Dispatches from Dan: A Reflection on the Last Day of a Cirenaica Retreat

photos by  Justin Patchin

photos by Justin Patchin

by Dan Lyksett

July 22, 8:15a.m.

Last Day of the Retreat

I forgot to take my memory pills this morning. It’s been a rough couple days.  Who woulda thought a fiction writers workshop could be so demanding?

Physically demanding. Mentally demanding. Emotionally demanding.

Physically we don’t do a lot of manual labor. A lot of typing and scribbling in notebooks. The physical challenge comes when the hard work is done and lid on the beer cooler is opened and the campfire kindled and we pace around to collect in groups and sit and share and pace around some more and collect in different groups and sit and share. The waking nights last long enough to dance on the deck and attempt to roast cookies in the flames with bare hands. And when there should be sleep there is instead sorting through the various flavors we tasted in the knowledge cake we’ve eaten that day. Cinnamon? Point of view? Anise?


The mental challenge comes with the people, 10 writers, one mentor, assorted ages, occupations and backgrounds with the one common denominator that we write, and we want to write gooder. There is book learning here and there is native talent here. There is success here and the not yet successful here, and each teaches you something. The retired English professor inadvertently reminds you there are words in the language you do not know, and the mentor pleads that your fiction is “Lies, all lies, and the lies must seem real.” And you are forced to consider your hard-earned lies anew.

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The emotional toll comes at the end. Writers live as a solitary species, and so the inevitable separating from the rare herd is difficult. Writing is paddling a canoe upstream, alone, and with a broken paddle. There’s comfort in being within earshot of others fighting the current, scraping rocks, ducking under an overhanging waterfall, and someone to help push you off the sandbar of an awkward transition. I will miss those voices and those helping hands. But if I remember my pills tomorrow, I’ll perhaps remember some of what I’ve learned. I think I’m leaving with a little better paddle and more worthy canoe.