I made of point of going twice a year, in the spring and the fall, when I was just about to complete a manuscript. The true magic of the convent sprung from its gift of time and peace, of a place for you to exist with only your thoughts, your story, your characters.
I've learned to go for three nights. I try to arrive around supper time the first night, and then spend the evening planning my writing, word count and story chunks. I mark everything on sticky notes and post it on my wall, right in front of my desk. The laptop is plugged in, the words are ready to flow.
|Utnu, during my first visit. Yes, I bring candles. Atmosphere!|
|Utnois, during my latest visit. Hand cream is important, too. Dry fingers move less quickly. Greasy fingers slide on keys. Choose your hand cream carefully.|
But I don't start writing just yet. My body is still full of adrenaline from the day's rush and stress, my mind braced for more grind of multitasking. I go for a walk. I stare at the water and slow my thoughts. I let my hand slide on stone or flower, I listen to the call of the birds, I relish the scents of fresh cut grass.I awaken my senses.
|Or, sometimes I stare outside my window, from the warmth of my room. This was spring. The snow had overstayed its welcome. Yet again.|
And then I say hi to Giant Jesus:
I pace around Giant Jesus, rant and rave, discuss plot points, difficult scenes, frustrations and anticipated deaths. I tell him everything. He's an excellent listener. Sometimes pilgrims walk by and then turn away from Giant Jesus. I imagine they think: "She's very religious," or (closer to the mark) "She's insane." It doesn't matter - I'm on a roll, I'm excited, that story is ready to explode out of me, and voicing my ideas helps solidify them.
|Stacking the nuns, counting the dead.|
|See? Ship, sunset, and chair to witness the passing.|
Due to a decline in the number of women taking up the veil, the order sold the convent to its host city, for better or for worse. Three nuns remain on-site, with a promised three years for winding down religious activities. Last weekend was my first visit to this newly secularized convent and the difference was palatable. The devil was in the details. No hymns woke me up in the morning, streaming from the chapel through the heating conduits. The only music was radio pumped through the cafeteria, some irritating radio station, to top it off. The nuns are no longer greeting guests to meals, but rather eat in peace in a sequestered area.
And nobody seemed to understand a quiet retreat. I'm a social being, but I'm not there to make friends. I'm there to blow ships up and emotionally scar individuals (in my book, mostly). I've never had people speak to me before, no more than a "hello" and a smile. I've never even had someone ask me why I wasn't going to mass and joining the throngs. Yet this time, I had one person try to convert me to government work (ha!), another whine about the lumps in the potatoes until he made it as a character in my book that I blew up, and a third person speak about the postal system. Seriously? (I always thought the religious people would be broaching conversion, so the government thing was funny.)
It was different. An air of peace and serenity had been whisked away by bird watchers and government workers.
But I still love the convent now ex-convent. I still have my little room where I can draw the curtains to hide the sun when I'm meant to write. I love the lack of television, phones and Internet. I'm not sure what will happen to my little corner of paradise, but I doubt a nun will ever again scratch my butt there (ah, the good times). Still, I've made my reservations for Labour Day Weekend, hoping it won't have changed so much that, upon leaving, I'll say a final goodbye to Giant Jesus.
(He'll still be there. No one would ever tear down Giant Jesus. He's too useful. And big.)