One whole week —- an entire, unencumbered week —- has presented itself and I’m taking it.  I’m going to pretend I’m at a far away writing retreat right here in my own house.  Plenty of coffee on hand.  No appointments.  No errands to be run.  Laundry that can wait.  Starting Monday I’ll be shutting the door, turning off these interwebs, and working like a madwoman.  Or laying my head on my desk for hours in a frustration-induced coma.  Or both.

Anyway.  Off I go….

As I head off to write until my hand cramps, I leave you this.

Nick Flynn, page 72.  

The homeless shelter he works for has required him to take a Death and Dying Workshop.

What I remember of the workshop was that at some point the facilitator had us write out a list of the ten most important things in our lives.  This list could include people, objects, things we liked to do, a memory that was important to us.  

She gave us a few minutes to make our list, and then she spoke a little about dying — “dying is a process” she said, “death is an endpoint.  Or a threshold, if that’s what you believe.”   When we are dying, she told us, one by one we have to let go of those things that are precious to us, things we thought we needed to make it through our days.  And so she had us cross three things off of our list, those things we would be able to let go of first, because we couldn’t move forward, toward the end, with everything.

I looked at my list.  I felt like I’d been tricked.  I’d already distilled everything in my life down to these ten things, and now I had to distill further.  Muttering, I crossed off Paris.  I crossed off photography.  I crossed off my truck.  The facilitator let us talk to the person next to us about what we had let go of.  Now I would have to bicycle everywhere, now I would never make it back to Paris, now I would have to live with the photographs I’d already taken. 

Now, the facilitator said, cross off three more.  Hater.  I crossed off the ocean.  I crossed off the shelter.  I crossed off all my ex- and future lovers.  I was down to four — my friends (I shifted my then-lover to this list), my writing, my body, and the one photograph I had of me with my mother.  I felt desperate.

The facilitator said to cross off two more.  Vengeful god, this posed a real problem.  If I crossed off my body, could I still exist?  Without friends who would catch me when I fell?  Could I hold the image of my mother in my mind without that photograph, when my memory was so bad?  If I could no longer write, would anything ever make sense?


And on that note, my friends, I’ll see you next week.

16 thoughts on “Retreat

  1. Josephine

    just the cover of that book makes me happy now. (kinda like that view.)
    may your retreat be exactly what you need.
    i’m going to think about whittling down my list; i’m also thinking about death and dying—it’s showing up all over the place.

    1. Teri Post author

      I love this pretend-view for my pretend-retreat.

      Just the idea of this list …. in addition to the obvious, it also brings to mind all of the things we carry out of habit, even those that may be weighing us down, things we no longer need.

      1. Deb

        Is that the view from the monastery with (the phonetically spelled because I don’t have czech symbols on my keyboard) Hradcheny castle in the background? That view would definitely do! I’m headed to the cottage in the woods for a couple of days near the end of the week to do the same thing. Happy writing!

  2. Catherine

    Great writing, and somehow useful for the piece I am thinking of doing now. Good luck with your stretch of pure writing time. I hope you can upend the frustrations and move ahead with illumination and no hand cramps!

    1. Teri Post author

      I see the hand cramps coming, so I’m mentally preparing myself. I don’t write my on paper, but I’m at the point in the m.s. where I need to read it on paper, stop and wonder and dream, and figure out what I’m really trying to say. I know that all of you know exactly what I mean.

      Bring on those hand cramps. I have Advil and wine at the ready.

  3. lisahgolden

    That list is enough to make my teeth hurt. I hang on to so much stuff – physical and otherwise.

    Your idea of a retreat sounds wonderful. To stop the distractions is brilliant. Seriously, what can’t wait? The dogs. Period. And those walks are refreshing, right?

    Also, thank you. You know what I’m talking about. I love your stationary.

    1. Teri Post author

      Funny you mention teeth. I’ve been clenching my teeth in my sleep lately. New for me. WTF?

      Here’s to you and yours, Lisa.

  4. Averil Dean

    I am a bit weepy today for no apparent reason (I blame hormones when there is nothing particular to point to), and this list thing hit me between the eyes. Maybe I need a week of my own to milk the misery. Isn’t that where all the good stuff comes from?

    1. Teri Post author

      This could be useful, right? “Weepy” (as miserable as it is) has always proved useful for me in the writing sphere. No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader, and all that.

      I blame hormones for everything. As well we should.

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