Monday, August 24, 2009


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.


  1. I absolutely love home retreats, and I even write an article about how to make it easier. I love how you cleaned and that that physical and mundane work made space for your creativity.
    It does sound like a spa, for you and your Muse!

  2. I wish I had time to retreat like this. Instead, I have to retreat into my mind, which has its own rewards I suppose. Someday. Still, reading about your retreat lifted my spirits. I'm glad you had this time and I hope you enjoy many more blissful retreats. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Janice: "Grey Gardens" is on my shelf right now (thanks to Netflix). Sounds like you enjoyed it and that I need to watch it.

    When I needed peace and quiet for my book, I headed to the mountains for a week. It was amazing! I got so much done (easier when there is only dial-up and no high-speed!).

  4. PS: You need to change your settings to allow for non-Blogger (non-Google) users so that anyone and everyone can post. As it is now, they have to have a profile set up somewhere. This is a lesson coming up, but thought you might want to change it now.

  5. Thanks Cynthia, Dawn and Alyson. I would love to read your article Cynthia about how to make home retreats easier. I've only known one other friend who does this. I'm getting lots of good reaction from other of my friends, especially my artist friends who are now trying to find a way to have their own home retreat. I still feel a calmness from that week. I think having them at least twice a year would be a good goal to aim for.
    Appreciate your comments.