Writers Retreat: The Mystery and Inspiration of Different Places and Spaces

Gather your best writing pals, circle a date on the calendar, set a goal for what you wish to accomplish, and head to a bed and breakfast for a writing renewal retreat. That block of uninterrupted time of which all creatives dream is inspiration magic.

Knowing that you’ve set aside a time period for the act of creating, or rekindling your creative flame, can actually be intimidating. Will I function okay without interruptions? What will I do without a phone ringing just as I sit down, or someone knocking at the door just as I’m developing a crucial scene? How am I supposed to concentrate without errands, chores, and never-ending house projects vying for my attention?

The Frederick Inn, located in Buckeystown, Maryland provided the quintessential setting for such an overnight idyll. There is something to be said for the inspiration of being in a space that is not home. Our group of four rented the third floor of this alluring property, armed with a white-hot goal of maximizing a 24-hour block of time to maneuver through story revisions, plot development, or just getting reacquainted with dormant work.

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What made the Frederick Inn ideal for such a retreat was the opportunity to tuck ourselves away in a secluded space (individual rooms, a common area that included a four-top table situated by a large window straddled by two stunning stained-glass panels, two powder rooms and a shower), access to the establishment’s well-appointed kitchen to store home-brought meals to avoid the time-suck of ferreting out food outside of the property, and the just-right attentions and made-from-scratch breakfast (drool-worthy zucchini quiche, fruit cup with mint, coffee cake, parmesan-topped tomatoes…) from the convivial innkeepers, Pat and Kirk.

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This charming, endearing couple also seemed to take particular delight in providing grist for our collective inspiration mill, sharing stories of the property that revealed more mystery than history. Trunk-traveling headstones returned by an octogenarian with a flimsy reason that didn’t quite get to the heart of the emotions beneath the macabre attachment. A bevy of relocated headstones like a mouthful of teeth tucked away in their own version of a graveyard, bodies (or at least the essence of their dust) presumably still in situ. The bottom portion of a grave marker with what looked like claw marks at the edge, a lone sentinel away from its topper.  The lady Elizabeth, her headstone’s inscription bearing the image of a weeping willow tree and the designation of “consort,” which sounds more scandalous than the 19th century use turns out to be.

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Such mysteries of times past remind us that every inch of earth has a story. A writer is only too keen to let such wonderings infiltrate her imaginings, and who knows what will come out on the other side?

Cheers to a successful 2017 retreat, and a new tradition.

 

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Beautiful, Haunting, and Mysterious

graveyard

Dad lives across the street from a graveyard. A pragmatic man who sees the world through a thick lens of logic, he says it’s the best neighbor you could ever have. Even so, he has had some paranormal experiences that he has made some semblance of peace with by not giving those experiences any more heft by discussing them.

Mom won’t drink water that comes from his tap. “Corpse water” is how she refers to it, making the rest of us stare down into our steaming cups of coffee and wonder if she’s right, and if so, whether those juices were boiled out or if they linger in our brew. She stops at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts on the way, refusing to take the chance.

Our visits are all-day affairs, as we have to travel there and then the time goes by at a rapid pace. A loner who requires massive doses of alone time, I usually need to escape the boisterous noise (of which I do admittedly play a hearty part) and seek a pocket of solitude for a short while. Often I go to the backyard which has as sprawling a vista as you will find in a very populated state, with each year marking the encroachment of new construction and people that are beginning to swallow that mountain view.

The other option I have is to cross the street and enter the graveyard, which is attached to an old church and serving its departed congregants. I have been an infrequent visitor because, though open and right off the road, it feels like a private space and I am respectful of that.

And yet, it’s a space that beckons.

The graveyard is weathered, the earth lumpy and the gravestones worn. On my first visit, I carefully made my way down the rows, mindful of two things. One, not venturing too close to the church so as to avoid being obtrusive. Two, the placement of my feet. What is the length of a casket in the ground, hidden from sight? Was I stepping on someone’s legs? There was no tell-tale settling of the grave sites to guide me, as the landscape itself had settled in a haphazard way.

