Tag Archives: solitude for writers

T@B Diaries #1: Champoeg St. Park

  • in which Michael Jarmer begins a new blog series;
  • in which Michael Jarmer provides a brief history of his life as a camper;
  • in which his somewhat checkered RV history is revealed;
  • in which an experience camping solo at Champoeg State Park is described;
  • in which funny and archaic subtitles are used to arouse reader interest in the following blog post.

Here’s an idea, I said to myself: I’ll write a series of travel logs as I journey out into the world with my new travel trailer, a T@B, made by the folks at Little Guy, recently purchased and out just this last week on its maiden voyage to Champoeg State Park (pronounced Champooey) in the lovely Willamette Valley right here in Oregon.

Here’s a picture of my new baby right before it left the showroom.

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This could be interesting, or not. Time will tell. It’s worth a try. First, a bit of background.

I grew up camping with my parents and extended family mostly all around the state of Oregon with a few excursions into Washington and California. My folks were trailer campers and as I recall, all through my childhood and into my early adult years, it was my family’s tradition to make several camping trips a year beginning late spring and into September. These trips as a family and with friends stand out as being some of the most cherished experiences of my young life. I loved the adventure of it, the way it exposed me to the natural world beyond suburbia, the various abundances of camp experience: riding in my uncle’s boat, fishing, crabbing, hiking, biking, beaching, site-seeing, the community of the camp-fire, and the coziness of the trailer or the tent, or, as I became a teenager and always had a friend along, the back cabin of my Dad’s truck. Camping was huge.  And as a newlywed, in my early twenties, camping was almost killed for me forever after I took my wife and my dog on a tent-camping trip beset with nightmare: bad weather, sick spouse, spastic dog, tiny tent, our first serious marital dispute–resulting in a silent and angry two and half hour car ride home at 3 o’clock in the morning.  This was the key factor, but other things as well kept me from camping: mostly, a commitment to finishing college, finding a job, finding some kind of economic security, and then the demands of working and keeping up with the needs of a house, our first foray into homeownership–not to mention the still serious effort to play music as much as we possibly could, searching for that illusive and perhaps illusory big break all through the end of the eighties and the nineties. We were too busy to even think about camping.

Fast forward to 2001. It took 15 years to convince my wife to camp with me again–and the inspiration came with our first RV, a Coleman tent trailer.  It kept us busy and happily camping for four or five years, but with the arrival of our son in 2005 and a new, very serious commitment and demand on our attention, some early and unhappy camping trips with an infant, and the need to make some money to make up the short-fall of the extra income lost to full-time parenting, we sold that little trailer to a Canadian and watched it ride off into the sunset. It turned out to be the first of two very similar experiences over the next five years. I was unhappy selling the trailer, but in my heart of hearts I had a very selfish reason for wanting it to go away: I had my eyes and my heart set on bigger and better fish–an Airstream 16 foot Bambi International. It would take three more years of embarrassingly obsessive plots and maneuvers before that little dream would come true.  And it did.  And we had two and a half years of joy in an Airstream before, again, a shift in the financial winds on several simultaneous fronts forced our hand: the Airstream had to go! I really mourned that loss. I went on and on about it for years. And perhaps, when I was finally ready to do the whole RV dance once again, I would have happily gone back to the Airstream if I could find one that I could afford, but we sold the tow vehicle that pulled the 16 footer and ended up about a year later with a mini-van with a significantly lower tow capacity. All of this is just to say that if we were to purchase a new trailer, it would have to be light weight; it would have to be tiny.

Here my son and I are after the “red carpet” walk-through before towing home the T@B, a truly light weight trailer, clocking in at about 1900 pounds:

That's really a red carpet.

That’s really a red carpet.

So, within a week of bringing the trailer home, and anticipating two weeks off for the holiday vacation, I booked myself a two night stay at a local and nearby favorite camping destination, Champoeg State Park.  I chose on this first expedition to go it alone.  The weather would not likely be good; my son, without lots of outdoor activity, would be bored; and my dear wife had working responsibilities at home.  And I may as well come clean about this now: as excited as I am about camping with my little family, I will likely, as I did with the  Airstream and the Coleman before, use the trailer as a writing retreat on wheels and will often be alone.

I used this little excursion to get to know my trailer, most of all. I did do a little writing and some reading of things I have written with an eye to finishing a draft of a novella and starting the revision process. I listened to a lot of music (not, however, in continuation of the A-Z listening blog project). I got a visit from my brother for a few hours (Champoeg State Park is close to where we both live). And in between downpours, sometimes torrential downpours, I walked. I took pictures in the day of soggy fields and raging muddy streams on the verge of flooding. I took pictures of myself and my hat. And I looked at the moon peaking through clouds. It was a lovely and successful first trip. I leave you with some photographic evidence of this first trip and hope to write another installment in a month’s time.

