Retreat to Advance: Somewhere in Perth Part 1

I flew to Perth, Western Australia, late last week for a writing retreat and to house sit for one of my sons and his wife while they are overseas.

It’s an interesting combination. To retreat is to pull back or move away for privacy, as well as to withdraw after a defeat. House sitting involves accommodating oneself to different household appliances, neighbourhoods, shopping centres and traffic conditions. Together they imply  domestic, personal and social restructuring, albeit temporary.

I chose to combine the two because a novel I’m working on has stalled. I also need to step away from my ‘normal’ life, to reflect on my feelings and thoughts about many complicated but essential aspects of my world.

On arrival in Perth I immersed myself in the pleasure of catching up with my loved ones and helping them with preparations for their trip. Then came the reality of an unfamiliar, suddenly quiet and seemingly empty space.White_room

Except it’s not empty. I’m here, and although I’ve not started writing I have planned my ‘program’, organised a writing space and learned to understand the suspirations and limina unique to this house.

Part of my plan is to ‘report’, via Elixir, my progress. Every Sunday I will share what challenged me; what I achieved; how I achieved it; how I stayed, or failed to stay, on track and what I did when I took time off.

person woman desk laptop
Photo by Breakingpic on

Writing is a solitary activity; retreating from the demoralising interruptions of daily life, combined with facing down the inner (and outer) demons that sabotage a writing practice, needs time and a comfortable living space. Thankfully I have both, and find the prospect and challenge of the coming weeks daunting and beguiling.

Footnote: I contacted my Facebook Writing Group for tips, hints and ideas for getting through a solitary writing retreat and received some amazing support. If you have any tips about writing while in retreat, I’d be delighted and grateful if you could share them with me and my readers. Thank you.

From the Other Side

I felt like doing something creative today. Here is the result:

What, she thought as stirred her coffee, has changed? What, she wondered, has gone out of her life? Waking up early, driving to work, finding a park that’s not too far from her office but far enough to imagine she’s doing some exercise? Planning sales meetings, staff meetings, baby showers, pre-wedding parties, and what about writing memos or meeting clients? Lunch, when she had it, weaving her way through the warp and weft of the lunchtime crowds, trying not to get caught up in the nicks of conversations she overheard? When she was saving money, eating takeaway, sitting alone with three hundred other people in the food hall eating burgers that tasted like sweat? Enjoying bistro lunches with co-workers when she had the cash? Being given a good assignment; immersing herself in research; getting lost in the company’s data bases; telling colleagues she was busy and couldn’t help them; watching their slow tread back to their cubicles? Feeling left out when her manager gave someone else an assignment? Feeling like an imposter when everyone else contributed but she was blank? Not wanting to work on that project anyway? Feeling she didn’t really deserve her place? Trying to balance work with family and friends? The comfort of a daily routine where her work, her ideas, were once, briefly, nurtured.   City_up

She sipped her coffee and bit, distracted, into her cup cake. What, she wondered, has she gained? Waking up late, solitude, not scrambling from one scheduled meeting to another,  like a rock climber faced with an unexpected overhang and forced to rootle sideways to get where she wants? She bit again into the cup cake, wondering whether she had wanted to get to the top or merely enjoyed the climb?

What else had she gained? Not taking instructions or orders from others; not being interrupted to take another phone call; reading; joining a book group; leaving the library, balancing in her arms anything from three to six books and four back copies of magazines? Spending more time with her grandchildren? Seeing friends? Sorting through her four decades of photographs and scanning them into her new laptop?

She gazed out the window. Mel was crossing the road. She watched her negotiate the traffic then turned to see her stride into the café. Together, from opposite sides of the room,  they raised their hands in greeting. Mel ordered a coffee, sat down and smiled. ‘Retirement suits you,’ she said.

She thinks again about what she’s lost and what she’s gained and smiles. ‘Tell me, how are things are at the mad house?’ she says, and they laugh. Coffee_cafe