Monthly Archives: May 2015

How to Turn a Home into a Writing Retreat

 Chair and Books

“We think of retreat as going away, but it need not be a physical act. Each of us can find our own way to silence. We withdraw and the inner world appears.” Deena Metzger

 BY KIMBERLY MAYER

If this post were structured like a real how-to, Step 1 would be to turn off the television. Or in our case, never turn it on. Whether we want to write, read, paint, sculpt, or meditate, there is no better step than that.

What we are aiming to do here is to create a sanctuary, an oasis of civilization. What Gordon Lish referred to as “a haven in a heartless world.” In our case a writing retreat, and this is our attempt at that using our house.

To begin with, we went out of our way–left the city last year to be here, in the San Juan Islands. Downshifting…

And upon a lot in an old growth forest by the sea, there sat a modular Timberland Home, circa 1997, which we redesigned in sustainable materials to be in harmony with nature. Down went LP siding, up went cedar shake shingles. Down came numerous interior walls, and up came generous open space living.

Everything opens to sky and sea; we knew nothing should detract from that.

It’s the shimmering waters. It’s the quality of air. It’s the wildlife. It’s the quiet. It’s the organic foods. It’s having as many outdoor spaces as in. It’s the reverence for nature. And if you ask me, it’s to be shared.

So I invited a writer friend to live with us. (note: this step has to be as important as no television). Dear friend,  brilliant writer. He too is finishing a book.

Together we imitate graduate school here: writing days, and long walks. Good food, discussions, books, and sometimes reading aloud at night what had been written by day.

Suddenly all this nature and art. It was working for me. I know this to be true because he went away for a couple days and I could barely tap out this piece.

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Going Gray

Jackie's apartment

The San Francisco residence of J. Mayer and B. Blum

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

My girlfriends in Seattle told me it would happen when I moved to the islands.

“You’ll come back gray-haired wearing Birkenstock sandals,” they warned.

Well they were half right.

We were all coloring our hair back there. The San Juan Islands are more organic in every sense. Women give each other permission to go gray here.

It’s not as easy as it looks. Going gray took a number of months. My hairdresser had to remove my hair of the brown coloring, and gray what was stripped. Matching up the color with what was growing in.

“I don’t like it. I’m not ready for this,” my husband commented when the job was completed.

The next day I was flying east. I had promised to care for my father at his retirement home while my mother enjoyed a stay with friends in the English countryside. Residents of the retirement home raved about my hair. What they saw were the waves–the color was a given. I felt good enough to come home again.

Here on the island gray is the color of silver fox, oyster and clam shells, shimmering fish, Gray whales, harbor seals, dolphin, Gray heron, and fog.

I will get around to remodeling. All roads lead to remodeling lately.

Deck after rain

This weekend we painted 800 sq. ft. of decking around our island home. What had been a dark brown-red paint over cedar became a lighter gray, and the house went from being “of the woods” to being “of the water.” Gray is a nautical color, the color of sun bleached piers and teak decking on boats.

There is a gray wash to our hardwood floors. A gray stain to new pieces of furniture (Restoration Hardware outlet). A gray quartz countertop in our kitchen. A gray veining through Carrera marble tiles on the backsplash. Stainless steel floating shelves for glassware and dishes. Stainless steel appliances. Grays in slate tile floors in mudroom and bath. And now, gray decks running everywhere: down the hillside staircase, across the house, and out to the writing hut. Where I write.

I say this after having lived with earth tones all my life, on my walls and in my hair. There is a calmness and sophistication to the color gray. It is restful and it is where I am right now.

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