I’m writing this post from the terrace of La Muse, sitting on a bench in the sunshine. Sitting in the sun is the only way I can work outside today- it’s downright cold.
Well, that’s probably an exaggeration. But the high today couldn’t have been much more than 60 degrees, but with the strong wind, it feels even cooler. The day has alternated between dark gray clouds, sprinkles of rain, periods of sun, always the strong wind. But it’s felt almost perfect to me: just what I needed to stay inside this morning to write, and just the right temperature to go for a small hike in the afternoon. And now, a blog post on the terrace in the sunshine.
I’ve never really explained how things work here (have I?) and since I’m a solid 9 days in, I figure it’s about time. Most people, when I explain that I’m spending 3 weeks at a writer’s retreat in France, ask about the structure here. “Are there lectures or workshops, is there a teacher?” No, no, and no. It’s all pretty unstructured, it’s one of my favorite things about this place. You apply for a spot- a room, essentially- by sending in a resume and an explanation of your work. If there’s an open room and it seems as though you’re serious about your art, you’ll be offered a spot. But then the rest is up to you: La Muse provides the beautiful room and the stunning, almost magical scenery, and you work on your art.
There are now several places to stay in the village: The Big House (where I am, and the orginal home of La Muse), The Mews (the other half of the Big House that used to be the home of the owners of this whole thing), Cottage #1 and Cottage #2, each with two bedrooms. Right now every single room is booked, so there are 14 of us in total. Sometimes the residents all gather together, if we organize a communal meal, or do a reading, but mostly people are on their own to do whatever they want.
Some people stay and work in their rooms for the entire day. Some (ahem) go off for long hikes. Some work on the terrace or hang out in the library, some work late into the evenings or early in the mornings. But often we come together for dinner, eating with whoever is around, and most of us eventually congregating on the terrace to finish the night.
Once a week you’re driven down the mountain for a bit of sight-seeing but mostly so you can hit a grocery store and stock up for the week. There’s a house in the village where you can buy fresh eggs, a constantly running water source with what might be the best water I’ve ever tasted, a truck that comes through the village two times a week selling bread and basic supply of fruits, veggies and canned goods. There are between 30-40 residents who live in this village, and many of them are well into their 80’s. But I see them out, all the time, tending to their gardens, walking slowly up and down the sloping streets. They congregate when the bread truck arrives, chatting as they wait, lingering as they stock up on supplies. For many, it’s the social highlight of the week.
I’ve found a good rhythm here, though it took me awhile. I wake early to eat breakfast on the terrace, then I go back to my room for several hours to work. I take a lot of breaks and do a lot of puttering around- it’s hard to sit still and write for hours on end. I break up my time by walking up to Le Roc- a viewpoint at the top of the moutain- going on water runs to the source, hand washing laundry, straightening up the few possessions in my room, reading a book. If it’s a cloudy or rainy day (we’ve only had a few), I’ll stay in my room and write. But by mid-afternoon (at the latest!) I’m ready to get out and hike. There’s a network of trails that run through the village, so all I have to do is strap on my pack, walk out the door, and I’ve got several great paths to choose from.
My family and friends have asked me: how’s the writing going? Are you getting much done? The answer is… it’s going okay. I’ve had some great stretches of writing and have started to work out some of the structural stuff for the book. But I’d by lying if I said that I was spending all day writing, getting a tremendous amount of work done. I can’t, or maybe it’s more that I choose not to. Just being here and soaking up this experience is so important to me; it’s good if I can get a lot of writing done, but what’s even better is what I’m remembering from last time: that I feel so inspired and creatively energized. After a week, my writing feels as strong as it’s ever been. I’m having great conversations about the creative process, today on my hike I memorized a poem. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.
Last night the residents all gathered in the library for a reading, to share some of what we’ve been working on. I read a short part from my book, something I wrote last week. It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like this, the first time I’ve shared anything from this book I’ve been working on. And it was scary. But it also felt good. The idea, the hope, is that eventually I can get something published and have lots and lots of people read my story. Sharing just a very small piece of it felt like a good start.