A week ago I said goodbye to these three and drove away from my little home in Santa Monica.
It was weirdly easy to do, an indication, I think, of just how much I needed to get away.
I think the most startling thing for me about being a parent, from the very first day, is how little time and energy I am able to devote to myself. And ten months into the existence of my second child, I’ve been feeling it more than ever. Most days I have time to do the very bare minimum in order to maintain my life. I respond to the emails that absolutely must be responded to, I get the dishes done, the kids fed and clothed and to school or playdates, I pay bills (not always on time) and make sure I’m on top of things when it comes to my work and private practice.
But that’s it. Our bathroom needed to be cleaned like two weeks ago. Half of our houseplants have died in the last six months, we’re out of milk right now, I haven’t posted a blog here in a week, I have four unlistened to voicemails, an absurd amount of email to respond to, and I could really use an update on my toenail polish.
Not to mention needing some time to just sit and be quiet with my thoughts.
So last week, with the aid of my husband who so amazingly agreed to take on the girls so I could do this, I hit the road.
To say it was exhilarating was an understatement.
My destination was the New Camoldi Hermitage, a Catholic monastery on a cliff in Big Sur, about five hours north of here. I first read about this place in Christina Haag’s memoir Come to the Edge, and have fantasized about going there ever since. The monastery offers silent retreats, as in meals taken in your room and a vow of silence while in residence. The thought both intimidated and utterly beguiled me.
I booked two nights, and planned three days of driving, reading, contemplation, and silence. I took with me 5 books of poetry, three boxes of old letters from three different people, two journals, and my Kindle which is filled with hundreds of books. There are some things I’ve been trying to get clear on in my life these days, and these things seemed like they might be helpful.
When I first set out I intended to drive straight up there so I could just get on with being quiet. But the moment that I was driving, windows down, sunroof open, music loud, I felt so wide open and free.
The coast was wild and beautiful and the road stretched out in front of me and I began to stop every thirty minutes or so, pretty much each time I saw a beautiful spot. I would park and get out of the car and I would stand at the edge of the land and breathe in the ocean air and remember what it felt like to just be me.
It had been so, so long since I’d been alone. At least alone with the knowledge that there was more alone time coming. Usually I’m alone with twenty minutes to spare, and a panicky feeling that the seconds are just bleeding out.
But not on Sunday. On Sunday, with two whole days laid out before me, I felt like I could breathe.
I arrived at the monastery in the late afternoon. It was a two mile drive up a mountain and this bench was half way there. Of course, I stopped.
In fact, I made a point of sitting on this bench at least twice a day for all three days. An experience I’ll probably never forget.
My room was plain, and it was perfect.
There was a private garden beyond those windows, that looked at the sea. And there were walls so tall that I had utter privacy, standing there looking out into the distance.
Inside I unpacked all of my things, my books and boxes of letters and journals, and then I stood there, just breathing. I had no cell reception and there was no wifi. I was truly cut off, disconnected from the world I know.
It was both unnerving, and calming.
Over the next two days I spent a lot of time in that room. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. Journal entries, letters, a new book idea, and more letters.
I read too. I read through all the letters I brought. I read all five of those books of poetry. I read a couple of books on my Kindle. (Man, there are a lot of hours in the day when you’re not tending to children.)
I also went for a lot of walks, all around the monastery. I wish I could tell you how good the air smelled, wish I could send some of that right through this screen and into your world.
I took this photo in the early evening on my first night, on a walk around the grounds. The moon was high up in the sky and I was thinking about my friend Julie, and something she wrote in a letter to me a long time ago.
I took this one the next morning. I had woken to the bells ringing in the chapel and outside the fog kissed the dawn.
I took this one later in the day, the sky a resilient kind of blue. I thought about how Vera would have insisted that it was aqua, and how much she has changed the entire scope of my life.
I went for a drive on my second day and I walked on this beach for a long time. I felt wildly lonely, in a really important way.
The truth is that I could have stayed up there for a week, maybe even longer. On the third day when I drove down that mountain, stopping at the bench for the last time, I felt like I was only just getting started. My second night there had been hard. I felt alone, and vulnerable, all of my
defenses distractions stripped away, the real voices in my head louder than ever.
I could hear myself.
I guess that’s what it was.
I could hear myself.
Some of what I heard was exactly what I expected, some of it surprising. Some of it was heartbreaking and some of it was soothing. But it took a couple of days to even just get there, making me realize how little I hear myself back here in my regular life, my life filled with text messages and Instagram, with a thousand emails a day, with my kids pulling at my pant legs and school drop-offs and pick-ups to be on time to, with not enough sleep, and more than enough of everything else.
I came home knowing that I have to find that space more often. I have to work to create that space more often. We all do, us moms and dads. Parenthood can be blindsiding. It takes over before we even realize what’s happened. But the good thing, is that those voices within, the ones we used to be able to hear more clearly, those voices never really go away.
At least mine didn’t.
And even though my time away wasn’t long enough, it was. At least for these two.