Winter is forced upon us

“Between endings and beginnings, there is a blank time when nothing is supposed to happen. It’s fascinating, fearful, but it’s supposed to be this way. Like a tree in winter, on the outside there is nothing going on, but inside is hidden growth. This growth explodes in spring. Spring can’t happen without the blank time. We need winter and so it is forced upon us if we do not choose.” – Peter McDonald, from Life’s Companion by Christina Baldwin, p. 230.

This week, I have left the icy clutches of Calgary’s descent into winter to immerse myself in a writing retreat with nine other women among the towering Douglas firs, swaying alders and luscious green ferns on Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound, about an hour’s travel from Seattle. Tucked into the cozy nooks and alcoves of this learning centre, we’ve spread out on the silent writing day of this five-day immersion. Christina Baldwin, an author whose books Storycatcher and Life’s Companion have been great sources of inspiration for MWP, is guiding us to take the time we need to explore “The Self as the Source of Story“, an approach to creative non fiction that emphasizes meaning-making in our lives through the practice and power of story.

They come in a mishmash of stories, academic theories, references to previous work and snippets of fairy tale arising from the depths of my subconscious. I had high expectations for myself to be writing brilliant, witty, inspiring pieces all week long: making sense of the ebbs and flows of the past couple years; churning out all the many ideas that have been held hostage at the back of my mind, all of the different voices I want to let loose on the page…

The humid cold of the Pacific Northwest is wreaking havoc on my achy muscles and forcing me to retreat inward into a hazy dreamworld. Enveloped by the crackling warmth of the hearth and supportive friendship of fellow writers, I recognize our mutual struggles in birthing the songs stuck in our imaginations. I concede to the realization that the writing life is only successful from a long and sustained engagement with the written word, rather than churning out witty copy on demand. Just like so many participants of the Meaningful Work Project who struggle in the liminal phase between the end of one phase and the start of another, I am in the in-between winter space where it seems like nothing is happening. But in every word I scribble in my journal, in every conversation I have about my dreams for the future, in every boring reference I tweak in my thesis, I know that things are not completely still. This growth will explode in spring.

Between endings and beginnings there is a blank time. All the stories are knocking at the door, but I can’t let them in yet. I let myself peek out at them through the window briefly. Then draw the shutters again. The thesis is nearly done, but not quite. Then the next door flies open.

As the little bursts of writing I produce show only tiny glimmers for the burning passion I know is just waiting for the right opportunity to blossom into full-fledged manuscripts, I create the space and time for the slow, almost imperceptive growth of winter.

Spring can’t happen without the blank time. We need winter and so it is forced upon us if we do not choose.