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Filed under Camping and Travel, Introductory

#186: On Writing Retreat

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On Writing Retreat,
December 5, 2015, L. L. Stub Stewart State Park, Buxton, Oregon

It’s raining so hard here,
it would be unthinkable
to go outside for a walk.
So I am stuck in this cabin
without internet access
and there’s only a few
things to do: listen to
music, meditate, read,
eat, or, the thing that I
have come here intentionally
to do, write. I am writing.
I will break now and then
to listen, breathe, read
from the one book I brought,
Labyrinths by Borges,
grab a bite to eat, and at
night, I will drink some
wine and write straight
through until I can’t do it
anymore. There’s no one
to talk to. My neighbors
in other cabins stick to
themselves and I rarely
see them. I am happy to
be able to stand myself,
to be in my own company
and not feel bereft or alone.
That’s a good sign, I think.
And on retreat I find
the necessary and absolute
lack of distraction and
freedom from responsibility
to be the crucial
ingredients that make it
possible for me to really
come to the page, to be
present with language
and thought in a way I can
never be or rarely be
in the routine of the
day to day. So here,
on a cliff that looks out
on to the mountain range
that separates the Willamette
Valley from the Oregon Coast,
in Buxton (a town in my
own state I never knew existed),
half way between Banks and
Vernonia, I forget about the
difficulty of getting here, and
I write about work,
I look into my new novel,
plan a course of reentry after
a months-long absence,
and I write this poem
in praise of solitude, in
thankfulness to my beloved
who made it possible,
and in wonder at having
another 24 new hours
to myself .

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Filed under Literature, Poetry, Writing and Reading

A Single Dispatch from Writer’s Camp 2015

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It’s quiet on campus.  Everyone has gone home.  It’s just me and Mark, the dorm all to ourselves.  He’s here still because he can’t travel on the Sabbath.  I’m here to simply take a few deep breaths, to take advantage of some solitude before heading home. I went down to the cafeteria tonight for dinner, and where there were swarms of people from all places and ages buzzing around in that huge room over the last six days, tonight I dined alone in virtual silence, maybe a half a dozen other individuals scattered throughout the dining room.  Only two choices tonight: salad bar and mac ‘n’ cheese. I chose both. I went for a walk after dinner through this lovely campus, ghost-town quiet.  I couldn’t visit the reflection pool one more time because the only action anywhere on campus, a wedding, had reserved for private use the entire lower gardens. I skulked my way back to the dorm where the last two writer’s camp campers are all alone in a five story dormitory.

I like this quiet ending of Writer’s Camp, the Warren Wilson MFA Alumni Conference, this year, hosted and coordinated by yours truly at Lewis and Clark College here in Portland, Oregon. For six days we have been teaching each other classes: we learned about Orphan Trains, we talked about revision, Elizabeth Bishop, bad guys and gals in fiction, characterization and computer programs that write good poetry.  We had conversations about agents, poetic resonance, writing about childhood, submitting our work. We read Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the round almost all the way through. We did a table read of a new screenplay by one of our campers. We attended workshops where generous, thoughtful, wise, and spirited writer friends helped us along with our work. We heard each other read: 48 of us read 10 minutes of our work to the smartest and most appreciative audience any of us have ever had.  We recited poetry from memory to each other at 1 o’clock in the morning. A handful of us meditated every morning for a half an hour. We wrote. We laughed a lot. We made new friends and reconnected with old ones. We held a silent auction and raised a bunch of money for our program. And we danced. All of this seems somewhat miraculous, and yet, the Warren Wilson Alumni Conference happens every summer, and every summer, at least for me, it is a peak experience, the pinnacle of my year.

And I like the quiet of the campus now that all my official duties are done.  I’ve never been to a conference before where I had any official duties save for reading for 10 minutes or teaching a single hour long class.  But all week there were things to attend to, phone calls to make, arrangements to arrange, decisions to decide, people to help, things to set up, a meeting to facilitate. It was far more intensive than I expected it to be–and yet, I couldn’t have been more happy to do it.  My only frustration the entire week had to do with things that were entirely in my control: not getting enough sleep simply because, just like my 9 year old, I didn’t want to go to bed, and losing my water bottle on campus at least three times every day and having to hike around in the heat to find it.  Otherwise, my labour was a labour, as they say, of love, pure, stupid, inexhaustible love for this group of people and the program and purpose that ties all of it together.

Most of the way through the conference, and even now in this quiet evening as I sit alone on our outdoor patio at this ginormous picnic table on concrete slabs in front of the dorm, and even though I am a 20 minute car ride from the front door of my house in Milwaukie, I have felt far away, very far away indeed.  I have felt like I might as well be at one of our other regular conference locations.  I could be in Amherst, Mass, or I could be in Moraga, California, Mt. Holyoke or St. Mary’s, or even at  Warren Wilson itself in Asheville, North Carolina.  I could be anywhere.  I hardly feel like I am in my home town because every year, even this year where the responsibilities were many and opportunities to freely choose when and when not to be engaged were fewer and far between, I feel utterly transported.  I am with my tribe in a veritable magic freaking bubble of goodness.  There aren’t many places in my experience where it gets any better than this. As I said to my campers during our last formal minutes together at the end of the last reading of the conference: I am more exhausted than I have ever been in my life–and simultaneously, I have never been happier.  Maybe my wedding day–yeah, that tops the list. Wally conferences are in a close second.

My fellow Wallies, and to anyone who is lucky enough to have a community like this: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”  We arrive together in this incredible community, and, as quickly as we arrive, we vanish into the ether on the way to our homes all across the country. But there’s the certainty that there will be other opportunities, another brilliant chance, as our gods or as good fortune will have it, to come together again in just one short year. Until then, goodnight and godspeed.  Having finished his Sabbath observances, Mark and I are going to have a drink together.

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Filed under Culture, Literature, Poetry, Self Reflection, Teaching, Writing and Reading