Last week, I attended my first ever quilt retreat. Before I left, I was trying to squeeze in some time to write my usual Friday blog post. It didn’t happen.
Because hasty writing = writer’s block.
My first thoughts about the word “retreat” were of the phrase “hasty retreat.” This fit my thoughts about the upcoming event (I wasn’t staying long), so I went with it as my topic. Then I tried to think of a story in my past in which I’d made, or witnessed, a hasty retreat.
Darn my idyllic, happy childhood!
I couldn’t think of a single exciting story that ends with me and/or my friends needing a getaway car. I did have a vague memory of my sister and I getting in trouble with our neighbor down the street once, so I started a story based on my memory of the old man being scary and threatening to us (oh, so innocent) kids. We get saved by our spunky mom. I liked the story until I got stuck on the neighbor’s name. Of course, I was changing the name for the story, so it shouldn’t matter but…writer’s block takes no prisoners. This was a good enough distraction, and I couldn’t continue until I figured it out, so….
I texted my sister, Anna, looking for help:
Me: Hey, what was the name of the older folks who lived on the corner near our house?
Anna: Oh, the Baldwins. They were so nice.
Me: Nice? I was writing a story about mom fighting with the old man, defending us from his horrible wrath after some car-scratching or rosebush-stomping incident. Remember?
Anna: LOL 😊 No. They were awesome. They made us cookies and gave us toys. Mr. Baldwin even patched me up with band-aids after I wrecked my bike.
Me: Rats! So much for my story.
At least that explained the writer’s block. It’s easier to write straight fiction than to write about a half-truth based on a false memory.
But still – no story. Before I let Anna off the hook, I tried again.
Me: Got any good “retreat” stories?
Anna: I loved vespers when we went to church retreats. Like a retreat within the retreat. We had to find a quiet place to meditate and be at peace with God.
Me: I was thinking “hasty retreat” stories. Exciting escapes. Close calls.
Anna: Hmm, can’t think of any. Retreats are usually peaceful. A time to recharge.
Me: (Silence, except for banging of head on table.)
After I’d recovered from the head banging, I thought about those church retreats. My memory was still a little different than hers – I remember morning meditations instead of evening prayers (vespers). Even now, I remember feeling the damp fog of a West Virginia morning filling my lungs, urging me into a jacket, as I sat perched on a hillside, sitting on a large boulder, at one with the birds, waking with the sun…
But wait! My story was not about a peaceful retreat. I was writing a story about a hasty retreat. I needed danger. Excitement. Derring-do! Darn that sweet, peaceful Anna! Sidelining me with serene thoughts and ruining my mission of describing mayhem.
But she was right. Retreats are for peace and renewal. Admitting defeat, I gave up writing and went to the quilt retreat, blog post unwritten. At least I got to leave my bad story idea, and my writer’s block, in the dust.
The retreat was held at an old 4-H camp, in a beautiful valley one county over. Autumn leaves were scattered everywhere, and the rustic setting made me remember what Anna said. I started to think about those old church camps and retreats we went on as kids, long before we had to-do lists, mortgages, responsibilities. For a moment, I understood the writer’s block.
Hasty is the modern way of life for many. Myself included. I can see now that I’d thought of this quilt retreat as hasty not just because I was only staying one night out of the planned three nights, but also because I had a lot of work planned, and I was squeezing the retreat in between my other obligations. I saw the retreat as a great opportunity to get some work done. Not as a time to relax, meet people, and recharge. Did I mention that I’d packed up materials for not one, not two, but FOUR quilt tops to work on? And I really thought I’d finish at least two.
Not much of a relaxing retreat, right? My story wasn’t just bad; I was missing the point. Hence the writer’s block.
With this realization, I decided to stop driving my sewing machine (me) so hard. I put on the brakes and retreated in earnest, even though I was only there a couple of days. I talked to people, made some new friends, reconnected with old friends, and ate a lot of great home baked goodies. Quilters are exceptional bakers, to my eternal delight.
Oh yeah, and I sewed. A little. But not too much. Instead I enjoyed the West Virginia autumn leaves and morning fog, and never once needed that getaway car.