In the last post, I shared a bit about the town of Piggott in northeast Arkansas, where I was fortunate to spend several days last spring with a friend. I’ve always had a little bit of an affinity for doing random things with random people or putting together an event or social gathering that throws all sorts of differing personalities into a living, breathing experiment. While my husband is the scientist, I love the results of observing human beings in my own hypothetical laboratory.
In this case, I followed a hunch and invited a fairly new acquaintance, fellow Hemingway enthusiast and fan of the written word (and rather brilliant business woman and writer in her own right) to join me in traversing Arkansas to attend a writers’ retreat at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum & Educational Center.
Two women who do not know each other well in a confined space for hours on end hurtling along the deserted back roads of Arkansas late at night toward an unseen destination seems like a madcap (and ill-advised) version of Thelma and Louise… but it worked. The trip was an absolute indulgence from start to finish, although it got off to a dubious start.
My compadre Barbara almost bailed on the entire situation due to a sudden, debilitating stomach bug. While I didn’t want to influence a sick woman, I crossed all my fingers and toes in her favor and was elated when she weakly agreed to soldier on. Unfortunately, hours in the car together had me following her lead, and I spent the morning following our arrival in Piggott (The Biggest Small Town in Arkansas) soaking in the view of the ceiling at Rose Dale Farm. However, I was comforted slightly by my proximity to a secretary with rings from Hemingway’s own bourbon glasses.
Our retreat was facilitated by Roland Mann, a writer and professor in the Creative Writing MFA program at Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. Roland is a native of the area and has a longtime association with the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center. The writers’ retreat itself was organized by Adam Long, director of the HPEMC. We thoroughly enjoyed the multi-day retreat and particularly appreciated the flexibility and willingness of the organizers to accommodate our special writing needs.
While many attendees at the writers’ retreats are seeking instruction and writing challenges (and we certainly benefited from both), our ultimate goal was the time and space to dedicate to the essays in our own heads. Adam and Roland truly understand that everyone who attends a writers’ retreat has their own set of motivations for attending, and they endured our participation as well as our occasionally withdrawing.
I tackled a couple of personal essays – one about my childhood in Jamaica which had been bouncing around my head for quite some time (The Mistress in the Mangroves) and one about parenting (On Fathers and Daughters and Chess) – as well as a piece on the evolving landscape of work and remote workers (The Untethered Life) in addition to some of the assigned essays. The opportunity to chase down concepts and turn them into full-fledged posts and articles was the most exceptional gift of the writing getaway for me.
However, when I did take advantage of some coaching from Roland, he gave me some excellent feedback on my writing. A few snippets:
Let your own voice be there – everyone has a unique voice. It’s determined by your whole body of experience, where you’re from, the people that surround you. Your family, extracurricular, education, religious circles – these all make you unique.There are often voices that you admire and want to mimic – let that influence be there, but let (your work) be in your own voice.
One of the most appealing attributes of the Pfeiffer home and grounds as the site of a writers’ retreat was – for me – the plethora of nooks and crannies where we could set up shop to crank out words. Throughout the retreat I tried various settings as the spirit moved me, although I erred in favor of outdoor locations from sitting in the early spring sunshine under a tree on the lawn to a spot outside the barn where Hemingway wrote portions of A Farewell to Arms. It seemed obligatory to write for a while in the barn itself, and the space that still houses Hemingway’s trunks, safari mementos and typewriter is not lacking in inspiration.
We soaked up every moment we could to capture as much of the written word as we could possibly record, and in the evenings we dragged rockers out onto the front porch of our little home (Rose Dale Farm) feeling every bit like a couple of old spinsters laughing together and watching the world speed by as it passed through our own small town. We even channeled our inner embattled writers by lifting our glasses at high noon.
We took our sweet time heading home (an indulgence in and of itself for lovers of words, photos and small towns), pausing to soak in treasures only found in Arkansas and to wander the streets of communities close to home but far away.
Here’s to grabbing a new friend, hitting the open road, exploring small towns and channeling the stories waiting to be written.
- Thinking of carving out time to write or attending a writers’ retreat (or blogger work day)? Read this: How To Plan A Productive Writing Getaway.
- Read more about the charming town of Piggott in this post: The Biggest Small Town in Arkansas.
- Follow our North Arkansas Meanderings and our route through Harrison, Hardy and around Piggott and save it for your future plans.
- Read more here about the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum & Educational Center, and be sure to check out their newsletter and future events (including writers’ retreats).