Each year I embark on a full day personal retreat along the Ottawa River. It became a tradition when I was searching for energy and inspiration as an artist around 2009. But now I am blogging this confession. I have not been on one of these retreats for 2 years and I have not been to my studio in 2 months. I’m stuck, blocked, dead in the water.
Last weekend I decided that I MUST go on my retreat. I deduced that I can’t expect energy from the concrete jungle. I needed the same energy I got from spending 4 days in Westmeath. I realized that I didn’t go last year because I was just too tired and the planning usually took me two weeks. I would research different retreat ideas and incorporate them into a full day schedule. Seeking that creative nectar from the bosoms of Mother Nature should be structured after all …nes pas? (insert sarcasm of the highest level).
When I finally made up my mind that I was going and my back which had been wrenched for two weeks finally jerked back into place, I also chose not to structure this retreat. I just packed a lunch and headed toward Quebec. Yes, I cross the creek from time to time but mostly for the cool trails that eventually lead me to solitude. Don’t get me wrong, Ottawa has the same trails but I prefer to start in Quebec and bike my way back to Ontario.
My good friend Mimma had suggested that I check out Recycle D’art along Montcalm. I absolutely did that and was impressed with the creative welding that I witnessed. The coolest piece for me was the odd looking all white cyclist and the creepiest one was the fur teepee with a face. I liked the tv fountain and really adored the multibreasted fairy along the water. It was a good start to a long day
I made my way from this exhibit to the trail that leads to Park Mouffette. About half a kilometer into it I realized how out of shape I am and remembered how many freeking hills this trail has. I came up the fourth one and stopped at an old railway bridge that was no longer in use. I used to live close to this bridge in Ottawa and always promised myself that I would cross it one day. Now was as good a day as any and I sure didn’t want to take on any more of those hills in this heat.
I was immediately rewarded with a landscape of graffiti and birds. The two seemed to go hand in hand and lived in harmony. The squawking of the islands full of sea gulls and double breasted comorants gave life to the expansive bridge from Quebec to Ontario. It was all rust and urban art. Every inch of steel was harmonious and alive. My multicolored yarnbombed bike really stood out! I came across two teenagers just before Lemieux Island. They were jumping off the bridge and swimming in the river. Such bravery ! Then I came across another couple who were taking pictures from the bridge and smooching. At one point I heard male voices in the bushes and I became a little afraid. But they just smiled and lifted their beers as I walked by their private bush party. Phewf!
I thought of my dog Ellis who used to love these trails too. I wished he was with me on this one. He always gave me courage, strength and love. Just thinking of him made me smile. I moved on with him in my heart and knew exactly where the next stop was going to be.
Remic Rapids has always been a source of energy for me and for many, people. John Ceprano is the man behind the sculptures there and I remember fondly the first time I met him on my first retreat along the river. When we met he filled me up with optimism, love for my fellow man and artistic appreciation in the first ten minutes of our conversation. I knew he would be a friend for life. And , six years later it is his hug I look most forward to when I bike along the river.
John really has a connection with nature and humanity. He’s fun to watch. As I approached the sculptures at the rapids this day I was disappointed to see he was not there. A young couple had crossed the taped off barrier and were checking out his work when all of a sudden one of the sculptures came crashing down. I was mortified and felt so bad for John that his work is so easily destroyed. I also felt bad for the couple that accidentally knocked it down. Then out of the corner of my eye I see John strolling toward the couple with a smile on his face and an “oh well, shit happens” swagger. He didn’t even blink an eye and was immediately putting the sculpture back into balance. The young couple stayed and helped him and it was their wedding anniversary. What a great gift for all people involved. As it turns out the young man is an American Italian like John and they had the most wonderful conversations. I realized that I was on this retreat to listen.
It is the deep, hippy go lucky conversations, the long flowing talks that keep me coming back year after year. I listened, watched the ducks and geese and water and listened to these people connecting. I watched John teaching the young man his skills as they pieced the tower of rocks together again. I then knew that I was looking in the wrong place for answers and it was to him that I asked once we were alone, “What do you do when you are blocked?” “Well,” he replied, ” you just have to wait for it to pass. It will pass. You just do what you can do to get through it. It happens to everyone no matter what you are working on.”What a relief it was to give up the guilt I had been imposing on myself for weeks and weeks. I had to hear it from fellow artists. I’ve since heard the same thing from several artists. My mojo took a vacation. I don’t have a choice but to wait for its return. I could possibly take this “creative time-out” to just listen and learn new things. There are a million things I could do, or I could do nothing at all. It is truly up to me. I’m thinking I need a mentor and the other side of me doesn’t think she needs no stinking teacher. I giggle as my twins and crab battle it out inside me.
These are the results of my retreat. I left my home at 10 a.m. and I returned home at 8 pm. I promise myself to not skip any more annual river retreats. And….the unstructured version works best for me.