tips for mamas at writing residency

It’s my last day of seven spent in the bliss of writing residency at the Wellstone Center. I’m not ready to fold my sweaters into my bag quite yet, but I do want to wrap up a short list of tips for mamas at writing residency (or any parent about to to downshift via writing retreat)…

Tips for Mamas at Writing Residencies

Loungewear: The key to my writing residency capsule wardrobe is camouflage. Not the green blotchy stuff, but the concept of ensuring little distinction between my sleeping, waking, and walking clothes. I want to get coffee at 5am, make brunch at 11am, hike at 4pm, and sip whisky at 8pm, with as few costume changes in between as possible. For me that means black leggings, my husband’s accidentally washed cashmere sweater, and the worn lace halter bra I can fall asleep in and not notice.

Limits: This number is probably different for every person, but mine is 8. It’s the maximum number of days (including travel) I can be away from my kids before I start having dreams where I am running down a black street in search of the blow-up castle where I put my babies down to sleep. When I find the blow-up castle, it is gone. Or rather, deflated, collapsed on the ground. And I stand there with its red plastic fragments in my hands, looking up at the sky, howling. If I could make this shit up, I would write fiction. But I write non-fiction. This was the dream I had last night. My point: know your limit or suffer the last minute flight change fee to get home a day early. Which I have paid before. It’s expensive.

Airplane Mode: Airplane mode ALL WEEK LONG. Both literally and metaphorically. Do not plan a phone check-in schedule with your partner. Do not tell your aunt and old college buddy who lives in the area that you will be around. And whatever you do, do NOT FaceTime with your kids. Or if it works for you, do it. But for me it just brings the popped blow-up castle dream to me nightly. And to my knowledge the live video footage does not help my kids. But I have one of those amazing husbands that never tells me when my kids are whimpering my name on repeat. So add that to your list too: Selfless partner who knows everything will pass. Check.

Easy Eating: Cooking, eating, and cleaning — three times a day — can wipe out a day. So I’m all about focusing on that which comes in its own packaging (fruit, nuts) and whole avocados scooped right out of their peels by corn chip. For me, it’s all nut butters, hummus, and spreads into which I can dip veggies, fruits, and bread. For dinner, maybe there’s a group of residents pooling time, hands, and ingredients. Where, ideally, leftovers are both intentional and instrumental.

Show Up Any Way You Want or Need: It might be good to check your expectations. You’re about to enter a vortex where time drips like honey. But you’ll still be you, with all your same old baggage and bad habits. Write as much as you can. Push through your blocks. But also read like a banshee wails, jump in the freezing pool to wake up or cool down, space out on chickadees bathing in a puddle, walk in the redwoods and watch where your freed-mind roams —  knowing it is ALL part of the process. Leave your inner literary critic at home. With your mom-guilt. Ban them both. Forever and good riddance.

Re-Integration: Do not host thanksgiving for twenty people the week you come home. Give yourself space to land softly. Plan slow time with the kids. Hike with your neglected dog. Set up a date night with your partner to say thank you for not calling when the kids were quivering in their moments of mom-need. As an introvert, writing residencies are the only “trips” from which I come home feeling refreshed. But still, go slow.

That’s my short list!  I have eight hours before the whiskey starts calling and my writing gets sloppy, so I gotta roll. Let me know if you have a tip I missed, question I can address, or a recommendation for a not-to-be-missed writing residency.
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