Staying in the room

dscn1243Two self-proclaimed technophobe friends of mine are starting blogs, and asked for my help. Like the cobbler’s daughter without shoes, I have no problem finding time to help them with the very thing I haven’t found time to get to myself. The other day, while the three of us talked about layouts, I pulled up my site as a frame of reference. Last entry? July 3rd. August has nearly come and gone. What happened to posting every other week, preferably on a Friday?

All I can say is, it’s like not running for a month to rest your ankle or taking a summer off from the piano. We forget how to do it…sort of. What we lose is not so much the skill as the routine, the discipline of just doing it, no matter what. And the longer we put it off, well, you know what happens. The bump in the road becomes a hill that one day feels like a mountain.

Several summers ago I heard Ron Carlson, a novelist and short story writer, give a talk at the Aspen Writers Workshop. He titled it “Staying in the Room.” Carlson is an affable, funny guy and, not surprisingly, a good story teller. He shared a few anecdotes about himself and his career, none of which I remember, but I recall like yesterday what he said about staying in the room.

“I’m most likely no better a writer than anyone here,” he said, humbled and suddenly serious. “But I’ve figured out something that a lot of you probably haven’t. I’ve learned how to stay in the room. I know how to ignore the chatter in the mind: this would be easier if you had a fresh cup of coffee, the sprinkler needs to be moved to the back yard, the dog could use a walk, I could use a walk, and on and on and on.”

By now everyone in the audience is either laughing to mask their dis-ease, nodding in agreement, or sitting there thinking, that rat, he’s onto me. “It’s the only writing secret I know,” he said. “You’ve got to sit there and write.”

Or draw or paint or practice the cello. Pick your passion. The advice is the same.

I’ve had an amazing, if not THE best summer of my life. I spent five days in silent retreat in June, meditating 6-7 hours a day under the direction of an incredible teacher from California, a man named John Travis. In July I flew with two friends to Peru and trekked through the Andes on the rugged Salkantay Trail, from Cusco to Machu Picchu, a place I’ve wanted to visit since the fourth grade. And in August I attended Virtuoso Travel Mart in unashamed, excessive Las Vegas, a city as far removed from meditative silence and snow-capped adventure as a city could possibly be.

I have stories to tell.

But for two months I had myself convinced that I couldn’t stay in the room. I was either getting ready for Peru, caught up in work, or stuck in the angst and sluggishness of a re-entry that has felt endless. The excuses worked for awhile, and then the other day a friend was talking about herself when she said, “It just wasn’t a priority. We always make time for our priorities.” Bingo.

So I had a talk with myself. For the hundredth, okay, five hundredth time, I’ve renewed my pact not to abandon the part of me that lives below the chatter, the one who knows deeply and wholly what it means to stay in the room. Besides, I have photos I’m fairly certain will knock your socks off. All they need is a story.


6 thoughts on “Staying in the room

  1. The image that was given to me years ago about staying with my meditation practice, is that if you ‘fall off the cushion’ you simply need to get back on. The image initally made me laugh because how far can you topple off a cushion? And yet, life would happen and I would topple. Just like staying in the room, it’s all about making it a priority. I can hardly wait for your stories!

  2. I love reading your thoughts. You are truly gifted. I am not a writer but I admire those who can. Instead I read lots of books. Your advice about staying in your room can be applied to so many things from which I am easily distracted. Thanks, Cousin.

  3. Your thoughts are valuable to us all! I will forward this on to my children to are aspiring writers.

  4. Hi Becky,

    Great to hear from you after your enriching summer experiences. They make my summer seem rather mundane, but we did some fun things. Not the least of which was to adopt a Welsch Corgi puppy named Griffin. We now must stay in the room and teach him how to be a good obedient dog.

    I could sure use the 5 days of meditation but am not sure where I’d find them. That hike of yours sounds awesome. It reminds me of some of the hikes I experienced in Austrian and Swiss Alps. Your Virtuoso travel conference sounds just like what the doctor ordered. Any novel ideas for next summer for a 70 year old with wife, 9 year old twins and a dog?



  5. I feel my anxiety lift when I read your honest words about struggling with yourself about staying in “the room”. Do we all have the perpetual background chatter: which room to enter, how to get in there, how to stay in there, how to feel okay about entering no rooms that day.

  6. Oh my goodness gracious! Im not a writer so must occasionally rely on a little plagarism…”Dang that was good!”I stayed in the room,laughing,shedding some tears when stories hit close to home and heart;exhaling,grateful,for poignant words to carry, comfort,and share in the journey.Sensible,maybe.Brilliant,definately.Thank you God that I was never in a composition class with Phoebe or Rebecca! I am so with Tess,need a cookie break!AMAZING!!!oxnancy

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