Monday, December 2, 2013

In Which I Return to the Real World

My at-home, no-writing retreat went something like this:

Reading: Alternated between At Home by Bill Bryson (I swear the man cannot write a dull sentence!); Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (I can see why some her neighbors were a bit upset with her characterizations of them); As We Were by E.F. Benson (a fascinating look at his famous family and Victorian England); and Booknotes - America's Finest Authors on Reading, Writing, and the Power of Ideas with Brian Lamb (so many wonderful things to learn). I finished up The Bedside Guardian 1978-79 and a thriller, Chasing the Storm, by Martin Molsted. Also, began the third of Ann Bridge's Julia Probyn adventures, The Numbered Account. This one finds the irrepressible Ms. Probyn in Switzerland. 

Cataloging: I got twenty-one books cataloged (two cards each) before I ran out of index cards. Creating a card catalog of books from my family's collection and my own purchases of vintage books is proving to be a delightful and worthwhile project. 

Watching: OK, I broke my own rule about not turning on any screens. I watched four Booknotes programs on my computer that are available on the C-SPAN website: David McCullough on Truman; Rick Bragg on Somebody Told Me - The Newspaper Stories of Rick Bragg; Nicholas Basbanes on A Gentle Madness; and Simon Winchester on The Professor and the Madman about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. I think I would follow Mr. Winchester just about anywhere. He is so entertaining!

Because I could listen to David McCullough talk for hours, I also watched a two-part interview that he did with Brian Lamb on the C-SPAN program Q&A. He discussed his book The Greater Journey about American artists, writers, sculptors and medical students who went to Paris between 1830 and 1900. They went not only to learn and further their own knowledge and careers, but also to bring that knowledge back to America. I read this terrific book last year and wrote about it here

Mr. McCullough is so enthusiastic about his subjects. His eyes just sparkle! I have owned his biography of President Harry Truman for years and after listening to Mr. McCullough sing his praises, I will soon be pulling the book down from the shelf to begin. It is about one thousand pages in length so it will take me a while to finish, but I do believe it will be well worth my time.

Napping: Many naps and such a luxury.

Walking: The weather was almost balmy and my daily walks were a pleasant activity after being indoors doing all of the above.

I also did a bit of decluttering and wrote a few notes and letters. And there was time spent just staring into space. A nice little rest for the mind.

The oatmeal/cranberry cookies I had with tea were delicious and are now, sadly, all gone. 

It really was a fine four days. It was so nice not to think, "What do I have to do now" and instead get to wonder, "What do I want to do now." I will certainly be planning more retreats like this one. 

How did you spend the past few days?


  1. A very production no writing retreat if there ever was one, Belle.
    The Greater Journey sits on my shelf. For some reason, I haven't gotten to it yet. A situation I must remedy. We read Truman for our book group a few years ago, deciding to tackle it's bulk over the summer months, when we don't meet. It is a tremendously interesting read and we had a lively discussion of it. He brings history alive in such a captivating way, doesn't he?

    1. Penny, I dilly-dallied about tackling 'The Greater Journey'. I was intimidated by its bulk which is why I haven't picked up 'Truman'. After watching Mr. McCullough talk about both of them, I am ready to re-read the first and fall into the second. Mr. M is a delight to listen to - that voice! - and is so excited about his subjects that it inspires me to action.

    2. If I were to do "Truman" again, Belle, I would do an audio book. I enjoyed it, but, think I would have enjoyed it more if Mr. McCoullough read it to me. He does, indeed, bring history alive. If only students learned first from people like him, I think they might have a greater love and respect for history.

      By the way, I see one of my typical typos above. Meant productive instead of production. Oh well . . .

    3. What a grand idea, Penny! I looked to see if my library had 'Truman' as an ebook thinking my Kindle would be easier to hold than the 1000-page book, but no luck. I will seek out the audio book. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. Your unplugged weekend sounds lovely, a perfect balance. It's so hard to switch from the 'I have to do / should do ...' to the 'I don't have to do anything' modes. I've been pretty much retired for several years now, but I still feel I have to get up at a certain time and 'do' things before I earn my reading time. Will I ever leave my regimented like behind?! And, of course, the cat insists on being fed before I want to get up ...

    1. Well, Joan, I can't help you with the cat's demands, but I do know what you mean about having to get such-and-such done before I can relax. Old habits die hard. To combat that, I do try to read for about an hour first thing in the morning before I get started on a ToDo List. That doesn't always happen, but I do make the effort. And I read for 30 minutes or more right before I turn out the light for the night.

  3. Sounds like you made good use of your time. It's so hard to take a complete break--there are always so many chores, activities, etc., nagging for attention. It takes a certain self-discipline to ignore them. It's easier if you leave your home, but that's not always possible or desirable.

    1. Hi Kathy. Yes, I kept wishing I had someone to cook and clean up the dishes! Even those simple chores took time away from what I wanted to do. I have gone away on retreats and they are lovely, but this time I didn't want to have to pack! And there were projects that I could only accomplish at home.

      Long, holiday weekends seem to be the best times to hole-up. I am already looking at New Year's!