Here in Colorado, the Rocky Mountains are still covered in what feels like endless snow, but underneath all that snow the spring flowers are actually stirring…we just can’t see them yet.
This “stirring” is a potent metaphor for our own creativity: Sometimes we cannot see the fruits of our labor yet, but underneath the surface new life is growing still. And just like spring, one day we will look around and ask: Where did all these flowers come from all of a sudden?
But the artist knows that it never happens all of a sudden.
I love this quote by Cynthia Occelli: “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
So hang on! The rupture of your best work may be working its way to the surface right now!
That also means that now is the perfect time to start planting your creative seeds for the spring/summer: What creative flowers do you want to bloom this year? Do you want to send out more submissions? Enter a contest? Finish a manuscript? Maybe you want to get into a daily writing routine? Try a new form (like flash fiction!)? Get your website going? Network with other writers or go on a writing retreat with us?
Whatever your goals are, now is the time to put those seeds in the ground and let them stir–invisible but moving–towards fruition.
“I wondered about the explorers who’d sailed their ships to the end of the world. How terrified they must have been when they risked falling over the edge; how amazed to discover, instead, places they had seen only in their dreams.” ~Jodi Picoult
I thought of this quote on the flight to Costa Rica, wondering what lie ahead for us. Though Costa Rica is hardly the “end of the world,” I’d never been there before. I’d only seen pictures. Pictures and descriptions of the country and of Peace Retreat. Nancy and I took a huge leap of faith for ourselves and our participants, hoping we’d chosen well. We really wanted this 2nd outing for Flash Fiction Retreats, and indeed, our first outing outside of the U.S., to be a success.
Costa Rica is wild. And although there are resort towns and luxury hotels, Peace Retreat was neither situated in a resort town, nor was it a luxury hotel. And we didn’t want that anyway. We wanted, well, peace. We wanted to retreat somewhere that our group felt like it largely had the place to themselves (except for a handful of yoga students and teachers and some volunteers, we did). We wanted to feel immersed in a peaceful, exotic setting surrounded by nature. We got that. Each day, I woke up just before dawn, to the sound of the birds and the howler monkeys. For the first few days, the wind was powerful. We were surrounded by trees. We spotted iguanas, bright green parrots, horses along the road. A young piglet even came up to greet us on our walk to the beach.
We were lucky enough that there was a full lunar eclipse during our retreat. We stayed up late to watch it, binoculars tilted to the sky, on a beautiful windswept night. Another night, we participated in a solemn and unforgettable cacao ceremony led by a local shaman.
Definitely a slower pace. Incredibly delicious meals. Fruit so bright and juicy and sweet it was like eating candy. Fresh vegetables and salads, fish, goat-milk dairy, rice, beans, eggs, and freshly baked bread. All of the Peace Retreat staff were so wonderful and kind.
We had a pretty swimming pool with deliciously cool water. Bugs? Yes, a few. We were told “this is their home” and indeed it was. Some ants. A scorpion. A few mosquitos (but not nearly as much as we’d expected). This part of Costa Rica (the northwestern coast) is HOT and dry and a bit dusty. Certain of the trees actually defoliate this time of year, so was surprised to see these bare trees, which had their own strange beauty. But there was also a proliferation of swaying palm trees and others, lush with green foliage. Flowers and flowering bushes.
Situated on the equator, the Costa Rican sunset occurs around 5:30 year-round. The sunsets on Playa Negra were breathtaking. Walking back to Peace Retreat at dusk with a fat full moon rising and surrounded by the new writer friends I’d made felt so special, auspicious. I feel so honored to have spent time with this incredible bunch who wrote their hearts out and were so generous and encouraging with each other. I can’t wait to go back.
What a wild adventure! We saw iguanas, parrots, scorpions, hermit crabs. We heard the eerie, hard-to-describe sounds of the howler monkeys, saw a lunar eclipse, and watched the sunset on the ocean almost every evening. We got to take part in a traditional cacao ceremony, walked along the beach looking for a bonfire (didn’t find it!), and met the locals who set up a spontaneous bazaar at the Peace Retreat. We ate wholesome and fresh food 3 times a day and some us us did yoga in the mornings. I slept like a baby in my screened-in cabina, immersed in the sounds of the jungle.
Oh–and we wrote! A lot. Oh yes, we found perfect, breezy nooks for writing, reading, and in the afternoons my editing class was such a hoot. We had both brand new writers and veterans, but the synergy of the group allowed everyone to get into that perfect workshop balance–a combination of praise, useful suggestions, and inspirational group think brainstorms.
Our final night salon, under the twinkly lights and palm trees with the blessed humidity warming up our winter bodies and the staff of Peace Retreat were our perfect audience.
