In some regard, when I first got here, I was putting a little too much pressure on myself. Some of it was the expected "performance anxiety," but more than that I think I was expecting some kind of revelation, if you will, which would allow me to pursue a completely new and inspired path of writing.
That's not how it seems to work.
I have had revelations of other sorts, it's true: I now know what it's like to be on the outside of the language barrier, and what it's like to struggle to communicate with someone else on a basic level. For a few days I was actually a little afraid to run into the other villagers on my walks, for fear that they might say something more than "bonjour" or "bon soir" and I wouldn't understand what it was (this has happened, for the record, and I handled it just fine, if a bit awkwardly. The villagers are used to non-French speakers wandering through regularly, thanks to La Muse).
But perhaps my biggest revelation was, that's not how my writing works. I'm a processor; things take awhile to root and develop in my head. However, it's completely reasonable (and now, in hindsight, obvious) that I should work on the things I've brought with me -- both the actual words I'd already written and some of the more abstract things I'd been mulling over in my head before making the trip. In fact, there's a half-full notebook that I left at home to make room for empty ones; I wish I'd brought it to give myself more places to start from. On the other hand, I did print out a couple dozen poems and several stories in anticipation of revising them, and I have done some work with many of those drafts.
I've also managed to write. I've added 24 (handwritten) pages to a story I started in Baltimore (which I'm not yet acknowledging as the start of a novel for fear of being overwhelmed), added a few pages to another half a story I brought with me, and have filled up roughly one third of my poetry notebook (though some of the pieces are more like musings with line breaks than actual poems). I've also been reading, journaling, blogging, and studying French (I have a phone app for the latter called Duolingo; the randomly-generated sentences which are put before me to translate have been quite the source of amusement for my fellow retreaters. Examples include "Why is the cat dead?", "The horse is eating the roses," "Your boy is ugly," and "The man is naked." Finding practical applications for these sentences has been... a little difficult, as one might imagine).
I haven't put forth specific goals for myself in terms of production; I'd love to leave the retreat with all three of my notebooks full and my journal nearly so (a few of the pages will be reserved for the travelling I do after La Muse) but I'm not going to beat myself up about it if they're not. Everything I write here, whether it's crap or not, could prove a source of inspiration later on. In fact, I think I revise better when I let something sit for a long time before returning to it.
The village, of course, is still wonderful. For a couple of days last week I was feeling a little stir-crazy, but a trip to Carcassonne on Thursday helped with that, as did a trip to the cafe in the neighboring village, Roquefare, on Saturday evening with Helena and Jenny, two of my housemates. And on Sunday, Helena and I climbed a mountain (I'm still a little sore from the trip). Yesterday I had a bit of trouble getting started, so I walked down to the river (which I did finally find two different paths to, thanks to the help of another housemate) and sat for a couple of hours with a book and a notebook. I think all the possible changes of scenery within walking distance of La Muse will be strongly missed when I return home.
But so, without further ado, pictures:
|Carcassonne. To the right is the city square, where the Market was just closing down for the day. Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses.|
|The Cross at the top of Le Roque, an easier sort of half mountain, if you will.|
|The view from the mountain Helena and I climbed, near Roquefare. In the distance is Carcassonne, and beyond that, the Pyrenees Mountains.|