Retreat at St. Peter’s Abbey, November 11-14, 2021

I was in one of many Microsoft Teams video meetings at work when a Gmail notification lit up my phone. I glanced down and quickly gleaned from the pop-up email preview that I’d made it off the waitlist, and could attend the Facilitated Retreat with poet and writer Katherine Lawrence in Muenster, Saskatchewan. I was so excited I had to mask my facial expression on the call, and waited impatiently to open up the email after the meeting and dive into the details. I immediately replied with an enthusiastic yes, thinking yes, please, let me go! I need out of here!

I realize it may sound a bit silly to be *that* excited for a few days out of the city for snack-sized writing retreat, but ever since COVID hit I have the utmost appreciation for days off, time away from the city, and time away from my beloved family. Located in South Central Saskatchewan in the sprawling metropolis of Regina, the farthest I’ve travelled during this pandemic was to Cypress Hills to camp, to Swift Current for an outdoors visit with my grandmother, and to Saskatoon for a few short weekend getaways (and to get engaged!). Three and a half days away from the usual chaos that is any family household now had the same appeal as a week in Hawaii. I’d been struggling to find the space to write, and this retreat would offer exactly that.

This wasn’t my first time at the rodeo having attended a similar retreat by the same Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild in 2019, so I came prepared. Snacks, yoga mat, spare cables, spare paper, a roster of craft and poetry books, and a set to-do list. I had firm plans to work on a 1920’s era Moose Jawvian poetry project in the mornings cranking out first drafts, and to work on my gothic mystery NaNoWriMo novel in the afternoons, but as per usual, my plans changed promptly.

For whatever reason, being back at the abbey amidst the solitude of a first solid snow had me in a pious mood. I found myself drifting away from my flappers and rum runners and drifting into nostalgic retrospectives of childhood church experiences and elegies of familial matriarchs and patron saints. I cranked out several hundred words for my Nano novel, but mostly wrapped myself away in Cathedral music, VeggieTales nostalgia, and helpfully prescribed poetry edits.

Working with Katherine Lawrence was so, so lovely! (If by odd chance you happen to read this Katherine, thank you!) To be able to sit down, have someone with so much experience look at my older pieces with fresh eyes, and have her offer me some golden reading recommendations tailored to my projects was so helpful. I devoured Carolyn Smart’s Careen (a poetry page-turner about Bonnie and Clyde) and Sarah Venart’s I Am the Big Heart (a poetry collection of domesticity, grief, and parenthood) while at the retreat, and sent out dozens of library hold requests to procure once home on Sunday. We also worked line by line through an elegy I’d written that weekend for my partner’s grandmother, a remarkable lady I did not meet until later on in her battle with dementia.

The weekend wrapped up with a reading by all of the writers in attendance. Retreats are always so interesting, as you are thrown together with writers from different backgrounds that you might not normally meet otherwise. Sure, Saskatchewan is small, but depending on where you work or where you live, you might not ever run into folks otherwise! Though a very short weekend, you do get to know everyone, their projects, their reading preferences, and their personalities through shared meals and evening social time. I had some warm discussions about shared step-mother experiences and mutual fangirl-level adoration for Miriam Toews’ Women Talking, and it gave me a huge boost after having been in limited, mostly digital social circles for well over a year.

I think that the fact that I’m only writing and posting this a whole month later shows just how little writing time I’ve managed to squeeze in since the retreat. I have lofty goals and mighty fine intentions: I edit poems on my lunch break, I send out submissions when I beat the rest of my family home from school and work, and I’ve agreed to writing and workshop dates with friends and my writing group. Still, the holiday season, migraines, and just being an adult with responsibilities chips away at that writing time. I am patient with myself and my schedule limitations though, and look forward to carrying the notes, ideas, and plans I made at the retreat into my writing practice in the new year.