For many years, when people asked what I “did” in life, I told them I was a graduate student. Even if people didn’t know exactly what it meant to be a historian-in-training, people had some idea that graduate school meant near-poverty wages, research, and reading a lot of (generally poorly written) books.
As an ex-academic, I’ve been feeling a little bit lost as far as a job title. My website defines me as a “Historian. Writer. Editor.” In my non-academic life, people sometimes still don’t know what it means to be a historian or what I write or edit. As my new non-academic vision of my life keeps coming into clearer focus, I started feeling like three separate descriptors didn’t really describe what I now want to do in the world. I am indeed a historian, writer, and editor, but I had a nagging sense that my life was a little bit bigger than three categories. Defining myself as a historian, writer, and editor felt a bit bigger than narrowing what I do in life to the academic holy trinity of teaching, research, and service, but still not a full reflection of who I was. As I started (over)thinking about this problem, I started wondering what new job title I might have. I often feel weird about calling myself an “entrepreneur,” as if I have some edgy new startup company with a new app and work in an open office space where people bring dogs to work. I suppose I could have been “Founder” or “President” or “Proprietor.” Those titles, however, bored me and I wondered if I could create something a little more exciting.
I recently updated my one year vision statement, which in part, reads: “I’m connecting with people and sharing with them my love of Latin American history and culture in ways that are engaging, creative, profitable, and fun, including teaching through experience and travel.” I realize that my “Historian, Writer, Editor” job titles didn’t reflect my vision statement. I thought about what kind of job title I might have if that were my life. I’ve always admired people who had creative job titles, so thought about whether I could invent a job title that reflected the new directions I was taking with my business.
After some thinking, I came up with something awesome and fun. I am now the Director of Creative Cultural Inquiry and Critical Thinking Experiences of my new business, the Mérida Collective Writing Project.
I got a little jolt from thinking about my new job title. It seemed like fun and a way to combine everything I wanted to do in my one year and broad and flexible enough to leave room for some real growth. It also gave me a purpose and direction—all decisions can now be measured against 1) whether they’ll help me thrive and 2) if X decision fits with my new job title. The very first thing that I’m doing as the Director of Creative Cultural Inquiry and Critical Thinking Experiences is organizing a women’s writing retreat in the beautiful city of Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico. I’ve wanted to do something like this for what seems like ages and now I’ve take a Flying Leap to make it happen!
Here’s the vision: seven women come to Mérida to write for a week. I’ve rented a really lovely Airbnb with space for eight people (so, seven women, plus me). I’m picturing daily writing sessions that help reconnect people to not just their writing practices, but also to themselves. I envision writing as a collective, collaborative process that works best in a supportive environment in which people’s best and most creative selves can emerge. I'm thinking up some intentions for the retreat. Connection. Inspiration. Joy. Maybe all three.
As I’ve worked with and coached writers over the last few years, I’ve come to believe that your relationship with your writing is only as good as your relationship to yourself. For a lot of writers I’ve known, their writing dysfunction is just an external manifestation of their dysfunctional internal relationship with themselves. I know that in my own writing practice, when I start getting emotionally right with ME, my writing starts coming together in new ways. Writing I don’t think, can ever be entirely struggle-free, but I believe that it can be a whole lot better than most of us allow it to be.
A retreat, obviously, can’t fix a lifetime of writing dysfunction, but it can do a lot of make you feel supported in your writing. And feeling connected to and supported by community is a vital ingredient in successful and productive writing. Creating a supportive space for community writing is exactly what I’ve been doing with my weekly Shut Up and Write sessions this year. The whole Shut Up and Write thing started out as a self-serving way for me to feel supported in my writing, but much to my delight, a whole lot of new people are getting involved! I’ve now got a semi-regular group of people who write along with me on Tuesdays (11am EDT!). It’s been really gratifying to see people making regular progress in their writing and feeling awesome about it. I want to recreate the community feeling of Shut Up and Write IRL in Mexico.
A writing retreat can also help you look at things in a new way. Far from your daily routine and piles of laundry, traveling often lets us view things in a new way. Travel is also a phenomenal way to sharpen problem-solving skills (Where is the bus? How do I find X? What are the magic words I need to utter so that these people will sell me food?), which I am convinced carries over into writing. Being in new places also gets me out of of my comfort zone entirely and places me in that magic place in which I can take a great big Flying Leap with my creative work. I find that I start questioning a lot of my emotional baggage and negative beliefs. Traveling has let me try on a whole lot of new identities: what if I’m now the kind of person who hikes through jungles? What if I’m now the kind of person who writes successful novels? Trying on those identities when traveling has allowed me to act “as if” and become those people. (I really did hike through a jungle for two days once. And now I’m working on being a successful book writing person.)
If you’ve never been to Mérida, you’re in for a treat. Mérida is a great and safe city, plus being really beautiful. I’m here now and I’m feeling re-energized and re-inspired by this place. [And yes, in case you’re wondering, Mérida really is hot and steamy. Think Florida in the summer. If you love heat, you’ll love this. And yes! The place has a pool! :D] One of my favorite things in life (besides the writing stuff) is facilitating creative cultural experiences for people. I’d hate for you to leave Merida and feel like you hadn’t interacted with this place in any way. So I’m building in a lot of unstructured time for people to explore. Plus, I’m building some really great cultural stuff, primarily FOOD. Thanks to people I know, I’ve packed the lunch menu with all of my favorite authentic Yucatec food, including queso relleno and the famed pib (generally only reserved for dia de los muertos).
I’m so massively excited about this! If my retreat sounds like something you want in your life, you can get all the juicy details by clicking the button below. Let me know if you have questions! I’d so love to see you here and would be honored to write with you.