the power of retreat


The bay window of a friend’s Muskoka kitchen.

Giant black Newfoundland pup snoring by the back door. Green tea.

No one else around. I sit on pillows, watch blue herons flaap flaap by; a black squirrel travels down a long path, jumps onto the deck of the boathouse, peeks around the corner, realizes it’s a dead end, not to mention a poor place to hide nuts. He comes back up, disappears. I have some tea, open the book I’ve brought. I have two hours to read before I need to be anywhere. I close the book. Reach for a stack of typed pages—the chapter I’ve been working on for a month and which somewhere along the line has turned into cement, an ugly confusion that just stares back at me, obstinate, exactly what you’d expect from cement. I should throw it out but I have optimistic moments when I think there’s something in there—I just don’t know where, or how, to make the crack to let it out.

I reach for the book again.

The squirrel, the herons, are gone. The view remains. My tea is cold but still good. I put the book down and my hand reaches for the typed pages even as part of me shouts You fool… you’re about to waste two perfectly good hours in Shangri-la on GD cement…

I make notes, draw arrows. I jot “Insert A”  then write a scene and call it A. I find B within the existing mess. Then C. I mark it, move it to a better place. The dog is still snoring as I re-write what becomes D, and find E. I print “Insert E”. More arrows. And then, checking the clock, I jot a final scene and christen it F and I know—despite the tangle of lines and notes, inserts and cross outs—that a bouncing baby chapter has been born.

I’m stunned at first, that I could do in two hours what I hadn’t been able to crack in weeks. I’m inclined to put it down to the view, the solitude, the drowsy dog—all of which is great, all of which has set a mood—but it occurs to me that what is really powerful is the way my friend’s house makes no demands of me—how my thoughts are allowed the freedom to just ‘be’.

Because, truthfully, I have peace and solitude at home also. But laundry winks. Floors scowl. And the squirrels don’t mind their own business on long paths, they knock on windows and complain that they’re out of bird food. I can work at home of course—it’s where I’m happiest—but sometimes what’s necessary—for clarity, for permission to colour outside the lines, the courage to smash the cement… not merely find a ‘crack’—isn’t the familiar, but the bountiful disentanglements of  ‘away’.

That, and an unfamiliar window.

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