The Writing Retreat

This weekend, my writing partner and I took a private ferry out to a tiny island off Kitsap County. Population: 127. GDP per capita: $53k. Number of cars that fit on the ferry: 6. Percentage of houses with “no trespassing” signs: 100. It seemed odd for a community so small to be so obviously hostile. Our host said, “People are very friendly.” And yet, on a February day so warm we walked the beach in t-shirts, we encountered only one other person, and all she wanted to know is whether it was still raining.

We could not shake the feeling that something was not quite right. Places seemed relatively well cared-for; there was a rope swing on the adjacent beach; oysters were pinned down below the surf in large black mesh wire bags; there was the occasional beachfront decor or giant anchor with a family name carved beneath it – but it did not have the feel of a pleasant retirement community – more a place people go to escape other people.

The first large house just up from the ferry had a sign hung from the balcony, probably 10’x20′ on canvas, with a stamp-like image of the Statue of Liberty in the upper right corner and this unintelligible message:

We live in the United States of America

Harassment, Bullying  and Threats against our Fundamental Rights is a Crime

Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others and don’t break the law

Perhaps clarification of jurisdiction was needed as the island is a membership community and is unincorporated, with no laws other than the rules they’ve self-developed: “For safety,” no one can board the ferry without a guest pass issued by a resident. Obviously, there’s no trespassing. And, as our host noted multiple times, you can’t pick anything up from anyone else’s stretch of beach.

When we got back, we found the place has a property crime rate 118.49 percent higher than the national average. Whether that’s from outsiders breaking in or people on the island breaking each other remains very unclear.

We crossed a bridge marked PRIVATE and trekked up through the only property that lacked a “No Trespassing” sign, on principle. It seemed like they were asking for it. “We know you’re here to harm us,” they seemed to be saying; “We’ll harm you back.” That kind of thing seems to be self-fulfilling.

My hope was to finish writing a talk. I felt massively creative on the way there. We had a ferry and some long waits to spark our imaginations. And Seattle’s Best from a vending machine, and Sour Patch Kids, and cranky ferry workers who asked us if we were children. On the boat we made a dictionary of new and needed words. Fluffl: the delightedly overfull feeling you get from eating sweet carbs for breakfast. Sufra: when you want to use an object in the way its origins intended but it is too fragile and lovely to use. Dejadant: having a wildly inappropriate, lush deja vu in a very public place. Etc.

But then we got out there and my head went to mush. It was like we were in non-space, watching time tick by as no new words hit the page. I mean, we typed, we sighed, we moved our pens, but nothing happened. It was all the same stories, rearranged in less interesting ways. Like regurgitation of a regurgitation. I was staring at word-vomit that had all the flavor taken from it many cycles ago. I mean how many times can I talk about the accident before it ceases to have existed? I mean isn’t there something left in my brain I haven’t already turned into a one-liner? Twenty minutes is a long time to talk at people with no plan, and making slides will suck your soul.

I try to remind myself that the creative process is supposed to be torturous, but it’s strange when other forms come so easily. I dropped into Facebook on Saturday morning and bam! five paragraphs surrounding a new and beautiful thought that somehow connected everything in my life. I’m used to having a moment of inspiration and watching it all just pour out of me. It doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be this hard. Especially not when I have a planet’s worth of secrets in me. Stories collected from corners of the world most people have never been. Friends who spark laughter and movement and ink flow. There are ideas I have yet to chew.

I keep hoping that if I just keep thinking, some aha! moment will strike. 30 days in to this #togetherequal campaign I’ve learned that just ruminating on why I care so much about gender equality calls up all kinds of lovely tiny stories on a near-daily basis. But trying to take the big abstract thoughts that guide my daily work and put them into a single story that people will love – I mean, I thought they were paying me generously, but it will work out to about $2 an hour by the time I get where I need to go.

For now, I blame the place. But I know better. It is only me who decides what makes its way out of my soul and onto the page. And behind all those flavorless, safely digested words is a trapdoor that some part of me is afraid to open. With this post, I give that part of me a warning: Somebody is about to trespass.


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