A Glamorous Retreat? No Thanks, I’m Good!

May 4, 2021 § 29 Comments

By Morgan Baker

The world is slowly opening, and we’re all trying to figure out what’s safe to do. I’ve started seeing notices and ads announcing writing retreats coming up in different locales – Italy, Florida, Cuba and Newfoundland – and notices about residencies to which a writer can apply to work in solitude and join others for meals.

I, for one, am not going to a movie theater any time soon, let alone any residencies, retreats or workshops in far-off lands. I have always looked at those writing havens with envy. I live outside of Boston and fantasize about warmer climates where I could write and converse with other writers. But, I can’t afford them, nor could I really leave my teaching job to go write in Costa Rica. But while we were all locked in our houses and everyone took to the internet,  this pandemic gave me a writing community – something I’ve never really had, and I’ve been at this work for a while. I am not a big self-promoter and I’m not particularly good at inserting myself in others’ lives.

Not only did I zoom with my stepfather and my coffee group in the past twelve months, I have taken more writing classes and gone to more workshops and seminars than ever before. I took classes with instructors I had only dreamed of working with. I signed on to the Writers’ Bridge “platform chat” and every two weeks listened to what Allison K Williams and Ashleigh Renard had to share with the writers there – more than 200 of us – about social media, getting blurbs for your book, how to be a good literary citizen, and how to write effective social posts. I am in a bi-monthly Zoom workshop with a teacher I’ve worked with in asynchronous classes, but I’d never seen her face. She’d had in-person workshops in the Pacific Northwest or Hawaii, to which I could not go. Now I discuss my writing projects with her and a few other writers in kitchens and home offices. We have become friends and critical readers.

I have learned from a literary agent’s seminar to concentrate on one of my writing projects. I worked on a piece about my pandemic quilting with a teacher in New York City, and placed the essay later. I wrote yet another piece comparing quilting to writing that also found a home, here. In yet another workshop, I was encouraged to write with humor. So far I’ve failed at that.

I met more writers through Instagram and workshops. I don’t know any of them in “real” life, but I am connected to them through their writing, and their books have illuminated new stories and deepened my understanding of the world.

I joined Facebook groups, where I stalk and read, but rarely post. I created a mini writing group that meets every three weeks. We live in Massachusetts, Ohio and Montreal. I joined another group that meets most Fridays as a drop-in session. In January I closed the door to my home office keeping my husband, daughter and dog out so I could focus, committing myself to a virtual retreat all day for 5 days. It was so successful, I’ve signed up for another one. While we weren’t all lounging on a Costa Rican patio, we were in each others’ homes. One writer’s background was a pile of packing boxes, others sat in bedrooms and kitchens. Some had home offices that looked tidier than mine. These “visits” are probably the closest I’ll get to sitting in a warm climate, staring at a view of mountains or the sea.

Before the pandemic, I offered private writing workshops in my house, in addition to my college teaching. I engaged with the writers who drank tea and discussed their work at my dining room table where my dog came to say hi every meeting. Then the world stopped, and I moved my workshops from my table to my Zoom account. I’ve had participants from California, Rhode Island and Cambodia. I will continue these even when we’re all back to hugging one another.

While the world shrank and slowed down, I’ve been busier than ever with my writing. I’m in my sunny yellow home office all the time. I’m either teaching my college classes, writing, editing for the web magazine I work for, or connecting with other writers.

I hate the pandemic, don’t get me wrong. My father-in-law died from Covid, I don’t see my friends, and I haven’t seen my father in over a year. Recently, I was able to hug my stepfather. He and his partner have been holed up in their home, going for lots of walks, playing the recorder, and futzing on the computer, but isolated. Now all vaccinated, we sat at their dining room table for dinner and talked. It felt so right and so weird.

I’m glad the CDC has said I don’t have to wear a mask all the time, but I probably will until I can trust that those unvaccinated are still wearing theirs. But when writers start drifting away from their computers to fly to glamorous in-person retreats, I will wish them well – and wave them on from the ground.

