September 7, 2009KR BlogKRWriting

My Personal Journey on the P. I. in M.

I know you missed me. Three weeks of silence.

Where have I been?

Maine. Again. But this time:

A private island in Maine.

Uh huh.

You heard me.

Private Island in Maine.

Eight miles, five houses, no phone service, no internet, tons of blackberries (the edible kind), trails, forests, ponds, beaches, sunsets custom-made for the island from God.

THAT private Island in Maine.

P.I. in M.

Which shall remain nameless, as it is owned by an acutely wealthy family: pedigreed; influential; occasionally Earth-shaping; and deeply philanthropic and empathetic. In this blog I shall protect their anonymity.

Because they took me to their Private Island in Maine.

P. I. in M. II

Since last August, when I moved to New York, I’ve lost my job(s) three times due to funding cuts. I was uncharacteristically ill for two months, and have had my heart broken at least once. What with economic collapse, global unrest and general environmental anxiety, the world has smelled like apocalypse all year, and one thing I’ve learned about this city is that collective fear folds in on itself here and magnifies exponentially. I feel like Van Gogh, without the otherworldly genius– the whole thing makes me want to cut my ear off.

This all tends to pale just a little with the realization that I live a life in which I am invited to a Private Island in Maine. To write a play, no less.

The little theater company who invited me somehow found my name through a friend (or a friend of a friend?). I had never heard of them before; nor have any of my colleagues. They’re a tight little group that has long been committed to non-traditional casting, drawing from the disabled community for their company members. Now they’re developing a strong interest in creating theater connected to the artists’ “personal journey”, which I find interesting. I also find the prospect of being paid to write a play interesting, so I’ve accepted a commission, curious to discover exactly how they define “personal journey”.How do you chart your personal journey? There are a million ways, I guess; but it turns out this company is especially interested shamanism. Which, unbeknownst to me, was to be the central focus of this writing retreat on the Private Island in Maine. “Writing” in lowercase; “retreat” in caps.

Whoa.

I don’t want to go into detail, but the weekend included the following:

* blindfolded dancing

* rituals involving darkness and the Atlantic Ocean

* making strange sounds while lying on the floor

* much work with the “shadow self”

* lobster. Excellent lobster. For which I am grateful.

I’m about as open-minded as you can get, in general– sometimes too porous for my own good. I was absolutely game and went for it with each shamanistic exercise. Some of them were moving and went pretty deep, although many felt vaguely emotionally manipulating. The weekend involved a little more introspective pathos than I expected in a writing retreat, but I did indeed see glimmers of my coordinates on my “personal journey”. Tears were shed; laughter was laughed. It was fairly intense.

Our "Altar"

I started writing the play, too. And what’s funny is that, although I participated in the shaman stuff with little reservation, the play doesn’t seem at all affected by my personal mini-revelations. I’m writing about King Lear and sisterhood, exactly what I thought I’d be writing about going in: it’s not at all about where I am in my life. My writing doesn’t seem adjusted from its normal textures and tones, and it’s left me curious: how connected IS our personal experience to what we create? For some writers these seem to be one and the same, and biographers doggedly search for the link between the two, perhaps hoping to demystify the creative process…but I don’t feel, when I write, like I’m writing about myself, and I know many other writers who agree.

So where DOES this stuff come from? The ether? The spirit-world? Memory impacted and fused or infected to bursting? Does it take time to cook experience until it’s ready to use? In five years will I be writing about shamanism on a Private Island in Maine? It all might be in the play somewhere, whether I can detect it or not; but if not, this will be an interesting chapter in the company’s evolution toward their new mission…the links between narrative journey and personal journey may not be able to be manually braided. The key word here being “manually”. Personal experience probably needs to seep into writing on its own terms, organically, and not drawn from a carefully designed set of “experiences”.

We shall see…next weekend, a retreat on a farm in Tarrytown…

Farm in Tarrytown