Heart Restart

July 13, 2017 § 31 Comments


By Susanne Fletcher

On the cusp of 60 years old, I ran away to Baja California Sur, Mexico to let my heart bloom. I needed to escape–at least briefly–37 years of marriage, 35 years of office work, and 22 years of motherhood, to reclaim an old dream, so I signed on to a writing retreat, Writing Down the Baja. I intended to reframe my life in seven days. I hoped not to recognize myself when it was over.

I panicked on the plane. I restrained my arm with the opposite hand, jamming it into the armrest so I wouldn’t press the flight attendant call button. My head said relax. My heart threatened to bust out of my rib cage and plunge from the plane without a parachute. I wanted to yell “Turn the plane around and let me off. There’s been a terrible mistake. I’m not a writer!”

I arrived at Serendipity Bed and Breakfast on the fringe of Todos Santos as palm shadows stretched across the desert. Relieved, I sprawled on a warm plastic lounge chair facing the ocean and let my eyes absorb light and distance. My muscles lengthened and my sight lingered on the line dividing the Pacific Ocean and sky. Gradually the adrenalin surge of rushing through three airports and release from confinement in a spot as small as a honeycomb segment, and the sweat of self-doubt, settled.

The Pacific side of the Baja, a long hot finger of sand and cactus, felt cool and the wind off the ocean raised goosebumps. I saw a little white eruption against blue. I sat up, raised my hand over my eyes and stared. Again and again fountains burst out of the water. Whales.

Each morning, I chose a spot at the outdoor writing seminar table with intention, for inspiration and a view. While the teacher led us through morning writing exercises or we read aloud the previous day’s homework, the horizon pulled my attention to its edge, every gush in the water like a jolt on an electrocardiogram interrupting the gentle waves of my sister-writers’ discussions.

Afternoons I propped myself up on a lounge chair facing the breached blue and swaddled myself in a beach towel, knees up, blank page waiting, pen poised. Mostly I watched as a blooming cactus plant suckled hummingbirds as plentiful of marsh mosquitoes. I counted six, their long needles sipping nectar from funnel-shaped flowers and zinging to the next and next and next.

At the end of each day, I lounged under a palm tree, eyes to the horizon, book in hand, where I dozed and dreamt. An egret visited me once. Awakened by my book dropping in my lap, I looked up to see her a few strides away. White and slow, she picked up her chopstick legs, her toes opening and closing like a blown-out umbrella as she moved through the gravel with a soft tick, tick, tick. She stood forever and together we stared at the hummingbird cactus. Me, amazed. She? I don’t know, but I welcomed her stillness.

I attempted writing in a covered circular tower above my room–a Mexican garret–standing up this time. My pad of paper rested on a ledge. The wind ruffled the pages. I removed my glasses for short-sightedness to work in my favour–no more whale-gazing and daydreaming. What would I daydream about anyway? My heart reassured me I was where I wanted to be.

Head down, ink flowing onto the page, the lines filled as I pumped out prose like a gasoline nozzle–high octane, unleaded, intoxicating. Something darkened my peripheral vision. I looked up and, despite my blurred eyesight, recognized a hummingbird hovering at shoulder-height less than half a palm-frond away. I’d worn a coral-coloured t-shirt that day and undoubtedly she thought she’d found the biggest flower ever–the treasure of the Sierra Baja. Me immobilized and enchanted, she greedy and hungry, so close I heard her 80-wing-beats-per-second–or perhaps that was the rush of blood to my brain. I blinked. She buzzed away with a trrrtrrrt, a tiny defibrillator.

My heart shocked, I exhaled and wrote nothing familiar, something about jacaranda pods and penises and eyes the shade of scentless bougainvillea and Baja mutts the colour of sand. A different persona had appeared and I hardly recognized myself in my words. I was still me–wife, mother, office worker–but something else had emerged with a freshly started heart. A week at a writing retreat had pushed back the fear of claiming a new name for myself to add to the existing string–wife, mother, office worker, and writer.

 

_____________________________________

Susanne Fletcher writes fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Read more about her Baja retreat time and her work at her blog, Wuthering Bites.

 

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§ 31 Responses to Heart Restart

  • […] via Heart Restart — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • So this is how you do it. Thank you for telling it so convincingly.

    • Susanne says:

      It was how I did it, MMM, but there are many other ways to “become” a writer that don’t involve several thousand miles of travel!

