Since attending Commonweal in July 2011, my year was anything but a dry spell, especially in comparison to the previous fifteen. However, there were times where work had me spent; it seemed my creative juices had just evaporated. During these times, I hovered somewhere between depression and a deep anxiety that I was all washed up before I even started. I wrote many pieces only to delete. Delete. Delete.
Enter my second retreat under the awesome and skilled guidance of Laura Davis. It could not have come a day too soon. Prior to that, I aspired to be a gabby social media head, in effect, a body-less deejay. I was willing to forgo everything physical–the bad (like pain) with zeal, and the good with a quiet reluctance. The list included panic attacks, swollen joints, the touch of a friend’s hand on my shoulder, curled toes, hugs, fear, the feel of scrubbing my feet with a loofa and lounging in a cat-claw tub, while burning a candle.
I would live at home in a pickle jar on my desk right in front of my bay window. When I would tune into Terry-specific weather reports, which predicted the climate inside my pickle jar, my meteorologist was there. “In tomorrow’s forecast,” he reported, “… look for a gentle splash of vinegar on the horizon, but only as long as the breeze stays soft and gentle. Do watch for Brute, your German shepherd. He likes sniffing and head-butting your jar at night when you sleep.”
Yep. I’m on nothing but a slow stew. With almost no interference, I would bob around, excited by my new thought-to-internet enhancements. I would have finally found what works for me.
Once I arrived in Bolinas, it was all for naught. An alluring solution? Being a quivering gray-matter-blob in a jar? Likability scale? Not so much. When I came down from the stress of my outside life, I found myself enjoying every second. I was in the midst of twenty-two other writers, all of whom were from different avenues of life, which added to the wealth of creativity, knowledge, wisdom and jokesters. I was in awe of the company I was keeping. How lucky was I?
During those six days, the environment was electric. We enjoyed healthy, delicious food, wrote a lot, shared our work with everyone, as well as in smaller groups. We all became less frantic versions of ourselves. After two good sleeps, I was so relaxed I did not recognize myself. If pictures followed my progress, they would have started with my stoic and exhausted face, with huge circles under my eyes, and my mouth held tight.
Shortly after, a new photo would have depicted the shift. My face wore a kiss of the sun on both cheeks. In classes and groups, and most of the time, I sat doubled over, slapping my knee, and laughing so hard, tears bubbled from my eyes, nose, and even ears, it seemed. I was even in physical pain but the hilarity that ensued from that mix of people, blunted out anything that hurt.
Giving my dry spell the boot is extremely scary to me. I never shared this but need to do so here now. For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m working on a memoir about my life and survival. In 1987, I submitted what I thought was a book proposal to a friend who worked at a publishing house. I will save qualifiers for another time. After two weeks of waiting with no word, I swallowed my fear and found the courage to call her. “Have you had a chance to look at what I sent?” I said. My friend stammered. Was that a nervous laugh? It could have been but it did not matter.
That was the last straw. It was true. I was a big joke, so I gave up. I sold almost everything I owned. When a roommate asked, “Are you moving?” I did not know. Within a week, something happened which triggered my suicide. I was in a rage when I woke up. How dare they drag me back?
Things are so different now. I did, however, start having panic attacks in the latter days of the retreat. Terror filled me that, even though I think I am more knowledgeable and emotionally able to handle it, I just might be wrong. I had to make that vulnerability known so I could counteract it with kind, straight-up-honest, gentle voices. I could not do so before leaving, which is why I tell this story.
I ended my dry spell and that is exhilarating, life affirming, freeing and so stimulating. Also, I could not be in more capable, kind, honest, and down-to-earth hands than those of Laura, David and The Writer’s Journey. I trust them implicitly and vow to do the same with myself as well, even with my fears and occasional obsessing on times I fell in the past.