On 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 experiences. 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 final installment of my story of what happened in Iceland, and what I learned about finding the way from lost to home.
Lost in Iceland: Part 3
“Lost” I realize is how most of us have come to this writer’s retreat – tentatively, shyly, as we did that first day seeking to find a seat on a bus full of strangers. Confident that everyone else around us had written better, published more, and certainly should be here more than us.
It the week that follows, we learn we all know a lot about “lost” and the longing for home. And yes, all of us, no matter what our “credentials”, have our own share of the daring spirits necessary to write our way home. I’ve met some wonderful new friends. Learned some simple steps to take me on the next step in my writing.
But now its Sunday, late morning, and the writer’s retreat has ended and I have one more day before I fly out. Here I am trying to find my way to the hostel where I’ll spend the night.
The little “39” circle on my map says that the hostel should be right here. But every building I’ve imagined is the hostel, yet another block away, is not. I take out my reading glasses to try to decipher, one more time, the little numbers on my map.
The new friends I met have scattered. I feel as lost and alone as when I first arrived. The drizzle of rain mixes with tears. I’m a little boy with his paper map flapping in the wind stuck at a roundabout with no crosswalks. Cars whisking by splattering puddles. Wondering how pathetic I can look until someone – please anyone – might stop and ask if I need help.
I adjust my reading glasses. I notice that there are in fact pink circled “39”‘s and blue circled “39”‘s on my map. I missed that. How could I have missed that? I’ve been looking for a pink “39” when my hostel is over there at the blue “39”.
“The key is in the details”, I hear Geraldine remind me.
“Anything that defamiliarizes is good for writing”, James chimes in.
“Start with lost”, Susan adds.
“Keep up the daily practice”, Iain charges me.
Well, here I am. Lost again. Feeling the ache and longing for home, that place that James says is that grand source of creative energy.
Standing here, lost in the rain, I’m a Pulitzer Prize in the making.
I see the blue “39” for my hostel is a mile behind me. Down the harbor from where I’ve been chasing imaginary hostels all afternoon.
I turn back. When I reach the hostel, I see in the distance, friends walking towards me.
“All settled in?”, Gemma smiles.
I smile. The first time in hours.
“We were looking for you. See you for dinner?”, Carrie asks.
Yes, home has been here all the time. It just took me a while to find it.
“What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest?”, the joke goes. “Stand up!” The “forests” they’ve just started to plant here are new, the “trees” mere stubby bushes. My own forests of “lost”, much older, complex and gnarly. I can’t just stand up and see my way home.
But I’m learning to write my way there through anxiety and fear, right through the heart of self-doubt and not-knowing.
“Make a space and time to take your vocation of writing seriously”, Susan Orleans reminds us.
It’s what I’m doing now, early morning at a worn wooden table in a hostel I thought I would never find.
Looking out at the harbor, and a sailboat playing in the wind. Through the mist, purple mountains pockmarked with snow.
Pen in hand, coffee by my side, waiting for my friends to join me for breakfast, I write “Crappy First Draft” on that first draft. Free myself from having to get it right, say it right, be right. Instead, to just write. Set words on the page and keep on going. Finding my way, one more time, from lost to home.
April 30, 2014
4 thoughts on “Writing Home: Part 3”
Yes, all in the details –and your writing took me to that roundabout in the rain. My husband, the artist, says your water colors are quite good.
You have such courage to take this trip into the unknown and scary. But I am sure it was totally worth it. I don’t think I could do it.
Crystol – I too know I don’t have the courage to take a trip into the unknown – and yet find myself there again and once again! I don’t “like” it any less but I am learning to trust it more – that this “unknown” is in fact where we all live – much as we seek to make place, meaning, home in all the important ways we do. And then it comes, shines out, breaks in – how little I know, the mystery and grace of today, what happens despite all my grand plans and control. Something so much bigger than all my little plans and ways to hold on. Sometimes I just feel it. Something here, holding, true, something pointed to in that little word, God.
Thanks Mary – I have found how writing about lost helps me through lost. And painting my way helps me find my place here, now, when otherwise I can so easily forget where the heck I am!