It’s taken me a while to get round to updating my blog. Last week I ran an online writing retreat with guest readers and workshop facilitators. It was a full on week, but goodness, completely and utterly enriching for me, and I hope for the participents. I’m going to tell you a little bit about it. Forgive me for going on, but this was one of those events that marked a high point in my career as a facilitator as well as a writer, and something that I never, ever thought I would be in a position to organise. I enjoyed the experience so much that I am currently organising the next retreat. Details to follow.
One of the reasons it has taken me a while to get the blog updated is because I decided to place myself fully into the running of the retreat and to use all time between hosting events and running workshops to rest. There were things that couldn’t be put off – emails to answer, the magazine to run – but mostly I went into the retreat knowing it would feel overwhelming if I didn’t allow myself some downtime between the events. Obviously this meant a backlog of small jobs built up in the meantime, and I’m only just getting on top of it. I’m hoping to finish work on 23rd December and not return to my desk until 3rd of January 2022, so I am currently in full scale work mode, catching up to have a week off from which I will have to catch up from.
Anyway, back to the retreat. As far as retreats go, it was a small group, just eighteen people plus myself and, surprise surprise, all women. I’m not sure what it is about me that puts the men folk off working with me. (because I refer to them as ‘men folk’ perhaps?)I do get the impression that I’m not really taken seriously as a writer or workshop facilitator by some men, perhaps because I write about, or have written about baby death and pregnancy and infertility. Traditionally ‘women’s issues’. Maybe it’s because I am ‘friendly and approachable’ which seems to translate as fluffy and inconsequential in some circles. There are, of course, women writers who don’t take me seriously either. Although it irritates me slightly; this feeling of not being taken seriously as a writer/facilitator, I have an inkling that it might well be more about my own insecurities. You can’t please all the people. And I know I carry my working class background on my shoulder, not like a chip, more like a parrot; always telling me that I don’t fit in and am not good enough. The same parrot tells me all sorts of awful stuff about how ugly and fat I am and how I won’t fit in because of that too and how I am totally unlovable. I’m not going to lie, the parrot is a nasty little bitch. But I’m sort of used to it now, the parrot, and mostly it is fairly inconsequential to me, mostly it doesn’t rule me, mostly I find that a bit of kindness to the parrot goes a long way. Maybe it just wants a cracker and a dark cover and some sleep in a safe place, I don’t know. I have stretched the analogy of the parrot too far now. It is dead. It is no more. etc. Anyway, back to the retreat. To be honest, to be able to share the week of the retreat with an all woman group was something very special indeed. What I’ve learnt as a facilitator is that to be able to provide a safe, warm, welcoming place where people, and in particular women, can just be, is important. And that’s what the retreat was like. We had people from all backgrounds, people with all sorts of personal life difficulties, all looking for something special to them. I wanted to create a place that felt like a retreat in the true sense of the word, where just for a few hours in the day, people could come and prioritise themselves and their writing. There were opportunities to hone writing skills, to be prompted to write new work, but there was also plenty of opportunities for quiet, no pressure, group activities, just writing together, talking, sharing our thoughts. And, of course down time/writing time. The evening reading events were a real highlight, in particular our last guest of the week, Jonathan Davidson, who’s honesty about the writing world, about the working class poets who never got their chance, about his own journey and the people who he had met on that journey was filled with love and humour.
Going back to the deceased parrot- I’d happened to mention that I was feeling a bit bruised by my book not having made it onto any lists – not award lists, not book of the year lists (It is continuing in great strides to not make it onto any lists at all by the way)- and how, even though I knew I had done what I needed to do with the book, that I felt it covered what I wanted it to cover in a way that made sense to me, it still stung a bit, but that as writers you are not meant to really say that out loud. As writers we are supposed to be slapped in the face by rejection after rejection and just get on with it, because it’s part of the job. And we do, but do you know what, it hurts still. Why wouldn’t it? Every poem has a sliver of yourself in it, especially the personal ones. What I got back from sharing this was such good, solid, kind, appreciative feedback, because the people on the course had read my book. They had heard poems from it in workshops, stuff I didn’t know anything about, and I can’t tell you how much it lifted my spirits to hear that the book, the book that launched in a pandemic, was finding its way around the writing community and being used in workshops and doing good stuff for people. I do not need the lists, I need this, these moment of recognition from readers. I had been a bit blocked and that seemed to free me to be able to work on new poems for the new collection. It shut that god damned parrot up.
When I went into running the retreat, I was worried about how stressful it would be. I had plans and lists and timings and all the suff that helps me to create good structure. What I hadn’t expected was to feel so enriched and so nourished from the experience myself. To sit quietly working with a group of other writers, other women writers, was perhaps the highlight for me. So simple, but so wonderful to watch the sun coming up in a virtual room that felt warm and happy. All those years ago, when I was seeking the stepping stones to get from my old job to a career in the arts, when I was walking dogs in the p*ssing rain and scraping money together from down the back of the sofa to pay the bills, working out how we could make it to the next week while I built a ‘career’ that I wasn’t even sure was possible, I never dared dream that I would be making a living doing work like this. I had hoped, I had wished and hoped that I would, and I put a lot of work into building the career, but to be here now, doing this and thoroughly enjoying it, thoroughly enjoying it and feeling like I have found my place in the world? I was scared to even imagine it.
I know there are people reading this that will think I’m being terribly over the top about it, over emotional, over sensitive perhaps, but I don’t care. You have to celebrate the small things, because sometimes the small things are big things. I am managing my anxiety and doing the things that make me happy. A small thing, but also a big, big thing for me. I cannot wait to reproduce the experience.
I’ll do my end of the year round up next week, with favourite books of the year and with goals for 2022 laid out, but you won’t be surprised to know that more of this, more of this taking the time to enjoy the work I do and organising my workload according to what brings me joy is a goal for 2022.
I’ve set up the next retreat booking button, you can find the link here, you’ll need to scroll to the bottom: shop. It’s going to run from 21st to 25th of March. I’ll be announcing the guest readers and workshop facilitators in January. I have some absolutely top class facilitators lined up for this one. It will be Spring themed. I am so, so looking forward to welcoming the new season with a new group of participants.
Last blog of the year next week. See you then.
6 thoughts on “Retreating from the World”
Many interesting, and to my mind, valid points made throughout your post, Wendy. You describe emotions, thoughts and conclusions that I can identify with. Thank you for your insight. I’m so pleased to see that your retreat went well.
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Thank you x
Just a thought.Apart from Poetry Business ‘residentials’ I’ve been on five or six Zoom virtual residential/day-course workshops in the the last year. Self-evidently, I’ve never been on a women-only workshop. But there have been two where I’ve been the only man. The only gender balanced ones have been the PB…which are invitation courses. On all the others, men have been outnumbered 3:1. They have all (apart from the PB) been facilitated/led by women poets. And now I think about it, I’ve not been aware of ones led by men. I’m drawing no conclusions from this.
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I have consistently been in the minority as a man in writing workshops. My very first one, I was on the only man out of 16 attendees; at a Kim Moore residential, there were only three men out of over 20 people, a David Harsent poetry school workshop, only two men., etc.. This is endemic to writing courses in general, so I wouldn’t take it personally Wendy. I’m glad your workshop went well. Merry Xmas to you and family xx
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Thank you Peter, that is heartening. Wonder why more men don’t attend workshops?
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