I recently returned from a four-day writing retreat, part of my master’s program. The retreat is one of four held within the two-year course, and the days are filled with workshops, workshopping, guest writers, student readers, and bonding. My mentor from last semester, a wonderful gent named Merle Drown, refers to the retreats as “The Enchanted Forest.”
The Enchanted Forest is a place where everybody knows your name, understands your growing pains and offers witty banter in response to your clever quips. (We are writers after all, and who better to impress with our bon mots than other writers?) We play word games, talk and play music late into the night, dance like fiends and encourage each other. During the retreat, we ignore our day jobs, give up cooking and cleaning, and spend long hours staring into space, scribbling into notebooks and banging on laptops.
Then we come home, where nobody understands us. Our families expect us to take the trash out and wake up on time for work. Nobody much cares when we talk about our WIPs or applauds when we stumble through a reading of the short story about squirrels we just expectorated onto a napkin. We wonder if our spouse’s salary could support the household if we took a couple of years off from work. Our genius goes unrecognized and we grow depressed and irritable. Thumb sucking and fetal positions ensue.
I felt the pangs for awhile when I got home from the retreat, particularly after I locked myself out of my house and spent a couple of hours wandering the city and waiting for my wife to get home. Then I put on my big-boy pants and gave myself a stern talking to. “Rob,” I said, “suck it up.”
The Enchanted Forest is fun, but it’s not real. It’s certainly not typical of the writer’s life. Most days, I’m lucky to get an hour of writing in, much less a full day of wordsmithing. Most days, the demands of real life trump my artistic aspirations.
And that’s how it should be. In “On Writing,” Stephen King reminds us that, “Life is not a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” My art, in that one hour a day when I can practice it, makes my life better. Some day it might make it richer, too, but I’m content with the boost those 60 minutes gives my mood, my mind and my self-respect. I’m a writer, darn it, not a kept man or a princess maintained fat and lazy in a magic tree lot. My life informs my work and without that life, chores and all, I would not be the writer I am.
“Enchanted Forest”? Bah. Who needs it? Not this guy. (But every writer should visit it, at least once. It’s pretty cool.)