Have you noticed how expectations get in the way? They spoil your fun, ruin relationships and even stop you from learning. It seems to be happening to me a lot lately. Is it just me? Is this a post lockdown phenomenon as we learn to navigate the world again? Let’s face it dealing with the Woolies car park and driving long distances was a bit freaky at first.
The most recent experience with expectations was when I booked into a writer’s retreat. I have dreamed of going on one for years. I imagined spending Uber-focused time on my half written manuscript, with a group of writers, critiquing and encouraging one another, drinking too much coffee and staying up late having deep intellectual discussions. I could see myself wafting through hotel lobbies wearing floaty kaftans, my sandals slapping on the Italian marble floors. I’d find a quiet nook where I’d sip on a tall glass of sparkling iced water. Brilliant words would flow magically from my favourite fountain pen. In the evenings I’d stroll along a beach watching the sun set in a blaze of glorious colour. The smell of the sea air in my lungs, the salt gritty on my skin and dolphins leaping not far from the shore. My expectations were pretty high.
The ‘me’ I am, in my mind’s eye, is about forty with no arthritic knees and still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
The reality was very different. I arrived at the Commercial Hotel in Terang, no beach. I parked my car and wrestled my unwilling suitcase to the entrance. I was met by Des, the bar manager, who made me feel instantly welcome. Les, the owner, was upstairs and wouldn’t be long. Les, lovely guy, was personally showing guests to their rooms and having a yarn. He carried my bags up the two flights of stairs (arthritic knees remember) and showed me where the rooms were. I could take my pick of any rooms with a key in the door. The rooms ran along one corridor on the first floor, each one over a hundred years old with gorgeous period furniture to match. The hallway was filled with fabulous photos taken by a local artist. They were photos of grizzled old farmers and real rural folk.
The room I chose had a small writing desk with a guitar in the corner. It seemed like my kind of room. I pictured myself writing at the desk and playing Joan Baez songs in the breaks. I was in writerly heaven even without the beach and the dolphins.
The writing retreat was what I would call a ‘master class’ weekend. We spent our time in a group being taught editing skills and how to see writing from a publishers perspective. We write prompts and shared our work in the group. It was excellent and well run by someone who knew their stuff, but it was not what I expected.
I have been studying writing since 2019, learning the same valuable information I was hearing on the weekend. I had already read the recommended books. Nothing I heard was new or mind blowing. I could see lightbulbs going on all around me, the other attendees were having their worlds rocked.
I struggled to stay focused and keep an open mind bi took notes, I gave the teacher my undivided attention, I participated, I was here to learn — Hang on, I was here to write wasn’t I?
My expectations created disappointment and frustration as I sat through session after session. The struggle was real. I felt like an arrogant know-it-all. I am not a published author, not unless you count this blog.
Determined to learn, I wrote ‘Shoshin’ at the top of my notes as a reminder.
Shoshin is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning ‘beginner’s mind.’ It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.
My key learning from the weekend is that there comes a time when you have to get on with it. I haven’t been writing much lately and I thought immersing myself in a writer’s retreat would be the magic wand I needed to get me going again.
Reading about writing is not writing. Learning about writing is not writing. Talking about writing is not writing.
I read something the other day that rang bells in my brain. ‘You are a better writer than you think you are.’ It is entirely possible my story is better than I think it is.
The story I am sporadically writing is half way and it may never see the light of day. It’s teaching me more about myself than anything I have ever done and I am told finishing it will teach me even more.
The mind games are real. Subtle, seductive and quite paralyzing. The mental paralysis that has had me firmly in its grip ended today when I wrote this piece. You, dear reader, are my ‘raison d’etre.’ I write this blog to speak to you, whoever you are, in the hope that my words will encourage you to be the creative creature you are meant to be.
Expectations be dammed.
A famous horse trainer I learn from says: ‘Expect a lot and accept a little.’ I need to apply this to myself and not just my horse.
I’m off to finish my story. Thanks for reading.