Last week I drove several hours from home to return to a haven I’ve been privileged to enjoy the past three summers. Upon arriving at the now-familiar grounds of St. Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, I was greeted with hugs, a parking permit and a set of keys. Next, the Sisters in charge of the Studium program for which I had come offered a tour of the apartment where I’d be staying the next five days.
The apartment included a kitchen and living room on the upper level. The fridge was stocked with coffee, carafes of milk and apple juice, a jar of homemade apricot jam, a stick of butter and a carton of fresh farm eggs.
A basket of fruit and bag of homemade bread also was provided, along with some pretty flowers that had just been picked and placed in a vase on the kitchen table.
After my kitchen tour, I hauled my bags downstairs, where I entered a bottom level with two bedrooms and a bathroom, along with a separate sink near the extra bedroom. On the dresser in one of the rooms sat a bundle of clean towels topped with a fresh bar of soap.
At this point, I did what I do every year: I stood in awe, hardly able to process the fact that I’d been given another chance to hide out with my writing for a couple of days. In that moment of wonder, I heard no sounds other than my own breathing; no sibling skirmishes, no cats meowing for food and attention, no piles of clothes screaming to be washed.
But I did have an important decision to make: which bedroom to take? After a couple minutes of discerning the space of each, and deliberating which would be the most accommodating to my needs, I chose the back one near the bathroom, where I could adequately hole up at the desk or on the bed or in the rocking chair with my laptop with the least amount of disruption. I also would have use of an office down the hall if needed.
How does a writer describe her gratitude for such an opportunity? I am beyond overwhelmed to have been offered this space thrice now; this quiet place where I can focus solely on one project, emerging only to join the religious sisters in prayer, if I’d like, and again “at table” for meals.
Studium participants arrive with a project and are invariably asked by the Sisters, “So, what are you working on?” My project is one that been demanding attention all summer but was being repeatedly shirked due to other worthy obligations. I'd begun noticing my project turning resentful, even pouting on occasion. But my precious time at St. Ben’s allowed me to finally indulge my muse (and my project) in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. I am filled with gratitude for this opportunity.
Every writer ought to have a chance to experience a program like Studium. They are out there – it’s just a matter of finding them and taking steps to be part of them. Inherent in that process is choosing to treat yourself like a writer who has something worthy to write, to believe that there is a story within you that cannot be told by anyone else. Seeking out a writing retreat is one way to honor your craft and yourself as a writer.
And it doesn’t hurt if the fridge where you're staying comes stocked with fresh farm eggs and apricot jam.
Q4U: Have you ever experienced a writer’s retreat, whether nearby or far away from your home? If so, please share the delicious details. If not, what factors have held you back?