_______________________________________

Morgan Baker teaches at Emerson College where she was honored with the Alan L. Stanzler Award for Excellence in Teaching. She is also the Managing Editor of The Bucket. Her work can be found at The Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Cognoscenti, Talking Writing, Under The Gum Tree, Expression, among other publications.  She is working on a memoir about her empty nest.

§ 29 Responses to A Glamorous Retreat? No Thanks, I’m Good!

  • Linda MacDonald says:

    Beautifully relatable!!

  • I have experienced the same surprise during the pandemic. While my in-person life shrank, my writing community grew, and I loved it. Thank you for stating what should have been obvious: a solid pandemic writing community is the 2021version of a writing retreat. Post- vaccine, I hope some of these Zoom communities of creativity and support remain in our lives.

  • ryder ziebarth says:

    And I do love seeing you on Zoom, and hearing your wonderful essays on friday, Morgan, at the Cedar Ridge Writers workshop. Some day though, I’d love to have the you, and the entire group down to the farm in NJ for an extended stay. Maybe not so glamorous as other distant retreats, but there is something about working away from home in the company of other writers that reaffirms those writerly bonds.

  • dkzody says:

    Technology has been the savior of this pandemic.

  • Munmun Rudra says:

    yes…really im in the same boat

  • Morgan Baker reminds us of the tiny lace edging of silver in an otherwise bleak year.

    My writing community remains nonexistent except for treasured supporters who visit my blog, but then I realize I am not and never have been very social. I have attended readings I would never have been able to travel for, but the isolation has been less troubling for me than for many people. Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, I met face to face with a writer-friend (both of us fully vaccinated). She confessed to spending a great deal of time lying on her couch and missing her social life.

    We all miss family and the people we treasured. Beyond that, I most miss the farmers markets. Like Baker, I am in no hurry to enter a theater except for a live performance.

  • bearcee says:

    Thank you for such an upbeat look at this weird world we’ve been living in. Much of what you wrote resonated with me. I’m hoping to find a reading and writing group I can connect with regularly. So far, my introversion has inhibited me. But you’ve set a standard! Thanks again.

    • Morgan Baker says:

      Thanks for your note and for reading. Try going on the “bridge” – sign up – it’s every other Tuesday at 1 (Eastern). It’s where I started to meet people. The link is in my essay.

  • bearcee says:

    Thank you for such an upbeat look at this weird world we’ve been living in. Much of what you wrote resonated with me. I’m hoping to find a reading and writing group I can connect with regularly. So far, my introversion has inhibited me. But you’ve set a standard!

  • candacecahill says:

    I, too, finally have a writer’s community because of covid. I live in remote Alaska and normally spend much of the cold, off-season secluded, so although the pandemic didn’t change my routine that much, it has made for a long ‘winter.’ I look forward to seeing people in person, mask-less and huggable, but will continue to lean on my new online support systems.

  • stacyeholden says:

    Love this…a good reminder to be more deliberate in creating community with all the new technologies out there.

    • Morgan Baker says:

      Thank you for reading. Finding/creating community can be challenging. Look at the “bridge” that is referenced and linked in the essay.Thanks for reading.

  • All of this resonates. And, you writing has wonderful humor. Your productivity encourages me. Thanks for this reminder about how so much is up to us.

  • ninagaby says:

    If not for Covid I’d never have met you, so there is that! Thanks for the timely post here, because now I worry about how we will keep all the connections we have made over the past year. They have been a lifeline.

  • David Abend says:

    Great piece Morgan. We’re lucky to have your talent and perspective at The Bucket.

  • Morgan Baker says:

    Hi Nina – Yes! We met! It’s so great. I hope we can continue these connections going. I love that we are all across the country. Thanks for reading and “see” you Friday.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with you. There’s little to thank the pandemic for and, yet, we have to find some slivers of silver lining to keep our sanity and hang on to hope. For me, it’s being able to attend a writing workshop I could never afford before the pandemic but can now afford because it’s being offered online. As an introvert, it wasn’t hard for me to adjust to using technology to make connections. I already have a wonderful writing community through my blog, but, indeed, there seems to be so much more available, more to do, more connections to be made. The beauty of virtually engaging with writers in other states and other countries is something I hope we ever don’t lose.

  • Nicely done, Morgan. I’m with you, on Zoom!

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