Writing Retreat: Day the First

I think I have a new personal rule: if anyone invites you to anyplace in New England with “port” in its name, say, “yes” and “thank you very much,” throw what you need in the back of your car, program the GPS and race them to the meeting point.

A few weeks ago my good friend Karen, who couldn’t fall into a rut if a team of ruts ganged up and tried to attack her, sent me an e-mail inviting me to go on what she called a “writing retreat” in Newport, Rhode Island. I’m skeptical of such things because I’m not a spend-all-day-writing kind of writer. I’m a write-for-an-hour-daydream-for-an-hour-then-go-take-a-nap kind of writer.

But I have an essay due May 28th, the academic year has ended, and since, apparently, this is my year of avoiding ruts, I decided to go for it.

Now the idea of Karen taking a writing retreat makes sense—a mother of two, wife of one (that I know of), dog owner, band member, and domestic queen needs a break. I am responsible for two (sometimes three) plants and can’t even commit to an internet provider. The idea of needing a “retreat” seemed the height of indulgence.

But now that I’m here it feels, like so many other luxuries, so very necessary, and I think President Obama should start a fund for struggling assistant professors teaching at colleges and universities who expect scholars to teach full loads while “contributing regularly to their fields of specialization through the publication of peer-reviewed scholarship.” But I digress…

This is a good, productive thing. In the first place, going away to write for a week requires the kind of preparation helpful for finishing a twenty-page essay on Mary Shelley’s complicated novel Valperga and its relation to the relatively unheard of Felicia Hemans. Since I couldn’t bring everything with me, I had to go through the files for the essay and figure out what I really needed (as opposed to things that were interesting but not useful). My reward for completing this project was permission from my inner Suze Orman to buy a new file organizer. It also forced me to reread the essay, something I’d been avoiding, to see precisely what I needed to do to finish it. I’m closer than I thought, and after telling everyone that I was going on a writing retreat, I have to come back with something!

Day 1—Monday

After a mid-morning nap (don’t judge), I packed up the car and headed up to Rhode Island, stopping along the way at an outlet mall I spotted (this as a way of paying homage to my mother and our shopping traditions).

I knew I was right to say yes when I noticed two things: the sky seemed bluer and, with the exception of the outlet mall, I hadn’t seen a retail chain in hours.

I’m not really a boat person, but they sure are purty to look at as they bob up and down in the water, and as the English accent in my GPS directed me to “turn left” over and over again, it began to dawn on me that when the description of the place read, “near the water” the owner wasn’t kidding.

My home away from home is a three-story duplex at the end of a little road, a block away from the harbor. It has a deck and a sunbathing deck. Karen has explained to me that the sunbathing deck is higher than the surrounding houses so that I can be naked up there in private. I should note that it’s about 60 degrees, and I get cold in the summer…and I think the sea-gulls would laugh at naked Tricia “sunbathing” on some random roof.

Karen brought the dog, rum, tequila, and some green concotion she’s calling soup. I brought a bottle of good Zinfandel, a few movies, and grapes. Oh and we both brought the stuff we need to write.

I went on two walks in my first few hours here. That’s a good thing.

Dinner at the restaurant around the corner was delicious, and I’m tempted to go back to try the chicken-fried lobster. I mean, seriously—chicken fried lobster? Oh. My. Gawd.

It’s quiet and we’re living among the locals, talking about our multiple writing projects, men, some model who married some athlete, and the mixed pleasures of dog ownership.

Last night I knew I was in retreat mode when I ended the day reading the poems I’ll be writing about this week. I put on the ridiculously fluffy robe my father bought me for Christmas last year with the new slippers I bought for the trip and did a bit of writing, something I rarely due after 7:00 pm unless an editor is pestering me for revisions.

In the words of Orphan Annie: I think I’m gonna like it here.