Our writers’ retreat is ending – we begin our departures tomorrow at 5:00 a.m. – some back home to families and familiar routines, and others, including myself, to the next lamp post or café on our writing journeys. For those of us accustomed to reading organized reflections, here is my version of a progress ‘report’.
To retreat is to commit to join the performance – No matter how many times I’ve read my favourite modern writers fiction or journals capturing their experiences ‘abroad’, my learning style is kinaesthetic. Being immersed here in this entirely ‘foreign-to-me’ cultural and social context has sharpened a certain kind of thinking and expression. Almost everything is relative (yet again!). Any inclinations to let my classification-trained left brain lead my sensemaker’s instincts for learning and sharing in this variegated writers’ community proved mostly unproductive. (See post about who’s a writer.) I appreciate that ‘to retreat’ as a writer to Ferreirola, La Taha, Andalucia has not only meant shutting myself away in my hired ‘monk’s cell’ every day but has also meant making time for hanging out in the kitchen with my laptop nearby to listen and interact with this landscape and this cast of Casa Ana actors in our performances of essential domestic rhythms.
To every text there is a reader and to every reader there is a reading practice – As a teacher-professor, scholar, literacy advocate and librarian this truth cannot be over-emphasized. Among this writing group and over many meals together we have shared our bigger and smaller issues related to current or previous writing projects. Knowing who the intended audience or reader is, is central to all writing. We have all had to respond to that fundamental question of intention. Writers write to be heard; evidence at Casa Ana suggests that writers themselves are usually their first readers. Having a wide range of experiences in different public libraries, I understand differently from my compatriots about the variety of readers and reader tastes circulating in the text-based world. For me, debates implying a ‘hierarchy’ of literature that differentiates ‘literary writing’ from ‘[any genre]’ simply disguise a tension between audience intention and medium. Rather than imagining a reader who embodies your writer’s taste, a [more?] significant practise-based question is really, how many ways can you connect your work to a network of entirely human and variously teched up, readers? As a librarian, I can only see writers and readers and their im+material connections as one shared agency, one practice.
The wrong path may be the right path – During these past weeks I have been working on a more conceptual paper on the subject of membership, belonging and the contemporary public library. Before coming I had the paper outlined and I was well into it – I imagined that I would require ‘just’ a few more days here at Casa Ana and a draft would be completed. I was working on the theoretical framework and within the first week it all came unravelled. How I had originally structured the framework simply wasn’t working. So I spent a few days re-reading the background pieces and adding some new reading. I scribbled and talked to myself, I walked up and down the same path several times. One day, however, I went walking with another of the writers; she led the way, taking me on a whole new track – up, down, around, over and back – as it always goes here (all walks are circular of course ;-). We talked mostly about how we work writing into our ‘regular’ at-home lives, how we experience and then tackle writer’s block, about the business side of writing including agent, marketing and publishing challenges, and generally about how much longer than expected it all takes. At one point, though, the sign on the path reads X (“do not go here – wrong way”) instead of the usual = (“continue – you’re on the right path”) in guide-hiker code. My fellow-traveller, however, already knew from her previous day’s outing that this was in fact the ‘right’ way to complete the circular walk. In writing as in hiking, sometimes you have to go the wrong way to get to the right way. And trusting yourself is often the most critical for unblocking. I have gone back to my paper and re-worked the theory section – and now I’m going back up a new hill in the next section of the paper.
So whenever I’m feeling stuck, I will be thinking about this marker and will concentrate more on going wherever my instincts take me. Knowing of course, the productivity piece ‘just’ comes with regular training – like daily ‘walking’ in the beauty, elevation and climate of the Alpujarras! Onwards.