Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Going against the flow

By Julie

Every year, we make goals for our retreat before we go. Along with a few jokes about how I'm the one in charge of junk food and wandering around, I halfheartedly make some goals. Well, I take that back. I make my goals with very good intentions. But inevitably, as we go around the table in the evenings, everyone else recounting how their day went and what they accomplished, I'm saying, "I didn't get a single thing done today, as usual."
Photo credit: Christi's Flickr photostream

It always seems to come as a surprise, and yet, not a surprise, that what I accomplish at these things is not exactly what I set out to do. I know it, but I still attempt to make it happen differently. I relearn this lesson every year. (Sometimes more than once, as I've been on a few retreats like this with other groups in recent years.)

The thing is, as much as I love them, my What Women Write ladies and myself, we are not alike. The main thing being, I am a die-hard night owl with a daytime focus problem. Susan and Pamela are night owls to a degree, yet they always still seem to be up and at it fairly early in the morning. I plan to go to sleep when everyone else does and wake when they do so I can partake of "coffee" (or as it so happens with me, an iced drink), breakfast, and morning conversation, bright-eyed and bushy tailed as the rest, get right to work, and pound out the words.

Right. This never happens. Ever.

The nice thing is, I kind of figured out why this year.

At home, I am typically on fire from about four or five in the afternoon until about three in the morning, writing, working on blog posts, etc., with short breaks for picking up kids from school, making dinner, etc. Yesterday and today, I was back home and in my normal environment, waking sluggishly to the day, sipping on my iced tea midday, looking around at my Facebook newsfeed, reading blog posts, reading a book, etc., until suddenly, around 4:30 p.m., my brain switched ON.

And I was off and running.

This weekend, I'd end up doing the same thing, except I'd try to wake up early, then give in to the temptation of actually getting enough sleep, because of course I had been awake until three a.m. or later. Then when I did get up, I'd wander down to the kitchen, pour myself a glass of iced tea, and eat my "brunch," just as everyone else finished lunch and scattered back to their various writing hideouts.

A few hours later, my brain would suddenly kick in. Right as everyone else was ready to wrap things up for the day and start getting ready for dinner, I'd be truly settling into the space I'd claimed in the study of our retreat house. I'd rush to get down on paper what had been brewing in my mind most of the day, but was torn as I felt like I needed to go help in the kitchen or otherwise participate in whatever was happening. I'd usually choose to reluctantly rejoin the world, because I have to admit that having this skewed schedule always makes me feel a little out of the loop. I have that weird feeling I'll miss something important. It's that human longing to belong, I guess.

But the realization dawned: If this is the way my brain and body function at home, why on earth do I think I can change it for a weekend? Why do I think I can change it overnight?

Am I kind of crazy?

Not to mention, it typically even takes me several days after returning from vacation or traveling for book events, etc., to settle back into this routine that works. I am, in general, a wanderer. So why do I think I can settle in and really produce on a retreat that only lasts three to four days?

And then there's the fact that while I'm no longer the shy person I once was at all, I am completely an introvert. While you'd never know it from the amount of talking, laughing, and joking I do around others, people actually exhaust me. I need lots of down time to recoup the energy I expend while among them. I've spent the last two days, to a degree, recovering from all the togetherness, as fun as it was.

But in spite of all that, here's something:

This weekend was NOT worthless. 

Once I admitted to myself yet again that I probably wasn't going to get much tangible "stuff" done, I relaxed and mostly enjoyed just chilling out, having long, deep conversations with various members of our group at odd times, thinking through my own dilemma of "what I'm supposed to be writing next," and actually making some pretty big decisions about that during group read-and-critique sessions and my times of quiet contemplation, lying in my cozy twin bed in the wee hours of the morning or later when I awoke but before I emerged to be among people.

As it turns out, retreats don't work the same for all of us. Once I settle in at home, I get a lot of work done. I usually manage to partition my time and obligations fairly well and do what I need to do--often by doing it late at night. I don't necessarily need a retreat to produce words like some of my fellow writers do.

But I do need retreats to simply get away with like-minded people, get away from my everyday routine--maybe even to shake things up a bit.

If I ever decide I want to take a writing retreat where I really get words on the page, I suspect I'm going to need to find a few people who work on my schedule--and that could be pretty tricky--and most likely I'll need to be gone a hefty number of days so I have a chance to settle in well and really get going.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy these chances to hang out with my friends, my fellow writers, and accept what I receive there.

What about you, readers. How do your routines or circadian rhythms mesh with others' when you go on retreats? Or vacations? Or life in general? How well have you accepted that?


  1. Insightful! I'm, strangely, a middle-of-the-day kind of person. Not too early and not too late!

    1. I'd settle for that some days, Sophie! Thanks for reading!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...