#285: Retreat

Trees along a rest stop parking lot.
Grayling, MI

I’m writing this letter in transit today, from a diner off M-10 on my way up north to the Michigan Reading Association’s summer conference. This event comes off the heels of another: the kickoff retreat for 2019 Kresge Artist Fellows, which happened Friday night and all day Saturday.

I find it challenging to talk about what happens at a retreat, of any kind, and while driving this afternoon I was trying to figure out why. There’s the sheer density of experience, yes, but that same density exists at a conference. Retreat, to me, has a different texture, baked into the meanings of the two words. Conference – conference – is about coming together. And while there is a coming-together aspect of retreat, too, there’s also a getting-away. An entering-into a distinctly different space, different reality. Conferences also tend to be much bigger, so it could just be a scale thing. Maybe what you’re retreating from is really just everyone else; too many people and you’re no longer getting away?

I don’t know. I do know that the Kresge event, even though it took place in a hard-surfaced design college building in Midtown Detroit (there were bead curtains made of ball bearings), was rightfully called a retreat. And I can only start to describe this new reality by poking at it with concrete details, with facts.

Fact: The retreat was facilitated by Creative Capital, a non-profit that supports and invests in artists taking risks in their fields.

Fact: We each gave 3-minute presentations about our work, and we later talked about our goals and fears, the leading-edge questions holding back our art from its next evolution.

I can say that we got to know each other in a variety of contexts: sitting around a long table as a cohort; in smaller groups aligned by the questions we were asking and the kinds of art we were making; one-on-one during breaks or by the catering table.

I can say that by the end, I could not only tell you what each artist’s work was about, but also the way each person carried themself, the way they stood or sat.

In one session, facilitated by poet, performer, and voice and acting coach (among other things) Tracie Morris, we followed up a conversation about setting goals, about stepping into one’s power, by standing in a circle and doing a voice exercise. This gave body to the thoughts and ideas, translated them into visceral, physical sensations. We talked about asking for help and leveraging the resources of the fellowship, then practiced using our physical voice. A powerful thing, this.

My body is different after that session and all the others. There was some internal reconfiguration, that I still feel today, days later. And there was at least one external, inter-relational change, too. We came to the retreat as a cohort, as a bunch of Detroit artists who all got the same award. We left it as a family.