Marianne and I just spent a long weekend on a self-styled unstructured fiction-writing retreat, which in our case means doing a lot of writing and talking about writing, but has also historically involved eating various foods that have been flambéed and, frankly, shopping.
On this trip, we visited an outrageously quiet house in Western MA, alongside a rotating roster of other outrageously quiet writers also in residence. Marianne and I are not quiet people, as you may have guessed. It was not a great match. You know how there was that article a couple years ago describing how NASA was stuffing people in an anechoic chamber in Minnesota to measure the effects of almost total silence on humans, and they found that almost total silence drives humans a little bit bonkers, and causes them to hallucinate?
I have a new appreciation for that study now.
It also didn’t help that this retreat space was packed with charming old furniture that creaked ominously if you actually put it to use holding your ass off the floor, and that one of the employees there had an unnerving habit of stomping around muttering endless profanities under his breath (or, you know, really quite loudly in the middle of the night). Nevertheless, as an atmospheric inspiration you couldn’t beat it, and we had a lovely and productive -- if slightly creepy -- time.
Because the house itself was so quiet and strange and we felt a bit like we were being disruptive every time we had a conversation that took more than three sentences, Marianne and I did a lot of local exploring that we probably wouldn’t have done if the retreat space was a better fit for our style of communal working (to clarify, we were writing different things, but we are often collaborative in that we will periodically stop to discuss what we’re doing, or to get the other’s input on something).
So the awesome thing I want to highlight this week is a little nebulous, but I’m going with it: I was reminded this weekend of the fantastic surprises that may result from just rolling with changing or unexpected circumstances and taking what comes. Had I been at this retreat on my own, I’ve no doubt that I would have bolted after the first night -- but if I had, I would have missed out on all the unforseeable wonders of the whole four-day experience. I wouldn’t have met the nice woman in the little local yarn shop a town over (and bought pretty yarn, of course). I wouldn’t have run across the massive antiquarian bookstore in I Don’t Even Know Where We Are On A Map Because There Is No Cell Service Out Here, Massachusetts, and its quirky bookseller guy -- not to mention an astonishing 1881 travel guide to the state of Florida. I wouldn’t have eaten the best pizza I’ve had outside of New York, in an unassuming little three-table joint in a town of less than 2,000 people.
I also wouldn’t have spent all that time exploring and laughing and joking with Marianne, who is a brilliant friend and one of the most fun people I can imagine being trapped in the boondocks with. This trip was a needed reminder that life is going to throw up unexpected obstacles no matter how thoroughly you make your plans, and you can either resist those surprises or roll with them and see what happens.
Your turn now: what marvelous surprises (or not) have been making you happy in the past week?