I think it was fall of 1993 when I finally admitted that I needed some outside support for “my writing.” I was working as a writer for Microsoft Corporate Communications, which meant 80-hour work weeks, so the gym and Seattle Co-op were the only places I visited outside my office. Fiction and poetry had become distant satellites orbiting my dreams as flares of light.
Someone mentioned a writing retreat at Lake Crescent which would focus on myths and legends of the Pacific Northwest; it was only four days and a few hours’ drive away, and since I had never attended a writing retreat I was curious. I had taught writing workshops and all my friends were writers, painters, musicians, and photographers, so I felt I had a support community, but I was worried that I would always be a hack writer instead of a best-selling author the way I had imagined when I was voted “Most Ambitious,” “Most Intelligent,” and “Most Likely to Succeed” in my large Cape Cod high school.
I was surprisingly nervous, but I justified the time off as a chance to resolve some issues in my life, including lack of career satisfaction and a five-plus-year on-again off-again romantic entanglement with a charismatic attorney (and former Oakland Raiders football player) who was commitment-phobic but managed to break up every subsequent relationship I was in after our first horrific break-up, right before one Christmas, which had me throwing up and feeling like dying for a week. He had been married once before, as had I, but had two sons and didn’t want to be married again. I still wanted children, a garden, chickens and llamas and a cliffside home overlooking the ocean, a man who adored me–all the traditional dreams of a domestic little girl who liked to cook and crochet and darn socks and embroider doll clothes. In therapy, we had realistically confronted the fact that we just wanted different futures, but there was such a strong bond of attraction, longing, and compatibility between us that I didn’t really know how to give him up for good.
(All Lake Crescent photographs courtesy of Jack Mahler.)
Time off is good for the soul. Plus I really liked giving my ’89 Saab 900S a good workout–it was the most beautiful car I had ever owned. The retreat was held at Rosemary Inn, with sleeping bunks in the surrounding cottages. The Inn was gorgeous, with ducks wandering through the yard, a huge welcoming fireplace, and comfy chairs in front of wide windows. The bunks were a little damp and reminiscent of youth hostels in Europe, but as an avid camper I was used to sleeping on the ground on a piece of vinyl, so wasn’t too disappointed.
From the first evening, when the facilitators described the open-ended style of the workshop, designed primarily to give participants time away from home to actually work on their writing, I felt a little bit of exhilaration creeping into my chapped and ragged heart. They shared some dramatic legends while we sat in chairs around the fireplace, and I opened my mind to the Pacific Northwest as a place with extensive footprints left by our First Nations rather than a hub of computer commerce. I had often longed to be born a First Nation/Native American descendant, because I love making everything from scratch and leaving little impact on the environment. Not to romanticize their lifestyle, which was often harsh and violent too–but there’s a self-sufficiency there that kids who grow up thinking fish are born wrapped in styrofoam and plastic will never understand.
The following days we touched base as a group for communal meals and our evening sharing, but the rest of the time was ours. We could hike, curl up by the fire, play with the ducks, and most importantly, write. Write notes. Write more on works in progress. Draw meaningless pictures. Do anything we wanted! I spent long hours walking the shores of Lake Crescent, thinking of ways to transform my career in the creative direction I longed for–but how often, realistically, does anyone make a living off poetry and fiction? I thought more about how I had been forced economically to enter the workplace after my B.A., earned independently with scholarships and constant work, instead of heading to grad school. I thought about my dream of throwing everything over, renting out my condo, and going to live in St. Lucia, a gorgeous West Indian island I had discovered on a travel writing assignment for Holland America Line. And I wrote a short poem which felt like a farewell, at last, to the man I had adored from our very first evening at Jazz Alley, when his charismatic laugh and deep dark eyes had abolished every remnant of ambivalence left after my first divorce.
I want you to come with me
to Lake Crescent in the fall.
Water’s a chill blue, jade and grey.
Mild, unsuspicious ducks
paddle onto the pebbled beach.
In the yard of Rosemary Inn,
black-tailed deer munch apples.
I want to hug you under these cedars,
with branches like a spiral staircase,
climbing toward the gusty sky.
The mountains ring around us.
–Lisa Davidson (from the collection Madam, Your Daughter is Molting)
The rest of the time I mostly thought about my two novels in progress, one a contemporary coming-of-age story which one of my mentors, Charles Johnson, had commended, and one a far-out science fiction novel which was becoming less and less far-out the longer I procrastinated.
I drove home, mildly sunburnt, eyes wide open, feeling that I had been away from the city for weeks! The writing retreat was worth it–so worth it. And two years later, at the end of 1995, when Microsoft outsourced its entire in-house ad agency (Corporate Communications) and nearly 500 people were seeking new jobs, I took my severance, rented out my condo, and accepted a job from an ad agency in St. Lucia, first driving across the U.S.A. so I could loan my car to my sister on the East Coast and share my kitten Persephone with my Aunt Mary. I visited cities I had always wanted to explore (Santa Fe and Savannah were my favorites), meandered off the freeways, and took photos of the numerous places I had lived as a child, astonished at the changes and how little remained the way I had remembered it. I said farewell to my family in Maine, and flew into the next chapter of my life. The little seed planted during my writing retreat germinated into a tropical flower–and though I sometimes ponder my choices, I feel no regret: I truly took the road less traveled. And St. Lucia, while immensely challenging, became one of the most rewarding periods of my life.