August Retreat

I have booked a week away. Solo. A solo week in a house metres from a rugged coast-line in South Gippsland. Scratched out the entire week in my diary ahead of time to ensure it remain free of clients and everything else. Ruled a line right through the two pages and scrawled Cape Paterson across the lot.

The two-storey house I will be staying in is on the surf beach road – you can’t get a house closer to the sea. Upstairs is a large living area with floor to ceiling windows and polished floors. Balconies and decking wrap around three sides of the house. From the living area and balconies one gazes endlessly out to sea. The house is comfortable although not precious. Exactly as a beach house should be.

Over for the past six summers this fabulous haven has been the holiday destination to a variety of family and friends but I have never stayed there on my own. Sure, I have taken numerous solo breaks during that time but I have always headed inland and tucked myself into the bush. To write. And walk. And sometimes think.

It has now been more than a year since my last retreat – eons considering I usually average three a year. There has been no space. This past year has been full. Too full. Full of the unexpected, pulling me in all directions, with ‘heavy boots’ as the character Oskar in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close* describes when things get too much – and for a nine year old boy losing his father in the twin towers this feeling is frequent. So whilst not laying claim to losses remotely close to such magnitude it has nevertheless been a year of loss.

My daughter ended a marriage. Traumatised, and with two babes less than eighteen months old they lived with me in my two bedroom apartment for three months. I’d not long moved into the apartment. Having lived in Reservoir – bleakest suburb known to woman and possibly man – my new leafy riverside apartment was to herald new beginnings; my reconnection with the inner city. Be careful what you wish for.

My daughter’s children don’t sleep. We all suffered sleep deprivation. She still does.

My daughter’s grief and on-going struggle breaks my heart. Her loss is my loss.

Alongside this came loss of freedom. My two adult children have produced four offspring in the past two and a half years. Plus two step-grandchildren. Two weeks after my daughter and babies appeared on my doorstep my son called wanting to know how I saw myself helping them after the birth of their next babe in 2 months’ time. Aware that my hands were brimming he apologised for the timing. With his second and their fourth on the way, no doubt he felt daunted and wanted to secure some of my focus. I get it. But already overwhelmed by exhaustion my spirit plunged and would have slid through the gaps in the floating floor boards, except there are none. Inwardly I chanted the old mantra Beam me up Scotty. Up or down, anywhere but here.

I adore my four grandchildren and two step-grandchildren. However four grandchildren aged two years and under translates as a sizeable commitment if one is to come remotely close to being a ‘good’ nanna. The help I give, often a pittance in the dramas of young families and the eternal hardship of single parenting requires considerable chunks of my time. It always feels like a piss in the ocean.

All this turbulence left no time for writing. Confidence in my ability to write flew out the door. From time to time I’d had the occasional crises of faith regarding my writing but never like what assaulted me last year.

Confidence in my ability to be anything other than of service to my children’s needs vanished.

During this period a friendship ended. One I now realise meant more to me than to my friend.

My writing group disbanded. Scattered to the winds. I lacked the energy to reinvent it.

Sense of self severely shaken, I handled each blow with chin up and accustomed grit, a habit learnt at an early age – not always a good thing. Stoicism keeps us from mourning.

Now, after months of hard work regrouping, I am ready to take time out. To reflect. To grieve. When life gets too busy, space is sacrificed, sucked out like a vacuum-sealed pack leaving little room to ponder or allow emotions to surface. It may be that not one tear will be shed. And that’s fine. It may be that there will be just one lame or one hearty sob. That’s fine too. It will be what it needs to be. And when the tide is out, I will rug up and walk along the reef for miles. When the tide is high I will roam the sandy tracks cocooned by ti-tree. I may even see an echidna. I will certainly be on the lookout. Mostly though, I will be writing, cranking up the abandoned novel. Find out if I still have energy for it. If not, there are a thousand other stories yet to write.

During the last five months I have been stealing back chunks of time ~ three hour slabs, even six ~ throwing myself into crafting short stories. I love the focused discipline required, so exacting. So unlike the novel, the way it pulls you the writer and everything else in your orbit into its force field, as Jennifer Mills describes so well But I am ready to give it a shot. See where the ride takes me.

It’s an ambitious goal, all of it. I suspect I need closer to a month. Or a lifetime. And that’s okay too.


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