DIY Artist Retreats have been on my mind lately. You know, where you rent a room somewhere and hole up for a set amount of time to focus on your art or your life as an artist.
Last weekend I drove up to the North shore of Lake Superior for a weekend-long, all-by-myself writing retreat. Earlier this summer I took two DIY retreats with Mad King Thomas and am planning a retreat with DanceMN this fall. It's been that kind of year!
Retreats can be kind of tough. You're by yourself, away from home, and suddenly there's so much pressure to PRODUCE. Finish a project, make Grand Discoveries, etc. etc. From my experience, there are a few key elements that can make a retreat awesome instead of exhausting:
1) Isolate yourself.
Mad King Thomas rented state park cabins and got away from it all. We had mediocre data service and no neighbors. My writing retreat was in a North Shore cabin with neighbors but absolutely no phone service. But, even a pair of headphones will do if you can make your partner/kids/neighbor/cat leave you alone. This is the "retreat" part of retreating.
2) Find a good environment.
For me, this means being somewhere I can easily get outside into The Nature. Spending a weekend in nature, whether camping or in a cabin, gives me a different sense of time and space. For you, it might be a coffee shop or a perfectly quiet hotel room in a big city. If you aren't sure, experiment.
3) Treat yourself.
Anybody who knows MKT will know this is a central tenet of our work together: Always be eating. Or rather, always have the option of eating. Have a few favorites on hand and a few healthier items so you don't make yourself sick on Oreos.
4) Pay attention to your body.
You're on a different kind of schedule. Notice if you are developing a headache and take a break. Drink a lot of water. It's easy to get sucked into a reverie about the future and forget that you're sitting in the sun getting a lovely burn.
5) Be kind.
This is a lesson Mad King Thomas learned way back during our fellowship at Blacklock Nature Sanctuary: Be nice to yourself. Get enough sleep. Don't freak when you aren't as productive as you expected or hoped to be. Take deep breaths and acknowledge that all this time is investing in your art, in your practice, and in yourself. Let time become elastic and assume the retreat will pay off, even if you can't see how.
6) Make a schedule.
Don't be mad at yourself when you're late, but have a sense each day of the very minimum you'd like to do and make sure you do that part.
7) Set aside time for reflection before you go back to the real world.
Notice your successes, record your plans and dreams for the future, and figure out a re-entry strategy. Once you step back into your home, the mail will be piled up, you'll smell like bug spray and the novel you're working on will evaporate if you're not careful.
8) Plan another retreat!
There's no reason, at all, for these retreats to be a precious commodity, although the scheduling part of your brain will argue the point. Why not schedule something once a year? Once a quarter? Once a month? How small of a retreat can you take? Today I took 45 minutes in the middle of my day to scheme about improvements to my daily schedule. It was a micro-retreat! Don't let images of Djerassi and MacDowell Colony ruin your retreating vibe. Besides, I think you'll find this time away so valuable that it'll be easier to fit it into your schedule the next time.
Have you ever gone on a retreat? I'd love to know how it went, what you'd change, and what you think of my suggestions here.
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