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A Twenty Year Retreat

January 30, 2019

For nearly two decades, I have been attending the annual Martin Luther King weekend writers’ retreat at Mercy-by-the-Sea (a Catholic retreat center) in Madison, Connecticut. The retreat was originally organized by the members of Still River Writers, the writers group I have been with since April of 1998.  Despite the fact that the retreat moved from Madison to Enders Island (another Catholic retreat center on Long Island Sound) for a few years and has occasionally shifted to President’s Day weekend, this retreat has been a constant in my life over the last twenty years.

The building we occupy at Mercy is called Seascape.  It is different from the rest of the buildings on the campus, partly because it is newer than the other structures, which tend to be dark and monastic.  Seascape is brighter, painted in pastels, with several large windows to view the sea and welcome the sun.  It also feels more like a private residence, because unlike the rest of Mercy, it was–Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas once called it home.  When they decided to relocate from Madison, they donated the building to Mercy.

Due to my proximity to Mercy and my work schedule, I am usually the first to arrive.  After I settle in and unpack, I make myself a cup of tea and enjoy the views.  I like to pretend it’s my own personal beach house until someone inevitably arrives to shatter the illusion.  It is always fun while it lasts…

Over the years, I have forged a number of wonderful, enduring relationships which have helped me grow both as an author, but most importantly, as a person. The exposure to all of the poets, prose poets, novelists, short story authors, non-fiction chroniclers, memoirists, playwrights, screenwriters, and songwriters over the years have influenced me in ways I am only just beginning to understand.

In that time, I have written five screenplays, one teleplay, four stage plays, a few dozen poems and a handful of essays. I have won thirteen awards, was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, published some of the poems and essays, and began blogging. I have also optioned two of my screenplays, seen three of my one acts produced, held a staged reading for my full length play in New York, and found an agent. I sincerely believe that none of that would have occurred without the annual retreat providing me with lengthy blocks of time to write, helpful feedback from peers, and a confidence that has increased with each passing year.

And I tend not to waste those blocks of time.  A few years ago, a wrote the first draft of a 95 screenplay over one of these weekends; my roommate had to excuse himself and write elsewhere because he found it exhausting to be in the presence of such mania.  I can’t really say I blame  him.  I also wrote the first draft of my full length stage play “Invincible Summer” at Seascape, and this year wrote 40 pages of my new play–and I am quite happy how it’s turning out.

Of course, the retreat is also where I met the woman I love–fifteen years ago! To say that our lives have changed since that first meeting is to significantly understate the matter…

We can at times look back over the years and reflect upon a decision that radically shaped the trajectory of our life.  My decision to attend my very first writers retreat during the waning months of the Clinton Administration unequivocally falls into that category.

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