it’s just something you do

November 22, 2011

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I went away for a writing retreat with friends this weekend.

For years we’ve gathered at the coast, but this time we found ourselves on the backroads of Northern California. Instead of looking out over beaches, we had buttes. And a most changing landscape–for a landscape that at first seemed unchanging.

We were astonished by snow.

We drank strong coffee and wrote words on the backs of tickets. Then we made poetry. (An activity that’s as fun to do with kids as it is with adults, inspired by Susan Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy.)

We watched a heron and a hawk face off from a distance of ten feet, and stare each other down for hours.

We ate well. These pumpkin steel-cut oats were delicious (and will be making a comeback in my kitchen on Thanksgiving morning) and Heidi Swanson’s surprising salad with kale, coconut and farro, from this cookbook, was worth pulling from the fridge, meal after meal.

We stayed warm with a wood stove.

We wrote postcards to each other, from fictional and somewhat emotionally-unstable characters.

We walked alongside fallow rice fields. Then we went back to the cabin and blasted I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got while making barley risotto.

And we wrote. Which is what we’d set out to do.

Getting away like this, once a year or so, matters more to me than I probably realize. It’s about being with friends and being without responsibilities, yes, but it’s also about feeding my artistic self, and keeping it going for the rest of the year, when the time allowed for it comes in fits and starts rather than days.

It’s important for parents to feed themselves this way, especially homeschooling parents.

If you can’t get away for a weekend, maybe you can do it for a few hours. For about fifteen years now, since Lulu was a baby, I’ve gone out to work on my writing in a cafe once a week. Usually Wednesdays. My evenings out have evolved into first eating at a somewhat dive-y Indian spot, where all I have to do is walk in and smile and they write down my order of chana masala and roti. I eat my dinner over an inspiring read (lately Adam Gopnik’s new The Table Comes First.) And then I walk a few doors down to a cafe and work at my writing.

Wednesdays have become a highlight of my week. No matter how busy life gets, I know I’ll have a few hours to indulge my writerly side, and it fuels me. Like that kindling in the wine barrel, in that photo up there.

Chris also takes a night out, generally to rehearse with his band. I’ve known him since (before!) he was a teenager blasting his ears out in a garage band, and I’m only too happy to help keep that part of him alive. (Seeing him play live always makes me feel like a teenager again, even without the thrift store spike heels and leggings.)

Our weekly evenings out have been, I think, one of the smartest things we’ve done as parents. Sometimes it’s hard: the one left at home does all the dinner-prep and parenting duties for the evening, even more of a task when the kids were younger. And I find myself saying no to other weeknight social opportunities because I don’t want to give up my writing night. Still, it’s worth every trouble. Chris and I are helping each other remain creative people, in the midst of a very full life.

What seems secondary, but must be just as important: we’re showing our kids that our creative selves matter. That a week isn’t a week if you don’t find time for writing or music-playing in between dragging out the garbage and doing the laundry. That indulging your creativity is just something you do, like brushing your teeth and exercising.

How do you feed your creative side, in the midst of a busy life?

(P.S. If you’re here via last weekend’s link at Simple Homeschool, welcome! Please consider jumping in and joining the conversation in the comments. That’s where the action is!)

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Janet November 22, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I LOVE the idea of trading evenings for creativity. Just last week, I was lamenting to my husband that our son doesn’t know the creative risk-taking travelin’ fools we were before he came along and took over. We are working on correcting some of that, but the tug on our time for so many important things often zaps our will to make it so. We have just made the switch to full-time homeschooling, so it will be increasingly urgent for me especially. Love your blog. Thanks for the inspiration.

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patricia November 23, 2011 at 11:00 am

Hi Janet,

Welcome to the blog and to the world of homeschooling! Yes, if you and your husband were “risk-taking travelin’ fools” then by all means you should try to keep those parts of yourselves alive. It would serve as good inspiration for your son, right? At least if you want him to be a risk-taking travelin’ fool too! Traveling, in particular, is such a ripe possibility for homeschoolers. We’ve done a lot of traveling with our kids, and I think it’s had a big impact on who they’ve become.

Thanks so much for saying hello!

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amy November 22, 2011 at 8:03 pm

great idea, hard practice. we are working on it. thanks for the reminder.

i did just do a mini retreat with a few friends and it was really nice. i could see more of that in my future.

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patricia November 23, 2011 at 11:02 am

It is hard to make time for yourself a practice. But I’ve found that the more regularly you do it, the more it becomes a habit, and soon it’s just a non-negotiable part of the week. I think it’s also easier if both partners are taking turns with it.

Hooray for mini retreats with friends! More, more, more!

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Jennifer Briffa November 27, 2011 at 11:48 am

So lovely to read this and imagine the wondrous nature of it all. I think that nurturing our creative sides is Food for the Soul. I try to do some fiber arts very night as we sit down to watch a movie or on car rides when it so happens I am not driving and even at other times when I have to sit and wait. But I do long for a weekend away with like minded friends doing fiber crafts. Someday I want to go on one of those expensive fiber tours to Peru or New Zealand and just indulge for a week. For now I get bursts of satisfaction as I craft for family, friends and myself. I especially look forward to this time of year so I can make things out of wool for those I care about. Without this creative outlet I would find it hard to keep trunking on in my life as a teacher and mom. Thanks for sharing this lovely post Tricia.

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patricia November 27, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Well, Jenny, if you long for a weekend away with friends doing fiber crafts, maybe we should try to make that happen! I’d be in!

I hope you get to go on a fiber trip to Peru someday. If anyone ought to do that, it’s you!

I look forward to seeing some of the beautiful things you’re making this holiday season. Have a great Mom’s Night Out this week. Wish I could be there!

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Cari November 27, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I love this post! This past year I’ve started meeting with two other women writers once a month. We set goals, drink wine, share challenges, eat cheese and provide each other with encouragement and ideas.

One of my first goals (which was strongly encouraged by the other two ladies) was to hire a sitter one morning a week. I’ve done this (first time in my eight years of being a mom and it has been fabulous)! I go take a swim and then head to the coffee shop and write.

I really like the idea of a night out routine as well. Something I struggle with, however, is the infrequency by which my husband and I get out together. But then you’re back to finding a sitter which can be tough on several fronts.

Not entirely sure where we’ll land on this but love your thoughts and will continue ruminating on them.

Cari

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patricia November 27, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Cari, your writing group sounds a lot like my writing group! Wine and cheese are almost always involved. Maybe you can get away with your women writing friends for a longer time at some point. It’s great to have a nice chunk of time to spend with writerly-minded friends.

Good for you for hiring a babysitter to go write each week! That kind of routine really keeps your writing mind going, don’t you think? And it’s so great to show your kids that your creativity matters.

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