Writing Home: Part 2

60On my sabbatical this spring, I did just what I planned to do in March.  I wrote each day, painted and learned to sail.

But April was a month of surprise and took me to a place I never expected – to Iceland on a Writer’s Retreat.  I arrived four days before the retreat, rented a car, drove through the countryside, and stayed at farmhouses.

And yes, got lost.  Lost many times physically and emotionally.   And in the process of finding my way,  discovered so much.

Writing is an important way for me to find my way through challenging 26experiences.  The advice I learned from my teachers on the retreat, some of the simple wisdom I needed to take the next step in writing.

Here’s the second installment of my story of what happened in Iceland, and what I learned about finding the way from lost to home.

Last week I wrote about struggling to get out of the airport rental car parking.   At last I did.  The little yellow gate rises and I am on my way.

Lost in Iceland:  Part 2


A woman with a sweet little British accent in my GPS directs me in 30 meters to “enter the roundabout and take the second right.”  “Turn right.  Turn right,”  she insists.

Lady, there’s no roundabout here and nothing in sight except a barren brown expanse of rock.  It is soon clear that wherever she is directing me from is not where I am and where she is taking me not the way to the little cafe in downtown Reykjavik that my friend Tom recommended to me.


“Good writing starts with research”, Geraldine Brooks says.   Thanks for the thought, Geraldine, but I’d prefer to jump into the real work of writing.  It’s why I don’t take time to actually learn how to use the GPS – or know how to turn it off.

“Before I write, I take notes”, Iain Reid, another of our teachers, shares.

Thanks Iain, but I don’t want to take notes.  I don’t want to sit here and “note” my frustration, my anger, my perplexity, my lostness.”   I want to be drinking coffee at a wooden table at a little cafe in downtown Reykjavik with a view of the sea and purple mountains pockmarked with snow.


Finally, I have to give in.  After my British co-pilot directs me in circles one more time, I pull over in a hotel parking lot, and slowly, one more time, go through the little prompts on the GPS, enter the name of my cafe and find my way.  It’s closed.


But the coffee shop across the street with a window seat and a view of the harbor down the alley is open for breakfast.


“To write well, you need time to think – the interim time to think”, Susan Orlean reminds us.  Time to do just that meets me here.  That and a cup of coffee, a bowl of museli and something white, yogurty and sweet they call “skyr”.


“Be a collector of words”, Geraldine Brooks tells us.  Well, here’s my first new one today in a land full of long consonant-laden words I cannot pronounce.


Geraldine draws our attention to characters in novels who pass a problem around between them.  Well in this story, there’s only me, tossing “lost” back and forth in the days that follow.

Lost finds me parked at the side of the road in the drizzling rain under a towering brown cliff.  Car trunk open, pouring out the little rolled piles of clothes in my backpack looking for my wallet.


“Sort through your notes again and again before you begin to write,” Iain Reid reminds us.

Well, Iain, despite all my sorting, there is nothing here.  I pad myself down again – side pockets, jacket pocket, back pocket…back pocket – I hadn’t checked that – where I discover I’ve been sitting on my wallet all the time.

Lost.  It’s me out on an early morning run, the sun not yet up over the mountains, cold and dark, losing the little brown string of a trail in hills of heather and ankles of cold mud.


“Humility is the key to good writing”, Geraldine Brooks reminds us.

Humility is what I find as the miles extend away from where I thought I was going to some point further and further out on the long finger of a peninsula of sand and brown tufted grass.


“Imagination always gets things right”, James Scudamore tells us.

I try to “imagine” my way out of here – turning a bend and seeing the spire of the church in the center of the city.  Finding any familiar sign of home.

Seeing none,I run down to the shore, and find a black, hole pocketed volcanic stone, worn smooth by the tide.


“Reading your words out loud is essential for good writing,” Susan Orlean reminds us.

Looking out across the gray sea, the descent of fog, I place my rock at the top of a small cairn at the edge of the rocky shore and speak my Sunday prayer, “Help me find my way.”


The road curves back down the penninsula.   There around the bend, on a far hill, the spire of the church I am looking for.

“The longing for home is one of the most powerful incentives for writing”,  James Scudamore reminds us.

I get it.  I feel it.   I’m not home yet, but I’m getting there.


Peter Ilgenfritz


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