Monday, 23 April 2012

The No-Longer-Convent-Convent

I posted before about my writing retreat, a convent, which was recently secularized. I needed to get away for a bit after all of the excitement of cons, book launches, and generally being social. So I headed off to the convent, not certain what I was getting into.

Last time, government workers and photographers infested the no-longer-convent-convent.  I was thrilled to see that it would rain this weekend – great writing weather, and generally good at keeping photographers indoors.

This time, there were few other visitors, but they were all really obnoxious and loud, and they all made jokes too sad, unoriginal and quite frankly painful for me to impose them on all of you. You’re welcome.

My first flower sighting this Spring, at a the convent. A sad little flower. Possibly because it heard the jokes, too.

Regardless of stale, annoying (attempts at) humour, what I finally realized that I didn’t have anymore at the convent is space.

Even the dead ran out of space.
Sure, I still have my little room (which now has a full length mirror – ye gawds, I don’t care to see myself that often, seriously, especially during a writing retreat).  I still have my walks to chat with Giant Jesus, I can still speak to silent tombstones of stacked nuns, I still sit alone at my table for meals, but I no longer have space.

There’s a sense of respect when you know the building’s purpose. Architecture needs not be complex to invoke awe when a purpose is associated with the place.  Tones grow hush when surrounded the weight of history, religion or purpose.  Take that away, especially from a building that evokes nothing beyond its everyday use (it’s no great work of art, let’s face it), and you lose the weight of silence.  You lose that need to speak in hushed tones. You lose the silence of respect.

Buried over someone who died when she was four.  Someone she never met, never knew the name of, probably. Yet someone in 2009 decided they should be stacked together.  Is it just me, or is that freaky neat?
So that’s what I lost, at the no-longer-convent-convent.  People walk up and down the halls loudly. They bang doors, they scream at each other on the front yard, they tell loud, rude jokes in the cafeteria.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy all of these activities. But those are social activities.  Those are humans stomping all over my writing space, with dirty, ugly shoes, to boot.

And I don’t need a lot of space, but I need all of it. I need all of the silence, the fresh air, the head space.  I came to the convent back in the day because it allowed me that and more, something else I’ve yet to put my finger on.

Giant Jesus is still a great listener.  But Giant Jesus needs braces, now.  Giant Jesus isn't as stable as he once was.
I don’t know if I’ll come back.  I get lots done in the city, but I’m easily distracted and I need full resets, once in a while, by myself. It’s the introvert in me.  Give my crazy extrovert too much time to play, and my introvert gets grumpy and wants me to hide, alone, with no one to speak to for days.  

I have a feeling I’ll come back once. Giant Jesus is still my sanctuary, as is the cemetery of nuns.  Those still bear the weight of religion and scare people away.  I can rant and rave about plot there.  The dead and inanimate make the best audience.

Fell asleep writing and woke up to manuscript screaming at me. It wasn't that productive a weekend, unfortunately, but I think this chapter is a keeper!
What's missing is a mystery that I need to figure out, for myself.  To understand the loss fully, I need to understand what it is that I lost.  It’s not the nuns, nor the religion, since those don’t resonate with my soul strings.  But it’s something else. 

I’ll figure it out. Maybe next time. 



  1. Jennifer Cayley23 April 2012 at 09:28

    Hey Marie,

    Such an interesting thing to think about.What is space? What is purposed space and what happens when the users of space, "the community" don't have an agreement about it's purpose?


  2. It's fascinating, isn't it, Jennifer? I think part of me wants to go back out of curiosity to see what will happen to the space. I feel like, right now, the bad jokes and loudness are used to dispel the religious aura that still surrounds the convent and makes certain people uncomfortable. They're claiming the space by showing they don't acknowledge its past (even though they do, in a weird rebellious way). Quite fascinating and sad, all at once.

  3. Sometimes change is not a good thing in itself, but maybe it can lead to good things?

    Sad for the alteration of your refuge.


  4. I agree with you, Mel. Who knows what new adventure awaits!

  5. A great post Marie, I'll have to read more about your not-a-convent-convent.
    Perhaps you can find a nice, quiet sacred grove somewhere for your next retreat. My inner introvert should take notes.

  6. It's worth it, Rick. It's nice to get away with just yourself as company sometimes, as long as you like the company you keep! ;)