I am writing this from an old farmhouse (circa 1870’s) in Great Village, Nova Scotia. It is the former home of the wonderful and acclaimed poet Elizabeth Bishop. I am sitting on a well-worn chair at a simple wooden desk in a small, warm upstairs room. There is a window in front of me offering a view of the massive spire of the church across the street and there is a starling nest tucked into the eaves somewhere close. Through the wall, I can hear baby starling euphoria every time the parents return with nourishment. Such an amazing and joyful sound.
I booked this retreat for myself last Fall and used it as a carrot for the long winter months when I was actively writing a book and it felt like there was no end in sight. I know some of you understand this feeling! (The book I was writing is now finished and is almost ready to leave the nest – more on that at the end of this post!)
This house is full of things that make me nostalgic for the past. An antique foot pedal organ, lace curtains, a deep porcelain sink, and lots of wallpaper. There is also a beautiful simplicity.
It brings to mind family vacations at my grandparent’s cottage in northern Ontario. There was no TV or washing machine. The stove was tiny. And for many years, there wasn’t even a bathroom inside! Time seemed to open up when we were there. Hours and hours to explore in the little rowboat. Long afternoons of reading and picking berries and making up games. There was space to really look at things closely: the frogs on the lily pads, the water bugs skating on the surface of the lake, the storm rolling in, the rain pelting the lake. I remember how we would all stop whatever we were doing and stare transfixed out the window, watching the pockmarked lake roll and churn.
Part of the magic of this farmhouse where I now sit is the sense of history you can feel, the knowledge of all the humans who have lived here over the last 150 years. And the lineage of artists too, the ones who have been using this home as a place to get quiet and listen to what wants to be created. I love that there are hand-written notes in a binder about all kinds of things – where light switches are, what to do if you get locked out, and a list of beautiful places to explore. I found instructions that led me on a walk to an old graveyard and beyond it, the shore of Cobequid Bay – mudflats as far as the eye could see and masses of joyful swallows.
Another factor in the magic of this experience is that there are far less responsibilities than at home – I don’t have to cook, I don’t have to drive anyone anywhere, I don’t have to be a parent. There are also less distractions. The house has a retro “Boom Box,” but no wifi. This has meant less options, which for me has created a richer experience by far. More time to sit on the porch with a cup of tea and actually watch the birds, as opposed to half watching them as I text or compose an email. More time to deeply think through complicated feelings or situations and to write about them. More time to read books. More time to write letters. More time walking in nature.
Being here and living differently reminds me that I always have a choice, even back home, where the wifi is plentiful and both responsibilities and distractions seem endless. I can always choose to put my phone away. I can always choose to use an actual map rather than an app. I can always choose to do a paper crossword rather than playing a digital word game. And I can always choose to write a friend a real honest-to-goodness letter rather than sending an email.
Does this resonate with you too? Do you also revel in old-fashioned simplicity when it is offered to you? I would love to hear your thoughts on this, as always!
And now a bit more about my book! It’s called Writing Your Way: A 40-Day Path of Self-Discovery. It is part memoir and part guidebook, meant to help you dive into life’s deep questions. What are your greatest longings and biggest dreams? What are your unique gifts? What do you most want to create? And what’s standing in your way? With writing prompts in every one of the 40 chapters, my book invites you to deepen your connection to the truth that lives inside you and to align your life to that inner wisdom.
My hope for the book is that it will touch hearts and help to transform lives. Looking within, listening, and writing about what we find is so powerful! Stay tuned for more details about when and where the book will be available in upcoming blog posts!