Eco-friendly Peace Retreat is the perfect blend of authentic Costa Rica with just enough creature comforts to make it relaxing without sacrificing the true experience for the sanitized resort version. Simple, loving, comfortable, perfect. We are so grateful!
A huge THANK YOU to everyone that took that leap of faith with us! Our writer participants were amazing, creative, genuine, and brought their full game to the Costa Rican adventure. We became like family for a week and the Peace Retreat staff became part of that family. A perfect place for some warm, tropical inspiration, meeting new writing friends, mentors, and bonding in a jungle adventure.
We loved it so much we are going it again next year!
Our next Writing Wild in Costa Rica Retreat will happen March 21-27, 2020!
“Step right up and meet a woman so determined to be a star she’ll try anything, including spray on Instant Fame! Meet her reflection, who dreams of a life of her own and manages to find love on the Internet! See the man desperately trying to earn a world record in the most bizarre way possible! Learn the origins of the Four-Legged Woman and the Human Skeleton! Clown mothers, suicidal ringmasters, cult leader who teach the cha-cha and Alaska Jackson’s Traveling Medicine Show…each one takes center stage in this vaudeville of flash fiction. Flash fiction, microfiction, short-short stories… regardless of the name, it’s all the same—a compressed story that packs a punch. Enter a cabaret of the weird, the absurd, and the bizarre with this bold and bawdy new collection.”
Well, readers, I promise you this collection is like none other you’ve read and I’m thrilled that Nancy’s Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities, published by Big Table Publishing, releases to the world October 26th. This latest is “pure Stohlman,” as Pamela Painter so aptly puts it.
Told in a series of connected flashes (actually microfictions, some as brief as one sentence), this book tells the story of circus clowns and sideshow performers, with Nancy’s inimitable style and wit and what James Thomas describes as “brilliant performance art on the printed page.”
The pieces are so inventive and daring, with a voice that leaps off the page. Nancy deals with deep truths in a way that bucks straight realism. As she puts it, she feels most comfortable telling her stories “slant.” One of my favorites is this mind bender:
I was backstage. The crowd was applauding. I peeked
through the heavy maroon curtains and there was my Future Self
in the spotlight. She saw me and her face opened like a flower to
I walked on stage and sat next to her. Then I noticed I was
sitting in a chair labeled “Before” as the audience clapped and
I love what Steven Dunn has to say about this collection:
“Nancy Stohlman’s writing is so damn sharp here. And each of these shards that make up Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities is connected by this silly-sad-hopeful-absurd-melancholic web that catches everything you do not want, and you’ll find yourself longing for what’s not caught. But you will end up caught in the web too, with all of that mess. I’ve never read a book like this, and I’m excited to hear all of the conversations surrounding it.” ~Steven Dunn, author of Water and Power and Potted Meat
Many thanks to the amazing Karen Stefano, author of The Secret Games of Words and a forthcoming memoir, Vigilance, for inviting Nancy and me to take part in her wonderful podcast series. Here, we talked about all things flash fiction, about our flash fiction retreats, and did a “mini workshop” of our own flash stories. Have a listen!
Recently I was gifted the use of an empty condo in the Colorado mountains for the weekend, a glorious three days with just myself and my writing. I’d been looking forward to my own mini writers retreat for weeks!
I bet everyone here can relate: Having a retreat or vacation (of any length!) to look forward to gives you an instant dopamine hit–the body knows something is coming and it’s already happy, already excited.
Ah dopamine. It’s that chemical that makes us feel good. It’s released when we fall in love, ride a roller coaster, win a prize for that story we wrote, and it’s also the culprit in all sorts of addictions, from chocolate to sex to the constant “ping” of our text messages. When dopamine is released we get the message that “this feels good” and we keep coming back for more.
But here’s something interesting: Researchers have found that it’s the anticipation of pleasure, rather than the pleasure itself, that gets those feel-good chemicals in our brains going. Meaning we are already feeling good BEFORE we even get the reward.
According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, vacationers already “started experiencing a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of the trip because they were looking forward to the good times ahead.”
Which means looking forward to pleasurable things is as good for your overall happiness and well-being as the actual experience of them. You are already getting that “hit” of pleasure every time you think about the exciting thing that’s coming.
Stanford biologist and neurologist Robert Sapolsky says from his studies with monkeys that “dopamine is not about pleasure, it’s about the anticipation of pleasure. It’s about the pursuit of happiness rather than the happiness itself.”
Want to geek out on the science a bit? Check out the 5-min clip fromRobert Sapolsky’s lecture on the Science of Pleasure below:
So what’s the takeaway here? The bottom line is that the anticipation of an upcoming vacation or artistic retreat is already releasing sweet, sweet dopamine into your system. Every time we think about it, talk about it, every time we look at pictures, every time we do research and tell others about it.