Random notes in the life

@Writing Excuses Retreat 2018

Alternate title: spoonie, writer, WOC, pie

This is going to be a difficult post because of intersections and I’m in the midst of everything, so I don’t know if there’s even a way to unpack everything, but with three days left I think I have to at least try. If I don’t, I suspect it’s all going to drift into the labyrinth of the unquantifiable.

First off, I am enjoying myself very much and if I had the money to do it again next year, I absolutely would. Almost everyone has been a complete delight, which is something I keep wondering over. I’m not sure what it is, because I haven’t ever had this level of enjoyment in/with a group of people anywhere else. It’s not the conference/convention aspect, because I’ve had awful experiences in “fan/creator spaces” in the past. It’s not the “we paid lots to be here, so we’re going to cherish each other and the experience extra hard” because…yeah. I’ve been on tour groups and …welp! I swear it’s gotta be something in the water. People have been sharing lint rollers, Claritin, cough drops, their extra bottles of water from the water packages, and just going above and beyond.

The classes have been amazing. Amal El-Mohtar had one on using poetry to unlock writer’s block that was stunning. She spoke eloquently and poignantly of her own experiences with poetry, family legacies of art and resistance, and reconciling (in a good way!) “this person I love and know as ‘just my grandfather’” with “this person who has done amazing things”. Then people read the poetry they wrote and it was simply jaw-droppingly good. Good enough I would love to have a collection of all the poetry attendees wrote in that 15 minute window. There was one on structuring your life to support creativity by Sandra Taylor, and Howard Taylor had a master class on writing the funny that I wish I had the brains to wade through.

The organizers have really made a huge effort to create the best experience. Every day we’re sorted into new tables at dinner so we have a chance to have an in-depth conversation with each other and with the instructors. The conversations have been truly wonderful and special in that “only with fellow creatives” sort of way. One day I shall tell you about how a man and a murdered pelican prompted a table of us to consider a joint writing effort where a girl will fall in love with Clippy, a pelican shifter, sheep shifters, Optimus Prime, Nessie, and a triceratops in succession, with each story building upon the previous…and how we managed to both intrigue Mary Robinette into asking why all of us were in bright red hysterics AND giving us the “on that note, I’m…” departure line.

But not today.

Today I want to talk about how WXR18 has been difficult as a spoonie as a reference for others who might be considering coming on future cruises. To their great credit, there has been a spoonie meetup and I know they’re going to aim for more accessibility in the future, but there’s some stuff that isn’t going to/can’t change.

– the pacing is spoon-breaking. Not just spoon-stealing, but active spoon-breaking. We’ve had at least one class every single day and sometimes two or three. As someone said, they take this as either a workshop or a retreat, but it honestly can’t be both. There’s a prize for writing pi (3124 words iirc?) and cracking the pie safe, and it’s completely undoable for me. There’s also daily challenges. Some are fairly easy, and others (2500 words! Come up with five pitches! Outline one of your pitches to your satisfaction!) are really…well, challenging. Yes, they are optional, but the overall grinding feel of “omg, I’m not getting anything done” can be devastating.
– we’re on Liberty of the Seas and it can feel very Goldilocks-y. The level 14 bar vibrates. The cafe and bars on the promenade are too loud. Too much glare and humidity on the decks outside. No wifi and lots of FOMO in the cabins. I hear tell that there’s other places at various points in the day depending on their use, but it does cost spoons to seek these places out.
– it’s likely that a spoonie is unlikely to be able to take advantage of most that is on offer. (we’ve given up on all) There’s game nights starting from 10pm onward, but that’s a big nope for me considering the day starts at about 7:30am with the first class at 9am. Dinner with everyone is from 8pm to 10pm, which can be difficult for feeding time reasons and staying up late. There’s lots of ship stuff, but choices would have to be made between classes/eating/resting and the shows, water slides, ice rink, and rock climbing wall. I feel having more mental prep for “oh god, why can’t I do All This Stuff I Desperately Want To Do” would have been helpful.
– the ship is kept super cold. Super super cold. I’m currently sitting in the bar with my hoodie up, a long sleeve shirt, a shift, and a maxi skirt. I was debating breaking out the legwarmers and fuzzy socks this morning. I tend to get really cold when underfed, overstimulated, and exhausted – it’s almost a given that at least two of these conditions will be going on at any given time.
– for some reason, many of the areas in the ship smell musty. The conference room was so musty that I was literally taken aback by a wall of “do not pass”. It has dissipated some since we boarded (yay human air filters?) but I still have to take Claritin daily to cope. The bar also smells moldy, but somewhat less so. I’ve been fighting off an allergy-spawned cold for the last few days and it Has Not Been Helping.
– I would suggest not going on the excursions. I’ve seen a couple of people back out of excursions because “can’t/won’t”. Initially I felt really sad about not being able to afford the excursions and not feeling spoon-ful enough to organize a wander through town, but after the first two days, I’m now embracing that shore days are rest days and that’s okay. This is another thing to think hard on, because I get the “I’m here in Honduras and Belize and Mexico and I’m…staying on the ship and napping? OMGWTF”.
– bring in-ear foam headphones and a long-lived mp3 player and a blindfold if you can tolerate them. You will have a roommate, unless you pay to be in a single room, and they might snore, or they might want to be out late or up early, and having a way to block out things out is invaluable. For that matter, I’ve found that my headphones have also been useful when the dining room is too loud, or when they’re (FOR SOME OBSCURE REASON) holding a congo line, the macarena song-thing, or performing gangnam style in the formal dining room when you’re just trying to eat and have a civilized conversation.

All in all though – it’s been amazing and definitely @ me or email me if you have more questions about the retreat.
Keep in mind that I am approaching all of this from the privileged position of not having to scramble back to work immediately after. I’ll likely crash for two weeks or so after I return to Taipei on 10/10.

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