Taking a Break

Edith here, writing from steamy north of Boston.

I just got back from six days way, way off the grid, with no internet or cell service. I didn’t catch up on Facebook or email. I missed hearing that Strangled Eggs and Ham was a Fresh Pick over at Fresh Fiction. I couldn’t read and comment on this blog or on Jungle Red Writers, as I do every morning. I didn’t hear a single piece of news. And I survived.

What made it easy was being at Pyramid Lake and the Women’s Writing Retreat. Picture eighty women from ages seventeen to ninety on a pristine Adirondacks lake. Imagine morning workshops, afternoon free time, and evening readings. Think about the prospect of grownup writers’ camp and you wouldn’t even want the Internet.

Lunch in the gazebo, which is built over a babbling brook.

Pyramid Life Center used to be a Catholic camp and is still run by Sister Monica, who takes care of everybody, including her delightful young staff, with a kind but firm hand.

Sister Monica, while JP, Eric, and Luke entertain us with a song on the last morning.

Activist and poet Sister Fran has been a regular teacher all along, often teaching journaling. I loved the time I spent chatting with her.

Only three of us were given rooms in Cabin Three, and I was lucky to get to know the youngest writer at the retreat, Hanalei Clark.

The path to Cabin Three

Hanalei and I took the Flash Fiction class together at nine-thirty every morning, and man, can that girl write. She’s also already a skilled critiquer of others’ work, too.

Flash Fiction class (minus a few who couldn’t make the last morning). Hanalei top row second from right. Thanks to Carolyn Mills for the pic.

This young woman read two poems on the last evening, one a kickass treatment of women’s rights that blew our collective socks off. Keep your eye out for her name going forward. She’s going places.

With Hanalei and our other cabinmate, Betsy wearing an art-project hat

I had fun with flash fiction and our lovely teacher, author Lalita Noronha.

Here’s a little draft I wrote the last morning, from the prompt, “first car.”

First Car

It was in my first car that I died.

I gave him one more chance. “Come on, Jose, come ride with me,” I yelled out the window of the baby blue Beetle at the cutest boy in the school.

His sneer sliced my heart in two. He turned his back and stepped onto the narrow bridge far above Devil’s River.

I gunned the engine for all it was worth and aimed the car at him. His cry echoed as he flew out, over, down.

The guardrail screamed, too, as we – my bug and I – crashed through and sailed down to join him.  

I also spent hours in my room working on Quaker Midwife #6, and managed to pound out 13,000 words of first draft.

But it wasn’t all work! Swimming in the never-seen-a-motor lake was an afternoon treat. Hearing talented writers read their poetry, memoirs, and flash fiction was another gift, and several people performed songs they had composed.

Evening readings in the boathouse

After the readings we twice had bonfires, drumming (to bring up the full moon), and storytelling. On the last night we even had a Prosecco party (told you it was grownup camp…)! And the sound of loons around the clock? Haunting, beautiful, inspiring.

At every meal, the talking never stopped. I even got to hang out with another crime fiction writer, fellow Sister in Crime Rhonda Rosenbeck.

I last went to the Women’s Writing Retreat in 2001, years before I’d completed a book. After I left that year, I wrote “The Taste of Winter,” my first published full-length story, as a result of a challenge (“Write a story about middle-aged romance”) from one of the writers.

Kayaks and canoes for anyone to use

I plan to make the four-and-a-half-hour drive to Pyramid Lake again next year. The price is SO reasonable – $300 for the week, including all meals. Will you join me? Readers, ask me a question about the week – this post barely dented the surface of the experience!

33 Thoughts

  1. Everybody (including writers!) needs a break and a change of scene. Your description reminded me of the excursion forty classmates and I took a trip to Northern Italy, thanks to two wonderful classmates and their relatives. Most of us had been there at some point in our earlier lives, but sometimes there is such a thing as too much art. When we were wandering around Lucca, a few of us looked at each other and said, “Enough art! Let’s go get more gelato.” And we did.

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  2. cj Sez: Pyramid Lake sounds like a wonderful place. Thanks for sharing, Edith. The $300 is soooo reasonable, but it’d be the air fare from Mobile, AL, and the rental car fee that keeps me from attending. I’m happy to attend vicariously through your post.

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  3. What a wonderful electronic-free week! Everyone should have a chance to experience nature at its fullest and purest. It’s inspiration for so much in life, even life itself. Thanks for sharing this beautiful experience with us.

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  4. Sounds fantastic. And well worth being cut off from the internet for. Personally, I find there are times I need to be unplugged to recharge.

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  5. Summer camp for grownups! Huzzah! It reminds me of the WOW (Working on Our Work) weekends two storytelling friends organize, with time for each person to get input into a story or other work in progress. Costs also kept minimal, lovely house on the Ohio River, and good food. It was where I made plans for my first CD.
    Driving home in heavy rain, the consolation from the rest area consultant was, “at least it isn’t freezing rain.”
    https://storytellermary.wordpress.com

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  6. This sounds wonderful and thanks for sharing. I noted before you went that you urged other writers to think about it for next year, and I certainly am. I’ve been to a writing retreat exactly once and it was kind of life changing. Plus? I went to Girl Scout camp in the Adirondacks many summers and have been there since,too. Love it. Have to look at a map and do some real thinking. My long-distance driving skills are rusty but there must be a way. Thank you!

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      1. I checked the map and know just about where it is. I haven’t driven more than an hour in a long time (husband loves to drive, I don’t) but maybe I should start practicing. OR – the NY-Montreal train stops in Ticonderoga! There’s time to figure it out. Crime Writers United! 🙂

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  7. This retreat sounds fabulous – and so reasonable. I enjoyed that sharp little bit of flash fiction.

    I’ve never been on a writing retreat and want to go to this one. One little problem though, I’m on the other coast.

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  8. From Lalita Noronha, who emailed me that she was unable to post a comment: “Edith, thank you for your lovely post. You covered the beauty, peace, the fellowship of women of all ages, the learning and writing, the haunting calls of the loons, the freedom from technology and the depressing news on and on, and the freedom to just live in peace. Thank you for mentioning me and our picture.”

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