Retreat: some definitions

retreatRetreat: verb, withdraw from enemy forces; change one’s mind as a result of criticism or difficulty.

Retreat: noun, act of moving back or withdrawing; signal for a military force to withdraw; a place you can go to be alone.

 

For the past few days I’ve been somewhere which is this last definition of the word ‘retreat’ and where I have most definitely been alone and it’s been a strange, yet illuminating experience.

At home I try to fill every five minutes with worthy and significant things: I keep on top of my email correspondence and social media accounts; I go swimming, I teach, see friends, go to writing workshops and poetry readings. I write poems and work on whatever novel I’ve got on the go, I submit stuff to magazines and competitions, I read improving texts and stuff for fun, I watch TV, cook, wash, iron, do the shopping, talk to my neighbours, family and cats. Occasionally I sing along to the radio in the kitchen and I am out most evenings at some writerly event.

And yet here it’s just me. I’m in a room overlooking a valley where I can see trees and distant roads and houses dotting the hillsides. Down there is a village and other people’s lives, but here in this room it’s just me.

There is a very lovely lady who provides me with food and the occasional, ‘How are you?’ and I keep in touch with my loved ones now and again by phone or text but basically I feel I have been pared back to an essential version of myself who, for the first time in what probably is forever, hasn’t got anyone else around to define me, not in the small moments when I stop and think.

Of course I’m here to write and boy, have I written! My WIP is now 17.5K words longer and this morning I typed what I think will be the last sentence of it. I find that the endings of my books always take me by surprise. Suddenly there is nothing left to say and I have to stop because that final moment, the one I’ve held in my head for months, has finally come to pass.

To have the luxury of immersing myself in the book has been awesome; I can write a bit, lie on the bed and think (or doze a bit); I can read (I’m reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles which is both excellent and infuriating – all that ‘meta’ stuff he goes in for!); I could yomp in the nearby woods in my wood-yomping-boots had I not injured my back on Tuesday, and I am allowed to sit at my desk and watch the raindrops snake down the window. And I am allowed to think.

And these thoughts have been both wonderful and terrifying. I know that when I return home I won’t be changed, not intrinsically; I will go back to my routine of filling my every five minutes, but I will remember this moment, the one when I’m typing this and when I’m more alone than I’ve ever been before and I’m analysing the other definitions of the word ‘retreat’ and am deciding not to take heed of any of them.

And here is where I am: http://www.anniemckie.co.uk/

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