Writer and teacher Saundra Goldman recently had a personal writing retreat at The Writing Barn and sent us this wonderful guest post about her experience. Thank you, Saundra. We look forward to having you back.
When I visited The Writing Barn for the first time last December, I was immediately overcome with jealousy. Bethany Hegedus had managed to make a life for herself on a spacious piece of property in South Austin, converting an old barn into a wood-paneled writing studio with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a screened-in porch, writing there during the week and renting it out on the weekends for workshops, retreats, and signings. As we sat down in the comfy armchairs in the middle of the space, I blurted out the first words that came to mind: “I’m bringing my husband here so he can see what I want.” I spent the rest of the afternoon coveting the Barn, occasionally focusing on the subject of our meeting, planning the In Process Winter Retreat.
Fortunately for the rest of us, Bethany and her husband, Vivek, have opened the barn and the property to writers and other creatives—as opposed to what I might have done with the place, which would be to hold it in my hot little grasp until I sucked the life out of it. Where I was covetous, they were generous, and thank heavens for that. I had a gorgeous silent retreat with my students and clients—a day of meditation, slow walking, and writing that felt like we were a world away from Austin when in fact we were just a few blocks from Slaughter Lane. Last week I spent a few days at The Writing Barn for a personal retreat—also silent and deeply peaceful.
A few weeks prior to my personal retreat, I met Bethany for coffee. Before she sat down, she delivered the news that the Barn had flooded and it was going to take a month to make all the repairs. “They’re going to have to fix it faster,” I said. And then I backtracked and said what a shame it was, because surely they were losing money from the events that would have to be cancelled. Bethany offered the Cabin—also on the grounds—instead. After a few minutes of fumbling with the Facebook App on my iPad, she pulled up the pictures. The single-room bungalow is not as spacious as the Barn, but it is cozy with wood paneling and a big armchair to curl up in. When she showed me the kitchen space with its tall kitchen counter, I knew it would work. “I can write there,” I told her. And I did, trying my best to channel Hemingway, standing at the counter with my notebook.
I arrived for my personal retreat on a Sunday evening. We were having unusually cool weather in Austin, and despite the recent rain, the mosquitoes had yet to reproduce. I sat outside the Cabin at the café style table and chairs and wrote through dusk, while deer nibbled on acorns and red cardinals chased each other through the live oaks. When it got dark, I went inside and read. Up at 7:00 a.m., I continued alternating between reading and writing, moving from armchair to porch and back again throughout the day. I worked for 12 hours with a short break for lunch and a nap, although I barely noticed the time passing. For the first time in a long time, I got lost in my writing. With no one else around and no other distractions, my book suddenly felt urgent and alive. At the end of the day I had so much energy I had to circle the property several times to ground myself. The next day I woke to pouring rain that lasted until I left that afternoon. I stayed in the armchair all day. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
When Bethany first let me into the Cabin on Sunday night, she shared her plans for the next few days. “I’m going to take advantage of your energy,” she said. “I’ll be working on my novel inside the house.” This bugged me at first. All week long I shared my energy with everyone in sight. I was hoping to hold onto it for myself for a few days. But after a few hours, I realized how respectful Vivek and Bethany were of my presence there. Over the two days I stayed on the property, I saw Bethany for only a moment, when she let her dog out the backdoor to pee. Otherwise, it was as if I were alone. I occasionally imagined Bethany nestled in her house, her mind in the space of her novel, while my mind was deep into the territory of my own book. I was grateful for her quiet company and for the intention for the space. The Writing Barn and the surrounding grounds are a sanctuary for writing. Deep bows to Bethany and Vivek for creating it and sharing.
I have to admit, I did not expect to get so much accomplished in such a short span of time. I didn’t have to travel, spend gobs of time away from my family, or fill out an application explaining why I would want to go to a cabin in the woods to write. I’ve had clients tell me about the hours of research they’ve spent researching residencies, but the fact is you can get just as much done closer to home and spend a lot less money. Not that I wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks at one of those prestigious estates where they deliver your lunch in a basket to your doorstep. And of course I would have liked to have stayed in the Cabin longer. But I did get enough done to put myself back in the mindset of my book and set my direction for the next few months. I intend to go back and do it again soon.
My personal retreat at The Writing Barn was my Mother’s Day gift to myself. It was also the start of my summer sabbatical. I’ll be taking a brief break from teaching and coaching through August, and transitioning to a new phase of work in the fall. More about that later in the summer. While I don’t have a fall schedule yet, I can share the happy news that the annual retreat for the Writers League has been rescheduled for Nov. 10th, and it’s at the Barn! It will be another peaceful day of meditation, writing, and silence. Space is limited, so I suggest signing up well in advance.
I will be making one exception to work this summer. I’m going to France in June to assist Natalie at a silent retreat. Another chapter in my moving memoir, Oh Poor Me!