TFW your whole life changes-- AKA The Writing Excuses Retreat 2017

Aug 9, 2017

So a big thing happened back in April. I knew it was a big thing, but I don't think I ever fully comprehended exactly how life-changing it would be. That thing was: I won a scholarship to the Writing Excuses Retreat. On a cruise ship. On the Baltic Sea in Europe. When I got the call, I was shaking and giggling and trying to sound professional and excited and coherent and grateful all at the same time. Which is hard, by the way. I'd never been to Europe-- I didn't think I'd ever be able to get to Europe--and the opportunity to spend a week on a cruise ship with fellow writers and mind-blowing instructors was beyond my wildest dreams. But as of this past Sunday, I'm officially home from the 10-day retreat, and it was so much more than even those wildest dreams promised. I'm feeling so much gratitude for the scholarship that gave me this life-changing and writing-changing experience. I was only able to do this through the extreme generosity of others, and the love and support of my family. I'm pretty sure it's not just the exhaustion making me emotional. I'm finally on the up-side of jet lag recovery, so I went for my morning walk today. Two miles felt paltry compared to the mileage I've been racking up in Europe. I spent most of the walk reliving parts of the entire retreat and trying to pull together coherent thoughts on how it changed my life. It's rather difficult to sum up the entirety of such an experience. But I came up with these. With the help of the generous and loving instructor Emma Newman, I was finally able to name the main underlying fear holding me back in my writing. And with a wonderful one-on-one talk with her, not only is it named, but I have the tools to face it. Thanks to the inspiring and electrifying instructor Jasper Fforde, I am opening my eyes to the world, and am more acutely aware of the things that inspire me-- and learning to be brave enough to express those things in my writing. From down-to-earth and optimistic instructor Thomas Olde Heuvolt, I gained the tools I need to organize my writing goals to achieve what I want, so I don't feel like I'm flailing around life, just trying to squeeze the writing time in. I had the relief of feeling free to express myself to my fellow retreat-goers, and to bond with new friends more quickly than I'd have expected. We all shared so many similarities, and at the same time, were all respectful of each other's differences. It was a safe, encouraging, open space. After over-doing it the first shore day in Copenhagen and having to rely on my cane for support every day thereafter, I was able to overcome the resentment and embarrassment I didn't even realize I held whenever I used it. Instead, I was grateful to have a tool that enabled me to keep enjoying my experience. I had the pleasure and eye-opening experience of exploring parts of the world I honestly never thought I'd be able to get to. I enjoyed new foods, stood in awe of ancient and not-quite-ancient architecture, experienced the values of another group of human beings, and felt the deepest artistic euphoria of my life in the face of original masterpieces of many kinds. After all this and so much more I'm still trying to process, I feel...freed. I feel open-- to the world, to myself, and to letting my words spill onto the page without reserve again. I am encouraged, eager, and determined. I have new tools at my disposal for writing thanks to instructors like Aliette de Bodard, Wes Chu, and Ken Liu. As I left the cruise, I fancy I heard the triumphant "Ding!" I get when one of my World of Warcraft characters levels up. As the instructors told us, that means writing is likely going to be a bit harder for a while. And I relish the thought.

Part of the main atrium area on the cruise ship

I got to tour Rosenborg Castle in Denmark-- my first European castle

Fan-girling Hans Christian Anderson. His response? "Girl, please."

The royal crown of Denmark

The original Thorvaldsen statue of Christ in Copenhagen cathedral-- something familiar to me, as there are copies in LDS vistor's centers around the world. 

The red house in Nyhavn district of Copenhagen is where Hans Christian Anderson wrote many of his fairy tales.

In Stockholm, I visited the outdoor museum of Skansen. Chock-full of history and beauty.

A farmstead shipped in from Mora-- the village where my Swedish ancestors lived. 

Sweden was awe-inspiring with her beauty.

The ceiling mirror reflecting my writerly genius during a guided writing exercise on the ship.

The ancient Town Hall in Tallinn, Estonia, which I got to tour. It also has a lovely tavern restaurant in it, where I had lunch.

Tallinn was absolutely charming.

The view from the oldest working apothecary in Europe-- since the 1400s-- in Tallinn.

The MSC Fantasia, where writing fantasies come true.

Ceiling of the Church on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

Exterior of the Church on Spilled Blood.

Grand staircase inside the Winter Palace, which houses the astounding Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

That is a Da Vinci. The gorgeous Litta Madonna. It was so astounding in the original that it brought tears to my eyes. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Michaelangelo's unfinished Crouching Boy. I both cried and giggled in hysteria at this one. You can still see CHISEL MARKS on him, made by the hand of the artist himself. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

The passionate and evocative Kiss of Cupid and Psyche by Antonio Canova. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Detail of Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son. You can see BRUSHSTROKES. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Jasper Fforde sharing his brilliance with us.

I never tired of sitting on my balcony and watching the Baltic Sea.

The Geistkampfer-- Ghost Fighter-- outside the Church of St. Nikolai, Kiel, Germany.

We found a geek store around the corner from the hotel in Kiel, and descended on it en masse.

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