Last month I met my sister in Alpine for the Writers’ League of Texas retreat. For several years, I’ve been begging her to go with me, not so much because I see myself as a writer, but more because I see myself as a retreater. Anyway, since returning, I’ve been thinking that I should write about it. If you can’t write about a writers’ retreat, what can you write about?
I considered all the things I gained from the retreat (inspiration, a supportive writing community, a cute little notebook that fits in my purse) and all the things I learned (how to build conflict in a plot, the importance of regular practice, that I hate verbs). But when I find myself telling people about my experience, those are not the things I share. What I tell them is how much I enjoyed spending the week with my sister.
For years, Dave and I operated with only two weeks of vacation every year. When we were first married and living in North Carolina, we used one of those weeks to visit my family in Texas and one to go to the Virgin Islands or San Francisco or Disney World. Shortly after we moved back to Texas, Mitch was born, and then we had to strategically plan so that we had vacations both with and without him. It wasn’t until 1999 that I finally took a vacation that didn’t include my husband or son. We found out that my mother was dying of cancer, and my lifelong friend, Monica, insisted that we take our mothers to Las Vegas. Those few days were some of the best I ever spent with my mother.
The Las Vegas trip made me realize that there are great experiences to be had traveling with friends and extended family, and over the years, Karan and I have traveled together many times. The first time was in 2003 when we took our kids to New York for spring break, and the last time was in November when we took our husbands to San Antonio for the Christmas parade. But there has always been someone else there…a child, a brother, a husband. This was the first time we went somewhere by ourselves, and we didn’t have to worry, as women often do, about the comfort of others. We browsed the shops, dined at the best restaurants, and drove out to see what may or may not have been the Marfa lights. Best of all, we sat at a table by the window of our hotel bar every evening, sipping our Irish Ladies, and shared our struggles and dreams—something we never would have had the time to do when we were in our 20s or 30s or 40s. This is the joy of being middle-aged.