      • Oh yes, yes, Susanne, but it sounded just a prescription many would embrace. It’s such a break, to start calling oneself one, isn’t it? And so silly too, if you think about it: publication cannot be a ground for it, which is what I once thought. So much fluff gets published daily. Being “any good” is so relative. Hanging out with other “writers”? Writing daily? Having written once something you liked? Anyway. Baja, whales and colibris. Yeah.

  • Exquisite.

    I was, and was not, startled by your desire to “turn the plane around.” Not for fear of flying, but for fear of facing your talent. Which is another form of flying, right? Just ask the hummer.

    Nicely done, Susanne.

    • Susanne says:

      Thanks, Maggie. The old impostor syndrome follows us everywhere. As a writing teacher once said “It’s so sad we find it hard to believe in ourselves.”

  • Just lovely and enchanting, but also true. “Me immobilized and enchanted, she greedy and hungry” – the hummingbird is like your own mirror image; your other that you had to discover.

  • jbbluesman says:

    I guess I’m not alone in thinking “why the fuck am I doing this”? I’m sure the humming bird was not mistaken, bloom on! thanks Sue

    • Susanne says:

      No, you’re not alone JB. That’s the beauty of writing and making music – you learn that while you’re alone creating, once its out there you discover all kinds of like minded people in the same boat.

  • Good for you, Susanne – Pretty and I spent a week at the Baja one year but alas, not for a writing retreat – much more mundane matters. But I was happy to visit again with you…

    • Susanne says:

      Sheila, how can anything be mundane on the Baja? I fell in love with the location – the desert, the ocean, the food, the people. I’d go again in a “heartbeat”.

  • I love this story of you and your ‘freshly started heart.’ Really beautiful Susanne.

  • I must say, this has me wanting to take a similar journey. I have always thought about it- but, it’s now something I will certainly look into. Your story was magnificent!!

  • Joanne Sisco says:

    Sometimes the inadequacy of WP shows up with its simplistic *like* button. I LOVED this.

    I love the imagery you use … ‘ She buzzed away with a trrrtrrrt, a tiny defibrillator’ , ‘ she picked up her chopstick legs, her toes opening and closing like a blown-out umbrella’, ‘hummingbirds as plentiful of marsh mosquitoes’.
    It’s a beautiful piece of writing … which isn’t a surprise at all. Whatever doubts you may have about yourself as a writer, your readers certainly don’t!

  • Susanne says:

    Oh, Joanne, that is such a wonderful comment. I’m sitting taller in my chair. I worked hard on this little piece, coming back to it over several months and it truly means a lot to read you enjoyed the images.

  • Fantastic imagery Susanne, I loved your descriptions of the egret and the hummingbird, and I was exhaling and loosening my muscles along with you while staring at the shore.

    • Susanne says:

      When I need to relax, I go there in my mind, Andrea. What is it about staring into the expanse of sea and sky that settles the soul? I have a photo of the beach and sky on my computer desktop so when I fire it up every day it greets me and reminds me.

  • simon682 says:

    Brave and brave again. Which is a strange thought for me to have because, I’ve always thought of you as a writer.

    • Susanne says:

      Thanks, Simon. Although I’ve been blogging consistently for about 5 years, its only in the last 2 that I’ve been sending out my stuff to magazines and journals. Why is it some of us – okay, maybe just me – need this external validation? I often put as much effort into a blog post as I do something I submit for publication, although that’s changing as I try to redirect my energy. I’m immensely grateful to the blogosphere because through it I became a writer and it still gives me a place to practice when I can’t seem to get the words out when I want to take myself “seriously”.

      • simon682 says:

        I write in a number of places and under a couple of different names. I have absolutely no desire to be published under my own name and little ambition for any measure of success under any other. And these are reasons why I enjoy it so much. For blogging I don’t allow more than a cursory re-draft and tend to press publish within an hour of starting out. I read a lot of very good stuff on the blogosphere and bless the timing of my life that it coincided with cheap, fun and largely anonymous way of writing to an audience.

      • Susanne says:

        Ohh, the mysterious Mr. Johnson! Now i’m intrigued about those other identities. I tried doing that once but I got confused and started to feel a little unbalanced so I removed that blog.

      • simon682 says:

        Nothing mysterious. I blog for fun and write for money. Like you my blogs sometimes contain my best writing.

  • equipsblog says:

    I lived in San Diego (just north of Baja California). Reading your blog post was like revisiting the Pacific Coast. Loved the beach, the humming birds, the California Gray Whales when they Migrate in the Winter, the Egrets. Thanks for sharing and bringing back many lovely memories. Splendid details and imagery. Hope the writing spurred you on to great things this year.

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