Train Wreck: When Your Writing Retreat on the Train Goes WAY Off the Rails – Part Two (The Planning)

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

As promised in my last post, I want to share my experience of the Rhythm on the Rails Writing Retreat to Vancouver, BC that went way off the rails.

I’ll start by saying that my ROTR retreat to Vancouver was my first overnight retreat. I had decided it was time to branch out from the one-day train retreat I did last Fall to Seattle and give one a little further out on the west coast Amtrak line a go. Vancouver, BC seemed like a great place to start.

I spent a lot of time scoping out locations for activities that would align with the topic for the retreat: The Heart Chakra and Antagonists/Supporting Characters (content from my Writing Through the Body™ method). I wanted to be mindful of finding locations and sites that wouldn’t require a lot of travel time within the city, and of also providing everyone with ample alone time (because I know we writers LOVE our alone time, right?!).

If you’ve planned a retreat of any size, you know that this part of the process is a bit like playing a chess game. You think ahead, strategize, anticipate all the possible needs of your participants and all the possible things that could go wrong, with the number 1 goal to give them an experience that will get them closer to their desire – in my case: to make progress on their books.

I wanted to find a way to visit ALL the parks in Vancouver but quickly realized that wasn’t realistic given time constraints and travel time, so I landed on Queen Elizabeth Park as a location for one of our group activities. I figured with it being the highest point in the city, it would be a nice reprieve from the bustle down below on the afternoon of our first full day there.

We were scheduled to arrive at the King Street station at 11:30PM on a Thursday. Amtrak offers only one direct trip from Portland to Vancouver, BC, and it seemed the best option, given that all the other trips going that direction required a transfer to a bus. Writing on the bus was not what I was offering, and to be honest, it didn’t sound appealing to me at all. So, I figured it wouldn’t be to my participants either.

Because I wanted to give everyone a chance to sleep in the next morning (Friday) and revel in a slow start to the day, especially after our late arrival the night before following an eight-hour train ride, I planned two activities at Queen Elizabeth Park for Friday afternoon, as well as dinner at Chambar, one of Vancouver’s top restaurants, for Friday night.

For Saturday, I planned an open day for participants to explore the city alone or together and/or wander off to get some more writing done. Saturday night, our last night there, I planned another group dinner at Joe Fortes, another of Vancouver’s highly recommended restaurants.

(I knew that at least two of the participants had dietary restrictions – as do I – so I was sure to find restaurants that would allow for substitutions and make accommodations for those who needed it.)

When searching for lodging for us all, I wanted to find a hotel within walking distance of many of Vancouver’s top sites and attractions and would not require a lot of costly travel time for those who wanted to venture further out. I also wanted to keep the overall cost down and keep the focus on the writing rather than bill the retreat as any kind of “luxury” experience.

This proved to be a challenge. I looked at a few large Airbnb rentals, but the 30-minute travel time back to the city for all the rentals available at the time that would accommodate us all was more than I wanted to tack onto our days, and I thought this would, again, create more cost for participants. It would have also made transportation to group activities trickier.

I found that, despite my planning this retreat several months in advance, I couldn’t find hotels with enough vacancies for all of us (I was hoping for a max of 10 and a min of six) and/or that were within what I thought was a reasonable price range.

I finally found a hotel that seemed to fit all the requirements needed for the retreat, so I reserved a block of rooms and included information about it on the website for the retreat.

With all the planning details taken care of, I could now advertise the retreat and plan for the virtual pre-trip class I would offer on the content – The Heart Chakra and Antagonists/Protagonists.

I had hoped for a minimum of six writers. I got four, and I was happy with this because it was, as I said, my first overnight retreat, and I knew all the people who were going: two were clients, one was a person I knew from networking who had referred one of my clients (they are friends), and the other had gone on my last one-day train retreat to Seattle.

Knowing the people who would be going, having some already-established mutual respect and familiarity between me and them gave me a sense of security about executing the retreat.

All seemed well. And it was… until we reached Vancouver, BC, at 11:30PM on that Thursday…

Come back soon to read about what began to unfold – even before we had made it through the customs gate at King Street Station in Vancouver.

In the meanwhile… as always, I’m sending you mad writing mojo.

Bright blessings and creative courage,

Johnnie
XXXXX

 

 

 

I Go Back to May 1937 – Sharon Olds

I ADORE this poem by Sharon Olds. I adore it so much, I used parts of in my first film, I’m Too Much (2004).

It’s a lovely reminder that no matter what we endure in life, we have the power to transform – ourselves and other people – with our words.

Sharing our stories is what heals us.

________________________________

I Go Back to May 1937

BY SHARON OLDS
I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks,
the wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips aglow in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it—she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you have not heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.
______________
What story will you tell?