WRIT LARGE: Ch 17, Part 3
“Can you picture us at your retreat?” asks Sandra. “Who says you need a backlog of books to write a memoir? Wild, by Cheryl Strayed is one of my favourite books, and I bet she would’ve stirred things up a bit if she’d gone glamping with you.”
“I met her once,” says Tony. “She was signing copies of her book. Lovely lady.”
I’m mulling things over, thinking about the people around this campfire and how they came to be thrown together, and the way they interact with each other. I tell the group that I may have to reconsider my next retreat and work more on the basis of people bringing out the best, or indeed worst, of each other.
“Does it actually matter how many words get typed up?” asks John. “Surely it’s the seed of an idea that counts.”
“Especially if someone arrives with one idea and leaves with another,” says Parvati. “Wouldn’t that be more of an achievement? Doesn’t matter how or when they get it written, does it?”
“You know what I think?” says Tony. “Your perfect glamping retreat is the problem here. Not that I’m saying it doesn’t work, but if you want to shake it up a bit, get to the heart of what makes people tick, stick them in a Survivor situation, and watch them grow. Works every time, man.”
Kim rolls her eyes. “He can’t take a bunch of authors away, tell them to build their own shelter, and then starve them. Just because you thrive on adrenaline, doesn’t mean everyone else does.”
“Why not?” Tony shrugs. “It’ll reveal a different side to them.”
“It’s a fair point,” says Sandra. She is thoughtful, chewing her bottom lip. “They’ll be too busy surviving to worry about forgetting their Thesaurus. Take people out of their comfort zone and you’ll find what they’re truly made of.”
“Absolutely,” says Jeff. “It’s why this show is still so popular. It isn’t about watching you guys struggle; it’s about watching you climb the tree and reaching the highest apple.”
Kim nods. “I never really knew what I was capable of until I was thrown in at the deep end. I mean, I practiced before the show started. I worked out, I learnt how to start a fire, I even went spearfishing, but nothing prepares you for living and breathing it. It’s a whole different ballgame when you don’t get to sleep on your own pillow at night.”
“Or get your mom to make you a coffee in the morning,” adds John. “Lack of caffeine, man. Take that away from your authors and see what they come up with.”
“The next Alice in Wonderland,” says Olivia.
“How do you think a group of writers would feel about being dumped on a deserted island and told to fend for themselves?” Sandra asks.
I tell her that I would have to sell it as a ‘finding their inner strengths’ package, rather than a retreat.
“I know what you’re thinking,” says Jeff. “I can see it in your face. You’re thinking that no one will want to come. That they’ll book themselves into a comfortable spa where they can drift away on a full body massage and a cup of green tea. But you’re wrong. You know how many people apply for this show every season?”
I nod and tell him that I can imagine. I ask if anyone has discovered their own story, while they’ve been on the show.
“Someone I was on the show with,” says Natalie, “realised that she reacted way differently to the rest of us in various situations. She was permanently wired for the worst. So, after, she had some therapy treatment and it turns out something had happened to her mom when she was a kid, something her stepdad did, and she’d been living in danger mode ever since. She’s in Tibet now, learning meditation and mindfulness. It wasn’t something I learned about myself, I know.” She shrugs.
“What you learned about yourself,” says Jeff, smiling, “is that someone else felt confident confiding in you.”
“I learned that I’m perfect,” says Tony.
Everyone groans and rolls their eyes.
That’s what you’re looking for, isn’t it – transformation?
Until now, I’d always believed that offering a luxurious retreat was the best way to a writer’s soul, that wanting for nothing meant they could switch off from reality. I tell the group that I’ve even looked at a retreat on board a boat where time might stand still, and nature pass us by so that we have nothing to focus on but what’s inside.
“Try sinking the boat and see what happens,” says Todd.
“Ooh, savage,” says Sandra, grinning.
“Maybe send them on a boat-building course first,” suggests Olivia.
“I think the show changes everyone,” says Jeff. “That’s what you’re looking for, isn’t it – transformation? If so, I think taking them out of their comfort zone and watching them react might produce some unexpected results. With the right people. Get that right and you’re on your way.”
Olivia taps the side of her nose and salutes me. “Netflix Original in the making.”
I think we’re all a little bit sticky in our own way. Depends how we use it.
I inform them that I might be taking notes tomorrow. The heat of Australia’s outback is probably a bit harsh for what I have in mind, but somewhere like Coral Island would be perfect.
“Or you could give them some fur coats and take them to Siberia,” says Jeremy.
“They could pretend they’re in Narnia.” Kim laughs.
I finish my food and wash it down with the remains of my beer and ask if any of them realised when they were on the show, whether they had been chosen as glue to bond the pack together, or as a source of abrasion. Or did that manifest in ways beyond their control?
John is first to answer. “I think we’re all a little bit sticky in our own way. Depends how we use it.”
“I think the situation determines the natural order,” says Jeff. “Take the fabulous suggestions on offer tonight of sinking a boatful of authors or abandoning them in Narnia.” He grins. “Two drastically different locations, which will prompt very different reactions in the players. And then you need to decide whether you want them working as one team or in competition against each other.”
I say that while their enthusiasm is infectious and is swaying me to try this out for the next retreat, we’ve all forgotten one important factor – I’m not offering a financial reward in return for survival.
“No, but you are helping people to find their story,” says Jeff. “And that’s got to be priceless.”
I ask if anyone here would be interested in joining the retreat if I promise no sinking boats and no snow. Everyone raises a hand.
I like the comparison of people being glue and that everyone is a "bit sticky". It is interesting to see how one person can change the whole dynamic of a group. And for the record, I would totally join in on this type of writing retreat! Sounds fun!
I could imagine that selling well to a rich/privileged/white crowd who also haven't had to face much in the way of trauma. If someone's grown up poor/minoritised/disabled, there's already been WAY too much survival to want to pay someone to simulate it. Maybe poor/traumatised people could be offered comfort and stability to find their stories - or move into the houses of the rich people who can afford such a retreat while they're away 'roughing it' (though the rich people would prob be grateful if they did have poor people in the island - life is constantly working out creative solutions when things break and need fixing on no budget with whatever can be gleaned from friends and skips ;-)