I read the names and dates, some stones’ inscriptions more legible than others. One stone in particular, small, sitting off-kilter, and obviously old from its gray color that could have blended into any abandoned quarry, immediately halted me.

She sleeps! Be still.

I don’t recall if there was a date indicating the span of life. Maybe it had been sanded away by the elements. All I know is that those words have always stuck with me because they were such a concise use of language. Though spare, the words had depth of meaning that held an unfathomable mystery as to what prompted them.

Since then, I have on multiple occasions tried to again locate the stone and have not been able to do. Perhaps those words have finally been etched away. Still, it seems odd that I can’t find it in such a small cemetery. Just another enigma, along with those beautiful, haunting, and mysterious words, appropriate for a graveyard and yet not something in the realm of what you’d normally find on a headstone.

Was “be still” an admonishment not to arise and trail her spirit over the earth? Or was it a wish that she would be at peace and rest easy, maybe deserved after a hard and bitter life, or an agonizing and lingering death.

I don’t know the answer. And that is the allure, why it still sticks with me. The story behind the words endures as intriguing, but ultimately taken to the grave.

This is the background inspiration for a short story I will post next week. Thanks for reading!

 

 

Do You Know When You’re Being Watched?

urban woods

In the woods, hiking alone, I often suffer from attacks of scopaesthesia.

Also known as the “psychic staring effect,” scopaesthesia is the twenty-five-cent word for the sensation that comes over you of being watched but not something your vision has picked up. For example, having the prickly feeling of someone’s eyes on you, causing you to turn and scan to see who it is.

Oh yeah, there are some hikes where I get it bad. When the feeling comes over me, it’s all I can do not to start running blindly. But then I visualize myself tripping on a tree root and all of the squirrels and birds and crickets laughing at my expense. That usually snaps me out of it—along with a long, lingering scan of my surroundings.

But what if there’s more out there than just squirrels… birds… crickets…

Some contentious theories have been expounded and actual experiments conducted to measure what turns out to be an elusive answer as to what, exactly, is responsible for experiencing that knowing.

We have a gaze detection system that makes us sensitive to the positioning of others’ eyes. Also, our eyes differ from animals in that our gaze is more easily detectable: think about the amount of white around our eyes when compared to a cat or a bird, for example. For humans, the white is considered a benefit because it helps us to communicate. But for a predator? They want to blend…

Some skeptics don’t believe that the “knowing” you’re being watched is anything more than capturing some sort of tip-off picked up by our peripheral vision. What that doesn’t account for is the feeling that comes from behind you. Some believe it has to do with a sense at the cellular level—a quantum effect. Researchers have devised tests—some in search of a legitimate answer, others simply to debunk the whole idea altogether.

One center created an experiment that began in 1995, “Do you have eyes in the back of the head?” A whole lot of statistical numbers later, there is evidence supporting that people aren’t imagining that sense of uneasiness they get and urge to turn around to see who or what is watching them.

Regardless of what science can prove or not prove at this point in time, go into the woods. When you feel like you’re being watched, just ignore that feeling and keep on your journey.

And if you find you can’t ignore it, that your body hair is standing on end and tingling like so many Spidey-senses, and your curiosity is just burning and you need to know… Stop. Don’t turn around. Wonder a moment if you’re about to be ambushed. Leave your senses open to someone’s—or something’s—approach. Wait and see if anything happens.

I dare you.

Don’t Let Creativity Die with the Wrong Writers’ Conference

For writers attending a writer’s conference, there are very high hopes about learning new things, meeting new people, and gaining that extra spark of motivation. Sometimes, those hopes go unfulfilled.

Waterfront Writers

STOPNEGATIVITYWriters’ conferences are important for new and seasoned writers trying to find their way. You invest with time and money, hoping for inspiration to keep you going. This is a conversation about how the wrong conference can affect your productivity—throw off your writing and dampen your spirit.

S: So, we’ve got that conference coming up—Bay to Ocean—end of February.

