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

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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!