Wine & Words Writing Retreat 2019


Wine and Words Writing Retreat 2019 is underway in Branson, Missouri! My friends/colleagues, Sara and Shannin, and I–English professors all–are snugly tucked away in a log cabin in the Ozarks for the next couple of days to write. What could be more delicious?

We arrived around 4:30 this afternoon. Each of us came from a different direction. After unloading food, luggage, books, and computers, we poured glasses of wine and spent a couple of hours catching up. Shannin and I are colleagues at the same university; Sara defected to another university a couple of years ago. Our loss, to be sure. 

While Shannin and Sara swapped book ideas for their young adult literature courses, I caught up with a few of my Cup & Quill clients. Then, we talked shop for a little while–topics included the job market for Phds in English, which is as dismal as ever, the peculiarities of department chairs, the politics on university campuses, and the challenges of teaching these days. Eventually, we found ourselves a bit peckish. Sara quickly whipped up a salad and heated some frozen pizzas. We sat down to dinner and continued our conversation.

Other than quick dashes to the store, we won’t leave the cabin much. We are well stocked with wine–Malbec for Shannin and CabSavs for Sara and me–coffee, healthy snacks, the ingredients for some nice meals, and some not-so-healthy snacks as well. No writer that I know can write anything of value without a little chocolate for fuel. 

 After dinner, we had an accountability planning session. Armed with our notebooks, we sat at the table and declared what we intended to focus on this evening and tomorrow morning. We have a mid-day check-in planned to make sure we’re sticking to our plans and making progress.

As I write this, a conversation about Alice Walker’s antisemitism is in progress. Should we still teach her work? What about Sherman Alexie?  These conversations remind me why we got into academia in the first place. We like asking hard questions to which there may not be answers. Such questions lead to more questions and more questions lead to more nuanced ways of seeing the world. That’s what academia is all about.  That’s why the next couple of days are going to be awesome. 

How to Take a Mini-Vacation

Spring break is just a few days away and I am wilting. This week alone we’re conducting 5 Skype interviews for a new professor and we’ve had two candidates on campus. I’m behind in my grading and I am ready to
 collapse. My students look much the way I feel. We all need a mini-vacation!
 I’m guessing you’ve felt the same way at some point–maybe right now. Perhaps you’re thinking, “”vacations cost money and I’ve got so much to do and, and, and…..”  I understand where that comes from, but stop. Just stop. It’s that kind of thinking that gets us into a state of exhaustion and chaos to begin with. I don’t know about you, but when my brain starts to fire like that I’m pretty useless anyway. I’ve found that the best way to restore order to the chaos in my life is to take a mini-vacation.

What is a Mini-Vacation?

 A mini-vacation does what a “real” vacation does, but in a much shorter amount of time. That is, a mini-vacation is a short time during which you step away from all sources of stress. It can be as brief as 30 minutes or as long as a full day. The length of the mini-vacation is determined by how much time you can legitimately plan to set aside for self-care.
Often, by the time we need mini-vacations, it seems impossible to find time to set aside. That feeling is just another indicator that we need to step back. Everyone can find 30 minutes–even if it is at 3:00 in the morning–to nurture herself or himself. A mini-vacation is less about long you spend on it and more about what you do during it. My mini-vacations involve three steps: planning, preparing, and doing things that make me feel centered and focused.

 Preparation & Planning

When I plan a mini-vacation I prepare for it the night before. Not everyone would enjoy this part, but for me it works. I clean and tidy my kitchen and living area, which is where I usually spend my mini-vacations. I put items of clutter in my “tornado room” to deal with another time and I close the door to that nest of chaos. Not having to look at a nest of chaos, even temporarily, helps me decompress. I have to resist the urge to tidy that room because doing so is not part of the mini-vacation preparation plan.

 Before I go to bed, I set the coffee so it is ready to brew in the morning.The last thing I do before turning out my light is make a list of the things that I feel stressed about–big and small. That’s my way of “storing” my stressors instead of carrying them around as brain clutter. Then, I can spend my mini-vacation, usually a morning, doing things that rejuvenate me.

Let the Mini-Vacation Begin

 I wake up early as I always do. I enjoy mornings. I make the bed–one of the quickest ways to bring a sense of calmness to a space, oddly enough. Then I make a cup of tea in a pretty china cup with a saucer. Tea tastes better in something pretty, in case you didn’t know.
 I usually post on Facebook that I am taking some digital detox time so I don’t feel guilty ignoring texts. Sometimes I spend some time playing on Pinterest. I like Pinterest because it helps me plan and I find planning motivating and relaxing. Playing on Pinterest feels a lot like reading magazines for me–another activity that I find calming– but the content is always new and fresh and no trees die in its making.
Mid-morning I make a cup of coffee in my favorite mug. Then, I jot down some goals. I do that in a notebook that I enjoy writing in using a sharp pencil because it feels neat on the paper. I make lists of steps to meet those goals. If I feel like writing, I write. I usually end my mini-vacation around noon–it is important to decide in advance how long your mini-vacation will last .
I find that just a short break from my usual routine surrounded by my creature comforts helps me feel like a new person.–relaxed and ready to get back to work. Tasks like grading usually seem less daunting after a mini-vacation. It’s amazing what just a few hours of  self-care does to restore my sense of balance and control. I don’t spend a dime on a mini-vacation, but the payoff is huge.
If you’re feeling at the end of your rope you should seriously consider planning a mini-vacation. What you do in the time you set aside is up to you. The thing is, we all regain our balance in different ways; it is important to give ourselves the time we need to do that.  None of us can function at our best when our personal batteries are dead. Whether it’s for 30 minutes, a full morning, or an entire day, make time to take good care of you. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.