Writing-Down-the-Baja-ha-ha

What could be better than going to Baja Mexico in February – from snow drifts to sand dunes; from tires spinning on ice to waves crashing on the beach; from white-out conditions to bougainvillea and cactus flowers in bloom? What could be better than all that? Going to Writing-down-the-Baja, a writers retreat led by author Ellen Waterston of The Writing Ranch, and attended by bra fitting expert and author Elisabeth Dale. Not that I knew the latter would be there or that there would be surreptitious glances at my breasts to determine did I know what I was doing  bra-wise. No, that was a double-barreled bonus.

For six days, I wrote in the quiet surroundings of Serendipity, a B & B built and run by American ex-pat Sharon Morris and her husband bit by bit over twenty-some years. An oasis in the desert of the southern Baja peninsula on the outskirts of a tiny town called Todos Santos.

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Serendipity – Todos Santos, Mexico

The Food
Sharon and her able staff fed us three meals a day. No need to think about anything except writing. And oh man, the food! The morning started with 9 of us gathering for breakfast and conversation about how our homework went the day before, or the latest news from the States, or personal stories. We bonded over burritos.

Sharon offered freshly squeezed passion fruit juice to begin and then we chewed our way through a bowl of fresh fruit and a choice of cereals, followed by a main breakfast course which could be a breakfast burrito stuffed with eggs and cheese or Sharon’s interpretation of chilaquiles or eggs or an omlette. To further stretch our stomachs we wrapped up with either bacon or sausage and a side of toast, Belgian waffle, or croissant and THEN we waddled to our outdoor seminar on the patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Lunch was equally generous – tostados, homemade fish and chicken tamales, posole to sell your soul for a second helping, fresh jicama salad. Lord, I can’t remember it all. Suffice to say we did not suffer for our art. We had a chicken mole for dinner one night that I wake up moaning for in the small hours. My husband wonders.

The Retreat
The real main course was the retreat. Every morning, Ellen led us through writing prompts designed to tease out new material from overworked brains. Day 1 and 2 we worked on poetry and even those in the group who declared a fear of poetry surprised themselves. A haiku a day provided  mental warm-ups for all. Day 3 we tackled fiction, day 4 non-fiction and day 5 we were challenged to write “Chapter 1”. Afternoons we devoted to writing and wandering in the desert or on the beach or sitting by the pool watching whales spout in the ocean. We read our best work aloud to each other on the final day. Reading aloud to a group – a new experience for me – exposed our vulnerable words to the air and others but in this group, I felt safe.

The real marvel to me was Ellen’s ability to listen and hone in on the core of each person’s writing. Often, I would respond to the prompts with a stream of consciousness outpouring not necessarily having any idea at all but on reading aloud, Ellen would find the nub worth pulling. I struggle with big ideas but what I grasped through listening to Ellen comment on others work, was big ideas can be exposed through gathered small thoughts.

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Todos Santos beach

The benefits
I’ve done a bunch of on-line writing courses, two of them excellent (The Story Intensive by Sarah Selecky and Introduction to Creative Non Fiction by the eponymous magazine and taught by Meghan O’Gieblyn) but I wanted to connect with other writers face to face. I wanted a sense of community, shared purpose, and belonging. My regular work life is office administration and has been for 35 years. Writing is a new calling and I needed to find other souls occupied in the same solitary work and find support in this new creative experience.  I wanted time to explore possibilities away from the dust on my writing table lamp insisting it be tended to immediately. The retreat delivered.

I attended a poetry reading, for god’s sake! How cool is that!

No one doubted we were writers. The assumption among my compadres: We write therefore we are writers, an exhilarating affirmation.

Words of wisdom from Ellen
Blogging has been my writing focus for nearly 5 years. It makes me write. But with limited writing time due to the aforementioned day job, Ellen cautioned “Just be sure it isn’t draining your creative tank.” I ponder this even as I write this post.

“What is your commitment to writing?” This question challenges me to plan and then deliver. She threw the gauntlet and I caught it.

