend laughed and reassured me, “not these women.” I decided to go for it because I was beginning to feel despair over the lack of writing momentum with my next novel.

I flew in on Saturday and shared a shuttle to the house with Geri and Cal. We chatted merrily, unaware that our driver was hopelessly lost. When we finally arrived at the house, Linda and Mary welcomed us with gift bags filled with writing goodies and showed us to our rooms, the doors of which had been decorated with name plaques and doorknob signs requesting privacy for the writer within. Within the hour, Terri-Lynne DeFino, author of the fantasy novel Finder (but playing the role of gourmet cook), arrived with Signa. Finally, Diana and Sara (the dessert diva) pulled up. Julie would arrive the following day.

The Doll Babies, as the group is called, range in age from mid-forties to eighty-something and comprise talents and successes too numerous to list. Each woman had something special that drew me in and made me want to know more. I was reminded that everyone we meet in life is a potential teacher. If you pay attention, you can learn some wonderful things (about yourself, even) from other people. There’s something magical about admiring traits in others and realizing you can adopt them for the betterment of your own life. What a gift. Needless to say, a week just wasn’t enough, especially since I sensed immediately that this writers’ retreat was going to be about a lot more than just writing.

There’s something about being out in nature that sets me right, reminds me of who I am from the top of my gooey grey matter to the tips of my toes, and airs out my mothball-scented spirit. The house was huge, and there were balconies attached to every room that provided an awe-inspiring view of the beach. Before long, the natural rhythms of the ocean infiltrated the beach house and my existence. There was no set schedule, but my days seemed to flow as follows:

  • Wake to the sound of waves breaking on the shore
  • Exercise – I finished another week of the C25K running program.
  • Have breakfast
  • Write – I completed several scenes and had a breakthrough on a part of the novel that had me stumped.
  • Break for chats about writing and publishing – Writing is a solitary existence and it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
  • Do crafts – There’s something therapeutic about this even though I’m not very good at it. Focusing my mind on stringing beads or pasting paper silences the mental hamsters.
  • Eat dinner (and dessert) – Guinness beef stew, wine, homemade chocolate cake. Yum!
  • Converse – Listen to the stories of 9 amazing women.
  • Fall into a peaceful slumber, waves still breaking on the shore.

As an unstructured person (who secretly wishes she was more structured), this routine soothed. Life is best lived when we enter into its rhythms. I think my cells mutated from the joy of it all. 🙂

As wonderful as it all sounds, there was more. A spontaneous trip to Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment got my mind percolating about my purpose and how I can better integrate body, mind, and spirit. This was live-changing and it’s why it’s taken me so long to write this post. I needed to process it all. (Thank you to everyone who contacted me, wondering where the heck I’ve been. Who says you don’t make real friendships online? It’s nice to be missed. 🙂 )

What this experience taught me was even though I think I’ve carved out “me” time by working only 3 days per week, it isn’t the same as going on retreat minus all the distractions, personal and electronic. Sometimes we need to isolate ourselves from our routines and the roles that we play in our daily lives (not to mention the other people in our lives and the roles they play). We must fast from the things that keep us from going deeper, enter into a meditative space, ask the questions, and wait for the answers. Some questions in life are complex and it’s okay not to have all the answers. In fact it’s probably better to live a while without the answer than to rush into the wrong one. With all that said, I intend to make every effort to take a trip like this on an annual basis to share some one-on-one time with my soul. I hope you’ll consider doing the same. You deserve it.

Gone Fishin’

Fishin’ for words, that is. I’ll be out of town until next Saturday at a writers’ retreat with 9 women. We’ve rented a beach house in Virginia Beach. We each have our own bedroom and bathroom. From morning till about 3:30 PM, we’ll go off on our own to write. In the afternoon, we’ll come together to talk shop or read excerpts. For dinner, one of the writers will cook up some yummy sounding meals. She’s already sent us the menu:

  • Saturday: Guiness Beef Stew, bread, salad
  • Sunday: Chicken parm, and pasta in a roasted tomato sauce
  • Monday: General Tsao’s shrimp, rice noodles and stir-fried veggies
  • Tuesday: We eat out together.
  • Wednesday: Whatever fish looks good, fixed some delicious way, asparagus (or anise) and either risotto or wild rice.
  • Thursday: Sausage (chicken) and peppers
  • Friday: Fritatta

Another writer loves to bake desserts and there are promises of a chocolate cake, warm and gooey from the oven. Did I mention I’m bringing my Couch to 5K podcasts so I can continue my interval training? 😉

This sounds like it will be a wonderful break for me, but let’s not forget the real reason I’m going. The writing. I started my new novel during NaNoWriMo in November 2009. Do you know what today’s date is? After writing about 27,000 words, I was catapulted into the world of book promotion for my first novel, which came out that same month. Not much writing, except for blogging, has been accomplished since then. And that’s a very baaaaaaaaaad thing. So, I need this trip to get me back on track. In fact, there’s a wee bit of fear that I won’t be able to, but I’m doing my best to ignore it.

If you happen to stop by while I’m away, feel free to send me some love. I’ll need it. If I don’t respond right away, that’ll be a good sign.

Catch you when I get back. Have a wonderful week doing things that make your heart sing.

[Update: See my post A Vacation for My Soul for more on my retreat experience.]