River of Longing 8, 24x80", oil on panel©2009 Janice Mason Steeves
I decided to have a retreat in my home last week, to have no communication with the outside world other than to listen to CBC Radio. I booked the week off. No appointments or meetings or dinners with friends. I turned off the computer and unplugged the phone. Freedom!
I spent the time meditating, reading and spending long days in my studio. The days stretched on endlessly like when I was a kid playing outside in summer holidays. I even managed to get some big housecleaning tasks accomplished. I hate housecleaning! Perhaps it kept my feet on the ground to do such nice mundane tasks. I spent a couple of hours one afternoon scrubbing ten years of paint off my big old worktable. A friend tells me that such cleaning makes room for the birth of something new.
The creative ideas started to flow maybe on the third day of the retreat. I have creative ideas at other times too, but with a long flow of time stretching itself out, the ideas had more space to form, without interruption.
Some creative people cut off contact with the outside world for periods of time to do their work. I watched the movie, “Grey Gardens", a powerful documentary about two of Jackie O’s eccentric relatives who became poverty-stricken, living in infested squalor in their East Hampton’s mansion. Drew Barrymore cut off all contact with the outside world for the three months of filming the movie. I read that when the author Susan Sontag wrote The Volcano Lover, she didn’t see her friends, didn’t answer phone calls or open mail for three years to focus her energy on her book. I attended a workshop many years ago with Katherine Liu, a California artist. She said that each month, she paints for three uninterrupted weeks and in the fourth week, she comes out of her studio to visit friends and do household tasks. After spending some time in seclusion this past week, I can understand how that isolation makes for a very creative space where ideas have time to move and grow organically. It’s finding my own balance that’s important. I felt so nourished by this retreat. A bit like going to a spa. I’m resolving to do it twice a year…ummm ….maybe once a month.