Friday, August 7, 2009

Searching for my "Desert Place"

In a talk I recently attended, it was suggested that everyone needs to find a “desert place” in which to think, contemplate, and be alone with one’s self. The speaker said all humans needed this “desert place” and compared our need for it to Jesus going off into the desert to be alone. Although that is a nice analogy, I somehow think that if he did go off it was really to get away from all the people who were following, idolizing, and attempting to learn from his every utterance rather than a retreat to think and contemplate!

In the present world, we are so bombarded with noise, people, work, and a million other things that accumulate in the form of stress that we are hardly aware that they are pressing down on us. We’re like the frog in the pot of water that gets cooked because it doesn’t realize that the water is slowly getting hotter. Like the frog, our minds become lethargic with the heat of the stresses we are subjected to, and sometimes those unfortunate enough to be lacking in personal, spiritual or mental strengths succumb.

As a writer, I have an enormous appreciation for anyone who admits the need to find that “desert place” and makes the effort to go there. I find that coming home from work does nothing to relieve stress for me. It is difficult to pursue my writing, when a messy kitchen, a bathroom that needs cleaned, a load of laundry that needs doing, or bills that need my attention are all within my field of vision. The very presence of these things adds to the load of stress. Finding a “desert place” that eliminates those things is a respite of huge proportion.

I should warn you that physical “desert places” can be pricey. I try to get away twice a year, in the spring and fall, for a weekend. I pack my computer and drive far enough away to feel the stress fall behind. I still have to sleep, eat, and plug in, so I research my destination before I head out. Other than the comfort of the bed, it doesn’t matter whether I stay in a Motel 6, a Hampton Inn, or a Marriot Resort. I choose what I can afford at the time. As long as the bathroom is clean, it has air conditioning, and Internet access, I’m a happy writer.

Some people out there, rather than make a complete journey to find their “desert place,” resort to other options found closer to home. I know a few writers who spend hours in local libraries. They claim that the quiet atmosphere is enough; and it may be for them. I tend to look up every time there is motion, and all the libraries near me are small enough that there really are no places in them that shield you from the movements of other patrons. The same goes for coffee shops. Sometimes when I need to really get away but can’t leave town, I head out to a local winery. If there is no rowdy crowd, I can have a nice glass of wine and make some writing progress, but usually there's too much noise and movement.

My last resort is to close my office door; put on headphones; listen to soothing, quiet, instrumental music; and pray that the phone doesn’t ring!

Someday, I will find the perfect, affordable writer’s retreat. Perhaps a month in an isolated house on the lakeshore or ocean would do. Many years ago, I spent three of the most productive weeks of my writing life (one week at a time) while house-sitting a ski house in the Green Mountains of Vermont. You couldn’t see the house from the road; there were no neighbors; you couldn’t even hear a car or truck go by on the road below. I even saw a moose! It was marvelous for writing, because the only distraction was my intermittently growling stomach and the physical need for sleep. I would love to have that opportunity again. I’m sure most of the writers I know would wish for the same.

Tonight, I’m resorting to the headphones. You've got to do whatever it takes! I entertain any and all suggestions!