Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What To Wear at A Writers' Retreat

             I wrote my packing list for my two-week writer’s residency at Hedgebrook over a month ago. I carefully mulled over what I wanted to look like as I retreated to my own cottage on Whidbey Island on the Puget Sound. I saw myself walking the beach in the morning, wind blowing through my hair, gathering poetic imagery for my work later in the cabin, while a handsome, young gardener watched me from behind a boat shed. What I really needed was a long cape like the one Meryl Streep wore in “French Lieutenant’s Woman”. Then I could walk along the rocky shore, my cape flapping, the gardener furtively watching, as I contemplated my chapter outline for the book proposal I hoped to finish while I was there. Obviously, when I sat down with my chamomile tea to wrestle with the multilayered themes in my chapter outline, I wanted something casual but pulled together. Maybe a fuzzy maroon sweater over charcoal leggings. The Hedgebrook website said that in the evenings, the writing residents, all women, gathered to eat an organic dinner and discuss their work.  Here, I thought I would wear something a bit flowy – a silk skirt with a raw silk blouse, open at the neck. Since Hedgebrook hosts women from around the world, I thought ethnic earrings and a wrist cuff would be a nice touch.
As the day of my departure drew nearer, I wondered if I needed a pedicure.  Would I be kicking off my shoes after dinner and an in depth discussion of my chapter outline?  Would anyone be taking pictures of the writing residents as we poured over each other’s manuscripts while drinking organic wine, which I was told was made on the island and available for purchase? If pictures were being taken, I should get an eyebrow wax. If there was an actual gardener watching, I should probably touch up my roots.
            Now I am within two days of my departure and I haven’t found a “French Lieutenant’s Woman’s” cape, a fuzzy maroon sweater, or anything flowy that doesn’t make me look like an opera diva three-times my actual size. I can’t afford the pedicure or an eyebrow wax. All I have is a bunch of long-sleeved V-necked T-shirts, sweatpants, and my pajamas with hole near the waistline that exposes my ass every time I lean over.
            Maybe the V-necked T-shirt route is better anyway. I’ll look more serious. I’ll look like a writer who is so consumed by her chapter outline that she can’t bother with worrying about clothes. Surely this will win me the respect and admiration of the other writers, who I assume are far more talented than I am. The video on the Hedgebrook website shows Gloria Steinem hanging out with accomplished poets who whip out handwritten chapbooks bound with string that they worked on that day and read from them flawlessly over a lightly tossed organic tomato salad. I have no reason to believe that Steinem will be in residence at the same time as I am. But if she is, I think she’ll respond more to a V-necked T-shirt than something flowy. In the Hedgebrook video she wore a no-nonsense T-shirt just like mine. 
            I think that vetting my own wardrobe has been distracting me from deeper concerns about my two-week retreat. It’s easier for me to consider what I will wear when I’m alone in my cabin than it is for me to consider what I will write or how I will feel with that much time to myself. I’ve spent considerably more time imagining myself on the beach, tossing rocks into the ocean, than I have thought about how I’m going to feel without my boys bumping into me, sitting on top of me, or racing by me every day. Their physical presence, along with Pat’s, is my daily reality. My sure thing.
            Without my men, will I feel lost? Unsure? Probably. Will I find myself wandering the beach at midnight, the moonlight bouncing off the waves, illuminating my profile as I gaze up into the infinite black sky? Will I then feel the universe slicing through me, connecting me to thoughts so profound that only a few writers beyond Whidbey Island have ever guessed their meaning? Upon turning around to retrace my steps back to my cottage for a glass of organic wine with Gloria Steinem, will the night air and spray from the surf offer me a moment of grace so rare that it will give shape, elegance, clarity, depth, and originality to my chapter outline? 
            God I hope so.

*And in two weeks, dear reader, I will write about what it was really like.

A photo of one of the Hedgebrook Cabins  (From the website)


  1. Shelly O'Neill KramerMay 17, 2011 at 11:20 AM

    Brett, I love your blog post today!!! You're amazing! It's as if you write my thoughts. Thank you for making it okay to think the nutty things we writers do. And, thank you for being in this world. You're just the BEST!!!

  2. from a stylist's perspective, quite hilarious and literary, a combination which requires much depth and originality