School camp for academics

I’m on a writing retreat this week, spending time with some other europhile academics on the south coast of New South Wales. We’ve finished our first day by sitting around the bonfire, accompanying Molly and Johannes as they play guitar. There’s great food (thank you Don), plenty of booze (thank you Saskia) and plenty of good thinking going on. Some of us may have even written a few words.

Our retreat is the Kioloa field station, a part of the ANU. It’s rural, a few minutes walk from the beach and set up much like any other school camp (except for the good food and alcohol of course). I’m in a dorm with four other women who don’t wake me up when I’m catching up on lost sleep after the wedding with ‘race day flair’ (more on that later when I’ve found photos). The purpose of the retreat is to bring together doctoral students, postdocs (yay! that’s me!) and profs and just concentrate on writing in quiet surrounds and in the company of people who know what you’re talking about.

The only fixed item on the agenda is the lunchtime seminar – aside from that, your activities are up to you. It’s a bit of a shock at first but I think we’ll grasped the opportunity of solitude very quickly. I’ve adopted a tree outside our cottage as my writing tree, somewhere to sit, think, scribble and ponder. It’s times like this that I realise how important it is to understand myself, to know what helps me think, to know that it’s ok to put the pen or the laptop down for a while to walk along the beach or take a look at what surrounds me.

Before I started work this morning I decided to refresh myself by taking the time to stop and look at what caught my eye. I took my camera and photographed those things that struck me and reflecting on why I was attracted to a rock, a tree or some other little part of the landscape. I’ve noticed that I am attracted to texture and then to colour; a contrast in either. I like the detail that is a part of a far larger whole, in much the same way that I love the detail and precision of a case study and the larger theory that it demonstrates.

I have learned through (many, many) years of doctoral study how it is that I learn, how to ‘allow’ myself to be creative, when to let a problem settle in the back of my mind, when to drag it to the front, and when to stop and listen to the thought that has suddenly crashed my brain. And finally, I’ve got the hint about how my creativity works the same way whether it’s in academia or textiles or drawing or designing. It’s about trusting yourself, understanding your own ways and thoughts, letting it go, bringing the thoughts back in, discipline and freewheeling when time is right.

And always write it down.

I think it’s time for bed – they’ve started singing Roxanne.



  1. kate said,

    November 4, 2008 at 7:11 am

    I wish I’d come too.

    6 days and approx 7,000 words to go. Happy Cup Day!

  2. Mary said,

    November 4, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    This sounds blissful – and always a good idea to go to bed when Roxanne starts!!

    I just went for the favourite this year – too lazy to do otherwise!

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