D: Yes, and I know we’re both hoping for great things.

S: Especially after that one we attended last April…

D: Dare we name it?

S: Yes, I think we should.

D & S: Conversations and Connections.

S: What was the one thing you learned at the conference?

D: Um, what NOT to do? How about you?

S: I learned how to insult writers who are better, more accredited than me.

D: That’s a very useful skill!

S: I especially want to talk about the first panel session we attended: Faking…

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Failure of Imagination

 

Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As part of my research for a book I’m writing, I am reading “The Great Deluge,” by Douglas Brinkley. I’ve actually been reading this book for some time, taking it in small bites for a multitude of reasons. One of those reasons is that it will serve as material for just a section of my book, so I don’t need to complete it within any particular time frame or bump other reading material to accommodate it. A second very big reason is that I can’t read it too close to bedtime, when I normally do the bulk of my reading, because it’s highly likely to give me nightmares.

 

The book is an incredibly precise accounting of the lead-up to the storm and its aftermath. Anyone near a television during those days who watched from safety outside of the storm’s devastation no doubt can still recall the searing images of a city devastated, many of its people stranded and losing hopeif not their lives. Brinkley, a consummate historian, tells the story with the in-depth parsing of events that only a skilled historian can achieve, while also weaving a story that draws you into its grip from the first paragraph of the first chapter.

 

A lot of blame was slung around after Katrina had moved on, and much of it rightfully so. What I can’t help but conclude—and the book makes starkly evident—is that a failure of imagination was one of the greatest underpinnings to the human consequences of this disaster. Sometimes we forget that true horror lies not just in books and movies. Or maybe we want to forget, which is why we ignore our imaginations, allowing them to fail at the very time when life—potentially our own as well as othersmay depend on it.

Writerly Collaboration

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I enjoy spending time with people, talking and sharing ideas, laughing, being outdoors, EATING, drinking wine or brew… but by nature, I’m more the lone wolf. My grandmother taught me as a little person how to entertain myself. I have enough reading materials to keep me busy a couple of lifetimes, and enough writing ideas… well, best not to jinx it.

When it comes to writing down those ideas, the words come in fits and starts, like a water faucet pulling from a near-dry well in an abandoned cabin. Maybe it’s because my day job requires that I write, that by the time I get around to “my” writing, my brain is in “hibernate” mode.

So it has been a twist to my worldview to discover that, collaborating with another writer on a story, I don’t have the fit-and-start thing going on… it’s more of a we-struck-oil gusher that I have to curb so I don’t dominate the storyline. Maybe there isn’t as much pressure having a writing partner.

For one, if you get stuck, they can get down into the weeds of a story with you and give that nudge to get you moving. Second, if you lose the thread of continuity, you have a second set of eyes to find it. Third, there’s a fair measure of accountability going on, because when I get the draft to work on, I know my writing partner is waiting… so I don’t have the luxury of trite, cliché or even wildly-creative excuse-making.

I enjoy collaborating, and our latest installment of our shared effort Two Weeks to Rites, which so far has been a blast, is now posted. Go to: http://waterfrontwriters.com/

Thanks for stopping by for a visit! Back to my wolf den…

My Freaky, Icky, Ew List

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If anyone were to overhear the conversations of a group of writers when they get together, they’d either run away in terror or notify the authorities – or both. There’s something to be said about having the freedom to say whatever is on your mind in the name of artistic expression that is absolutely, imagination-satisfyingly delicious.

And at times, unnerving due to the bends and twists it sends your mind on.

From one of these eclectic conversations, I discovered I have a freaky, icky, ew list. This list comprises the things that terrify me. In no particular order, my top 3 are:

1- Eyeball damage of any sort

2- Rabies

3- Demonic possession

So, I can’t remember exactly because there was wine at this particular meeting, but I believe I have been tasked with coming up with a story that includes all three.

I’ll try, but I don’t know if I’m ready for the nightmares…

Please do share… Do you have a freaky, icky, ew list? If so, what’s on it? Really, I’m burning with curiosity to know!