A few months ago, the idea of an “Artist and Writer’s retreat” wasn’t remotely on my radar. I was about to finish a one-year teaching contract in Korea and was looking for my next job. Would I stay in Korea, go back to Japan, return to the States or go somewhere completely new? The possibilities stretched out before me, but none of them felt right. Something in me resisted the idea of entering a classroom again. I loved teaching and my kids, but I needed a break. Not a vacation, crammed with sight-seeing. My soul was crying for a return to itself.
The thought struck me that I should spend a few weeks trying to work on my novel. I googled “writer’s retreat February March” and came back with a list of potential places. Something about La Muse‘s website resonated with me. I’d gotten my TEFL certificate with the aim of teaching in France, but found it too difficult to obtain a Visa, not having a EU passport. Something about coming to France after having lived and taught in Japan and Korea felt like coming full circle. I was meant to come to France; just not when I thought.
I sent off an email to Kerry, one of the founders of La Muse Retreat.
I’m getting to the point where it feels like I am putting off my most important work and life’s passion – which is to be a writer. I have tried to make it work – to write in the evenings after work or on the weekends – but have struggled to get into a regular routine and am sometimes too exhausted to try.
I would relish the opportunity for some time to just sit down and do it. I’m afraid if I don’t do it now, I never will. And life is too short.
I got accepted into La Muse, sent off my payment and began the multitude of errands that came with leaving a country – running to the bank, to the post office, packing boxes, saying my goodbyes to friends. The time flew by and before I knew, it, I was about to leave for France. Then came the reservations. Was I doing the right thing? Was it for me? What if I didn’t get any of my book done and wasted money and time on a retreat?
I’m happy to say, all of these thoughts turned out to be baseless fears. I spoke to a few fellow La Musers and here is a list of valid concerns you may have coming to a retreat and why they shouldn’t keep you from giving it a try.
1. Money. Money is a valid concern for many. I won’t feed you some line about kicking your $5-latte-a-day habit, because many of you smart people probably make coffee at home or drink tea. I won’t presume to make assumptions about your spending, but I will say, most of us can find places to cut back in our lives. And often, our concern is not about money at all – what we’re really trying to reconcile is justifying spending money and time on ourselves. I mean, just like that latte, no one needs a writer’s retreat, do they? Having spent the past three weeks on one, I will say: There is no better way to refocus, to take time out for yourself, to reconnect to nature, to rekindle your creative spirit and to find a tribe of unique, like-minded individuals. You can’t get what you get here in your bedroom at home, reading books and scribbling notes. You’re not just paying for a room at La Muse. You’re paying for the time and space, to heal and to grow and to find your inner voice. You’re paying for permission. Permission to write and create, to read and learn, to walk and re-energize.
Urania room, La Muse Retreat.
2. Access. Oh God, what will I do if I can’t run out and get a cup of coffee at Holly’s or Angel-in-us? If I can’t ride my bike to the park? If I can’t pick up something I forgot at the grocery store? If I can’t buy that late-night impulse purchase at the Withme convenience store? What if I go crazy isolated in the mountains? What if I starve? What if I get eaten by a pack of wild, roving French boars with a penchant for American flesh? BBRinnnggggg, bbriinnnggggg – this is your ego calling! The truth is, you will live. You will survive. And you will feel better and more reinvigorated than you have in ages. In Korea, I was spent money almost every single day. A coffee here, an afternoon pick-me-up candy bar there, a bottle of water, some stationary… Since coming to La Muse, I spend about 50-100 euros on groceries for the week and then…that’s it. You save money. And despite being in an isolated French chateau, you end up feeling more connected – without the distraction of consumer culture – surrounded by the serenity of nature and your wonderful tribe of people. The best day I had at La Muse was when it snowed and our power went out for eight hours and we built a fire in the library and all sat around and read. I felt like a pioneer woman! Fetching wood, lighting fires, boiling water for tea. Free from the incessant need to check my phone for messages…that’s freedom. That’s access!
Erato room, La Muse
3. Food. What if they don’t have what I want to eat? What if I don’t have enough to eat? What if I run out of coffee? What if I’m reduced to gnawing on pigeons – feathers and all – from the neighbor’s coop? What if I get lost in the blinding, florescent maze of Carrefour and never find my way out again? Having spent the past few weeks with a vegan, a glutent-intolerant and a vegetarian…well, it sounds like the setup for a good joke, doesn’t it? But at La Muse, I’ve eaten some of the most fulfilling, nutritious, made-with-love meals I’ve had in ages. I’ve made it a point to intentionally and mindfully eat – no TV, no computer, no phone and no books when I eat – and I’ve completely reconnected with my food, it’s flavors and how much it takes me make me satisfied. And France has so many awesome Bio markets, it’s cheap and easy to eat sustainably and organically. Plus, I ate my first farm-fresh egg here and it was practically a religious experience. You will be fine. You will eat the best cheese and drink the best wine of your life. You will go to bed satisfied. You will take to wearing a French beret and twirling a non-existent mustache as you discuss the price of macarons. (Okay, maybe not that last part.)
4. Output. What if I invest the money and don’t come out of here with the next big dystopian novel/movie franchise? What if I’m a total failure? What if I don’t have a story in me at all? Take a breath. Go for a walk. Let go of your expectations. Let go of that rigid, regimented way of thinking. It has not served you. It will not serve you in your creative life. The truth is, the first week will be spent wandering the mountains, smiling, sing-songing ‘Bonjour’ to the townspeople (think Beauty and the Beast) and an occasional jag of happy crying. You won’t do much writing or painting, but you’ll do emotional work you didn’t know you needed. You’ll grieve people you’ve lost. You’ll release the toxicity of living in a busy, stressful environment. You’ll reconnect with nature. You’ll collect pieces of quartz and pile them up in cairns in the forest. You’ll bake something. You’ll take photographs. You’ll have conversations with your fellow La Musers. You’ll do whatever it is you need to do to get your head right so you can start your creative work. And then, you’ll work. But free yourself of those expectations. Free yourself of deadlines and word-counts and see what comes out. Realize that there are different types of work – emotional work, spiritual work, exercise work, reading and learning work, active-listening work – and that all of them are valid. And even if you don’t finish that big project, you’ll still have gotten something unexpectedly wonderful.
Euterpe room, La Muse
5. People. What if I don’t like them? What if they’re energy-vampires or mansplainers? What if they don’t tidy up after themselves? Stop worrying! Stop living in fear! You will meet the people you are meant to meet. You will have the teachers you were meant to have. I have met some of the best people in my time here – everyone from an Australian teacher via Hong Kong writing children’s picture books, to a lovely 70-year old poet from Idaho, to an Iranian activist to a documentarian to a performance artist to an aerialist from New York.
Fresh water source, right from the mountain, La Muse
If you’re a creative person, what’s holding you back from investing in yourself? What’s keeping you from potentially one of the best experiences of your creative life? Why aren’t you writing that book? Why aren’t you creating that project? What’s stopping you?
Been on a writer’s retreat? Want more information on a writer’s retreat? Share your experience or questions in the comments!