making time to lie in the sunflowers

making time to lie in the sunflowers post image

The first day of my writing retreat, I was miffed at myself. I’d gone out of town for a week to work, and I hadn’t written any more than I do at home. And though I was within walking distance to the beach, I hadn’t even glimpsed the ocean.

I texted my accountability partner from Parakeet, the year-long book-writing program I’m participating in. Brooke texted back, sharing memories of a month-long residency at a farmhouse in which they learned that these retreats are not just about productivity. Sometimes we go away to catch up with ourselves, fill our cups so we can work renewed when we return home. Brooke told me how, on that residency, they’d spend time each day simply lying in a nearby field of sunflowers.

“It transformed my life.”

Taking time to “lie in the sunflowers” became my metaphor for the rest of my retreat. Which meant I stopped pushing myself to produce so much and allowed myself time to read during the day–which I almost never do! Which meant I began walking to the beach twice each day, and twice ran into the cold Northern California ocean. Meant that I wrote pages and pages and pages in my journal. Meant that I posted a short reel about the girl within, which led to fascinating conversation in the comments, which made me realize that I want to post more short-form reels–not as a readership-building chore, but because I enjoy the connection that comes from sharing those videos.

On this retreat, in two new ways, my brain busted open.

First: I came to understand, like I wrote about in my last post, that community matters. In the past year, I’ve built a community of fellow writers like I’ve never had before. Whether I’m experiencing writing struggles or victories, I have folks I can text, and chat with on the phone, and write along with on Zoom, and commiserate with in a shared google doc diary.

People who can remind me to lie in the sunflowers. I feel so much more supported now than I did back in 2017, when I wallowed in my year of rejection.

Second: I came to appreciate the need for time to fill ourselves up. I can be so dogged about my goals. Good, in a sense: I’m getting this book written, making my goal of a chapter draft each month. But I need to allow myself time to walk on the beach, to make reels if I enjoy the connection that follows, to take an entire day off writing to visit a museum with a friend.

Which I did last Wednesday. Way back in March, my friend Meliss suggested a trip to the Lee Mingwei exhibit, “Rituals of Care,” at the DeYoung in San Francisco. She texted that it was “a blend of you and me!” as there’s an installation featuring letter-writing (me) and another incorporating mending (her–Meliss teaches amazing sewing classes for kids.) It took me three months to find a day to steal away with her. I’m so glad I did.

The Letter Writing Project “invites visitors to sit and write a letter they have always meant to send but never did.” I slipped off my shoes and entered a tiny room in which I wrote a letter to my dad, and left it clipped on the wall for others to read. I only cried a little. I also read a letter with lines like poetry, from a woman to a friend she hadn’t seen in eighteen years.

In The Mending Project, visitors are invited to bring items of clothing in need of mending, which Lee Mingwei or a volunteer mends and embellishes–the only further exchange requested is conversation between visitor and mender. Meliss and I watched a quiet conversation unspool as a repair took place, and we marveled at how a stack of mended items was each connected via long threads to a spool on the wall.

Hard to capture a photo of the web, but it was stunning.

There was also a Mingwei project called 100 Days of Lily, conceived in 1995, the year my Lily was born, which was actually about 100 days of Mingwei living with a lily plant, but which immediately brought me back to 2020 and the early days of the pandemic when my Lily was home for 100 days. (She was way more fun to hang out with for 100 days than a plant.)

Here’s a lovely short video about Mingwei and his work. His talk of rituals is inspiring–and I got a kick out of seeing him at The Cheeseboard and Monterey Market, favorite local haunts. If you’re local and can get to the DeYoung before July 7, I’m nudging you toward this exhibit.

Meliss and I also enjoyed Fashioning San Francisco, geeking out on the craftsmanship of gowns worn in SF from the early 1900s on. I think we both loved this one best.

Then we bucked out early to beat the traffic, only to find ourselves bound up in it, which was fine–more time to talk about our kids, and crafting, and the moon, and magic in the world.

On Thursday, high on art, I got back to work. Had a productive day. Then I walked around Lake Merritt solo, watching the sun’s last hours on the year’s longest day. A different way of lying in the sunflowers.

In that Mingwei video, a friend notes that his work is all about social connectivity and healing–precisely what I was learning to give attention on my retreat. The exhibit guide to “Rituals of Care” says, “Lee Mingwei’s works encourage us to find beauty and solace in the small acts that define everyday life.”

I hear you, Lee Mingwei. I’m taking time out from work to work on it.

I’d love to hear how you’re finding beauty and solace in your own small acts.

* * *

A few things I’m loving lately:

  • Junk journals! I love this gal’s ideas for marking days without being precious about it. Now I’m gathering trashy bits daily and gluing them into my Lynda Barry diary.
  • This green tahini sauce is spicy and tasty and contains no oil, and we’ve been slathering it on every dang thing.
  • I bought the hot pink yarn (Pixy Stix!) to knit this Magic Spell shawl! Because the combo of neon with uncolored, natural fibers–paper, fabric, yarn–just lights me up, and I adore knitting lace, but haven’t done it since my homeschool Park Days with the kids. Hope it doesn’t take me years to finish.
9 comments… add one
  • Jody Jun 25, 2024 @ 17:36

    I love this! Xoxo

    • patricia Jun 25, 2024 @ 21:53

      Art exhibits always make me think of you! xo!

  • Emily Jun 25, 2024 @ 21:39

    You are an inspiration!! Can I be more like you??

    • patricia Jun 25, 2024 @ 21:56

      You mean can you be more with me! I’m sad life has been so busy and I haven’t seen you. We need to fix that.

      • Meliss Jun 26, 2024 @ 8:38

        How I love the mundane rituals of care and how I appreciate them more than ever after our day at the de Young. I miss spending every Thursday by your side at park day stitching, mending, repairing, chewing all the little bits of our lives. I always left the park with my cup overflowing. Here’s to filling our cups and savoring the simple things in life. I feel you!

        • patricia Jun 26, 2024 @ 9:56

          It’s true–those Park Days were such a gorgeous ritual and we got them every week! Here’s to more cup-filling together, sweet pea! Let’s make it a more regular ritual <3

  • Cathy Jun 26, 2024 @ 18:23

    I love your writing here. And lying in sunflower fields is so important!

    • patricia Jun 27, 2024 @ 9:24

      Thanks for the encouragement, Cathy! I always appreciate how you show up here. <3

  • Kristin Jul 19, 2024 @ 16:43

    So bold, adventurous and curious these days. I love it.

    I printed the tahini recipe. And did I tell you that I made that Tofu-one in another post the was scrumptious!

    Thank you friend!

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