The location
I offer photos of the incomparable location which, I feel is important to add, is safer than most cities in this hemisphere. I walked alone on the beach every day. I walked along a dusty road where sand-coloured Mexican mutts investigated my presence with sniffs and yips. I ate and drank whatever was offered with no ill effect. On that note I leave you with this haiku.

Comida Todos Santos

I ate more beans
this week than in my lifetime
no writer’s block here.

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Beach walk

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34 thoughts on “Writing-Down-the-Baja-ha-ha

  1. Pingback: Heart Restart | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

  2. Pingback: Writing-Down-the-Baja-ha-ha — wuthering bites | Arrowhead Freelance and Publishing

  3. This sounds heavenly Susanne – I have done a writers’ retreat and found it an affirming emotional journey, though mine was in the rain and mists of Yorkshire, rather than the sun and cacti of California! But that time out to follow your passion is really important.

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    • I totally agree that it is important to acknowledge and nurture your passion. For me the biggest step was acknowledging it and taking it seriously. Being with people who felt likewise was incredible and I left feeling reinvented.

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  4. When I first began writing, I went to retreats consistently. That has dropped off to nothing, and I’ve really missed them. It sounds like you found a jewel in all ways—I mean, whales!! I’m very curious: did you accept the challenge and write “Chapter 1”?

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    • I think I could become a retreat addict. Something about being in a new place pulls out new ideas, doesn’t it? As for Chapter 1, I wrote something unlike anything I’ve done before but whether it will turn into something bigger remains to be seen. Truth be told, I’m intimidated as hell by a big project. I’m still trying to get little things published!

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  5. I most definitely am covetous of this retreat and my husband is going to be overwhelmed with wifely niceness until he succumbs to letting me do one. It really does sound exactly what I need. I’m off to dream ….

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  6. Vis-a-vis blogging: ““Just be sure it isn’t draining your creative tank.” I ponder this even as I write this post.”

    Hm. Not sure that I’m altogether liking the sounds of this… please don’t leave us!

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    • No way! Not doing that again, Maggie. I truly enjoy blogging and connecting with people here, so no fear. I just need to think about what kind of things I will post, their length, and how much effort I put into them. A typical post takes me the better part of a day and if I only have about 12 hours a week to write, I need to rejig the time spent. Hugs to you and thanks for your lovely support!

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  7. Okay, I’m jealous. I’ve been to writer’s conferences, retreats, and workshops. I’ve participated as both a writer and an instructor, but this one sounds like absolute heaven. I’m glad you took full advantage of it. Hopefully, what you learned will continue to be reflected in your future work. Bravo!

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    • It was heaven, Josh. And in truth I chose it because of the location as much as the workshop leader. Had it been in Wisconsin in February, I doubt I’d have gone! Ellen is an inspiring teacher who genuinely enjoys “fanning the pilot light of other writers.” It was time well spent.

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  8. It sounds wonderful! Your photos are amazing and I think it would be really neat to bounce stuff off other people that do the same kind of work, in a safe environment, where you could experiment outside your comfort zone. And eat too. Yum.

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    • Getting there was way outside my comfort zone. I’m not a happy flier and it was, all told, about a 9 hour journey from Ottawa to Calgary to Cabo San Jose and then by shuttle bus to Todos Santos. But the group of women was so supportive I felt I hit the jackpot both with the leader, Ellen, and with the other writers.

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  9. What a great thing to do Susanne! While I enjoy my solitary hours in my art room, I have often felt I would love to go on some kind of artistic retreat just to interact with like minded people. I think practising with others pulls more out of us too, we bounce off each other in creative ways. Love your closing haiku 😀

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    • It was a wonderful experience spending time with other writers and sharing work in a supportive, kind environment. They were a generous crew in every sense of the word. And being in a different location definitely pulls out new ideas and new ways of looking at the world.

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  10. I’ve always wanted to do one of these retreats! It sounds fun although I know I wouldn’t get much work done if I ate all that food!!! Wait, isn’t Baja California IN North America? 😉

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