I recently returned from a writing retreat in Wisconsin. I almost didn’t go; even though I’ve gone to this retreat twice before and loved it, flying to Wisconsin always, initially, feels like a big investment. Traveling takes time and money. And, it takes a lot of energy to organize logistics for my three children who, unfortunately, haven’t figured out how to cook, drive, or pay the bills yet.
When I decided to skip this year, I felt a flash of disappointment, but I told myself I was freeing up a spot for someone else. Weeks passed, and the slot never filled. It’s as if the door remained wide open, for me.
And so, I went.
I made the right decision. The lodge felt familiar, like home. Throughout the afternoon as others arrived, we hugged hello. We’d all come for similar reasons: to create mental, emotional, and physical space to write. I only see these women once a year, and suddenly a year didn’t feel so long.
I unpacked my bag and settled into the same room I had the year before, and then I sunk down on the sofa by the fireplace, my writing spot. I had a couple of hours to myself before dinner.
But I couldn’t write. My heart was there, but my head was not. After a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call and a 6:00 a.m. departure from my busy life in Charleston, I could barely think.
Author Anne Lamott has said, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… including you.” I remembered this as I grabbed my phone and uninstalled Facebook and Instagram. Then I set my alarm for 30 minutes and took a quick nap. I woke up feeling groggy but ready to rejoin the group. After dinner, our instructor gave us our first writing prompt. But I didn’t write. I went to bed.
The next day, I woke up energized. I typed four pages, my fingers hustling to keep up with the story flowing out. Finally, I was writing! Doing the thing I came here to do.
A few hours later, I ran down a country road, moving to the beat of my Pandora station. I ran three miles, snapping images along the way.
I wanted to post a picture on Instagram and caption it “This is my fight song,” because songs like that make me feel like I’m on fire when I run. Then I remembered that I’d uninstalled my social media apps for the retreat, to help me in moments of weakness, moments exactly like this one.
If I’d shared the image right then, when it happened, it would have been about feeling awesome after a run. Which would have been totally fine. Instead, I let the idea simmer. I gave myself more time to process why moments like these feel important in the first place. What do I make of them? I thought about the personal essay I’d written earlier that morning. Could I have done that deep “soul” work if I had stopped to scroll my newsfeed first?
As a former TV news reporter, I appreciate the immediacy of social media. I love the ability to document moments and share them as they happen. When used mindfully, with intention, social media has the power to create connection in a lonely world. I’m so lucky to have access to influencers and thought leaders who inspire me daily.
Many will read these words because they saw the link on social media, and for that, I’m grateful. But if I’m not careful, that which has the power to inspire becomes a distraction, noise that keeps me from doing my important work.
My writing practice teaches me a lot about life in general.
As much as I love connection, I’m also learning the importance of solitude. To show up authentically, I must know who I am, what I think, what I feel, and what I value, when everything is quiet. Even in the midst of a writing retreat that I almost didn’t attend because life is so busy, I discovered, quiet doesn’t come on its own. I have to create it.
I have to carve out the white space, make the time, make the investment, and treat it as something sacred. And that, I realize, is my fight song.