Lately I’ve been longing for a time away but haven’t managed to pull one off for way too many months. So, inspired by my friend Mary, I’m trying to create a short one right here, where I live.
Mary and I go a long way back. In the ‘70s and early ‘80s, she and I each headed up an artist-centered organization, she in New York City, I in Seattle. From time to time we’d threaten to exchange jobs, each convinced that it must be easier in the other’s city. Today she’s an artist in her own right, a writer of poetry and librettos who often collaborates with composers, video artists, and others.1 Once, when we were talking about my need for retreats and times away, she declared, “What I want is a retreat right here on Montague Street!”
Today, my calendar opened up with at least three, maybe four, absolutely blank days. With no time to plan a trip out of town, it was finally time to take up Mary’s challenge.
Reflecting on what makes a rewarding time away brought back memories of the one I consider to be my first. In early 1989, I had just finished two large projects that ran consecutively, each of which alone could have been all-consuming. “I deserve a reward,” I thought to myself. After events involving many smart but strong-willed people, project deadlines, and financial pressures – the gift I gave myself was a retreat, a chance to get away, to be quiet and alone for a while, to think and walk and read. My partner of the time thought I was a little nuts, wanting to go off and spend time by myself.
I didn’t go far. I got a room for a week at the Palace Hotel in Port Townsend. Built in 1889, the Capt. H.L. Tibbals Building housed the hotel, which, according to the hotel’s literature, operated as a brothel from 1925-33. I spent the week in “Marie’s Suite,” named for the Madame of the house. From her corner room on the second floor I had a nice view down to the intersection of Tyler and Water Street, Port Townsend’s main downtown drag. I moved the furniture around to put a table in front of the window. Natural light and some sort of view, I now know, is an important aspect of my times away.
Among the essentials I packed up to take along was the first computer I ever owned, a Mac 512 acquired in 1985. Weighing 16.5 pounds, it was fondly called “the luggable” back then, as “portable” was not yet an adjective used to describe computers.
Other essential materials for a time away are a few books, paper and pens, and good walking shoes. Without having to pack them in, I have all these things, albeit slightly updated, here at home.
What I don’t have here is the focusing isolation offered by being in a different space and a less familiar community, away from the many daily little tasks that are always present at home. My will power will be tested.2
1 Mary Griffin and “Blue” Gene Tyranny, “Recollections: Songs from Aphasia,” presented at Roulette last year.
2 Of course, now I’ve used up most of one of my days making this. Is this how I meant to spend my time away? Or am I procrastinating? Hard to say.