I think some people thought me strange to drive 9 hours to spend a week in Winchester, Virginia on a “writing retreat.” After all, I work from home. Couldn’t I get the same work done there? Maybe. But I feel there are many advantages to getting away from your daily routine and surroundings. Virginia proved to be an extremely successful experiment.
Of course, it wouldn’t be one of my adventures if I didn’t do something stupid. The first day I was here, all alone in the middle of nowhere, I went outside to take some photos. Instinctively I pulled the door shut behind me, forgetting that it locked automatically. With no phone and the house keys and even my car keys now locked inside, I became filled with a combination of embarrassment, anger and growing panic. I eventually found a window that was unlocked, popped off the screen and crawled back inside. Idiot.
The Farm: An old hunting lodge (no girls allowed!)
The farmhouse in which I spent a week belongs to my cousin, Moira. The last time I was there was while on vacation with my family as a kid. While I didn’t have a lot of detailed memories of the place, it was amazing how it all came flooding back to me when I drove down the winding laneway. The gate. The pond. The shed. And the smell! That more than anything stirred up the nostalgia.
The modern apartment Moira’s family added to the back of the old part of the house was great. I got to enjoy the rustic and historical qualities of the old part without having to sacrifice any creature comforts.
The place itself is drenched in history. The original part of the house was a hunting lodge in the 1700s, belonging to Thomas, Lord Fairfax. According to Moira, this guy was quite the character. Apparently his bride-to-be stood him up at the altar in England. Jilted, he gave the finger to the Old World and cried his way to Virginia where he had been granted millions of acres of property.
He built his hunting cabin and still pissed off at the entire female gender, established a strict “no-girls” policy, allowing no women to enter unless they were servants. Talk about jaded.
The story gets cooler though. Before his Delaware-crossing glory days, George Washington got to know Fairfax, working as a surveyor in nearby Winchester, Virginia. According to Wikipedia,
“George’s father died when George was 11 years old, after which George’s half-brother Lawrence became a surrogate father and role model. William Fairfax, Lawrence’s father-in-law and cousin of Virginia’s largest landowner, Thomas, Lord Fairfax, was also a formative influence.”
George Washington and Lord Fairfax would have spent time here at the cabin. Being able to stay in the same place they did is pretty cool. I was worried the ghost of Lord Fairfax or Washington might disturb my writing but they kept to themselves which was thoughtful.
The relationship between physical space and headspace
Have you ever had a problem that simply won’t un-problem itself? You sit and ponder and stress and think and think and think but the answers just won’t come? Or as a writer, the thoughts that are jumbled and bouncing around your brain simply won’t spill out of your pen (or keyboard)? Or worse still, the well of creativity runs dry?
I find that if I’m wrestling with something the best thing I can is step away and go do something else. More ideas and solutions have come to me doing the dishes or sitting on the toilet than from sitting in front of the computer, staring at an empty screen for hours on end. Getting into a new headspace by changing my physical space has always worked for me. My writing retreat in Virginia was the Liquid-Plumr® to my clogged brain and I was thrilled with how much work I was able to accomplish.
Being in a place steeped in so much history and surrounded by such natural beauty has really helped inspire me too.
The other great part about going on a retreat is the intentional focus. I had a number of projects I had wanted to get into and they were starting to pile up. Getting away for a while from distractions like a TV and phone and social temptations was great. Putting myself in a situation where those things weren’t an option really helped me focus on my work.
So if you’re feeling like you may need to recharge your batteries, get inspired, unclog some ideas, wrestle with some of life’s big questions or buckle down and get some serious work done, you may want to consider going on a retreat. I feel reinvigorated and ready to dive back into things.
A huge thank you to Moira for her above-and-beyond generousity and hospitality (and for coming out and treating me to a delicious American Thanksgiving feast!).
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