Late Sunday afternoon, minutes after my last panel and still exalted from stimulating sharing at Ad Astra 2015, I threw off my jacket and put on my sandals then drove west on the 401 in search of adventure. A playful wind blew as I reached my destination: Niagara on the Lake.
This was my first writer’s date this year. And, in truth, I’d almost forgotten to attend the SF con because I was so excited about my date. No, it wasn’t that kind of date; more like a mini-writer’s retreat. Julia Cameron coined the term “artist’s date” to define any kind of muse-feeding activity. The key is to do it ALONE. Basically an artist/writer date is a block of time you set aside to nurture your creative muse. In its primary form, says Cameron, “the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers…That means no lovers, friends, spouses, children—no taggers-on of any stripe.”
It’s just you and your inner-artist: your inner creative child.
My Writer’s Date started with Niagara on the Lake and La Toscana di Carlotta, possibly NOTL’s primo Bed and Breakfast (go check the rave reviews on Trip Advisor). Located close to King Street in the historic village, the B&B is a lovely heritage house with beautifully designed rooms. Carlotta passionately prepares an authentic Italian breakfast that includes freshly squeezed orange juice, yogurt and fresh fruit, bread, crostini, eggs created like a work of art and even dessert! But that’s not even the best part; both Carlotta and partner Kash are such beautiful people and wonderful hosts. You start out thinking they’re so interesting and end up embracing them as friends.
I stayed 2 days and my activities included a evening walks through the charming historic town (where Il Gelato di Carlotta is a must—considered a gem by actress Moya O’Connel), several ice-wine tastings, walks along the Niagara River and even a blitz look at Niagara Falls and Tesla’s statue.
It was a dizzying sensory intake, tempered with wonderful reflection to Nature’s awakening. Spring in southern Ontario lies just on the cusp of bursting into its full glory. I could smell its intent on the warm breeze and in the joyful excitement of birds and butterflies in the still-Spartan forest. At the edge of the wooded bluff I found a moss-covered log to sit on and listened to the water lapping below. I pulled out my new fountain pen and notepad and started to write. I’d left my computer behind and revelled in the pen flowing across the paper, forming words like a magician.
I had set no solid itinerary (except that I had to be back in Toronto to teach the next day). And, because of it, I experienced everything with the open wonder that comes with no expectation. I relaxed and explored. I poked around and smelled the dirt. I napped. I dawdled. I went in circles and changed my mind. I chased after butterflies and listened to the wind. I got a hazelnut gelato and licked it slowly. I wandered off the forest path and got lost. I discovered an obscure winery and tasted Cabernet Franc ice wine. I wept to Bocelli and Brightman’s “Time to Say Goodbye” … Mama Mia! I took my socks and shoes off and took pictures of my feet (No, I didn’t then put them on Facebook). I sat on a forest path bench and read a book. I drove down roads I’d never been on and let them take me somewhere… I found myself somehow back at Il Gelato di Carlotta and decided that fate had brought me there to try another ice cream flavour.
Think of doing a writer’s date from time to time. If not consciously to re-awaken your Muse, then to let it know you care. Every muse needs a bit of tender loving care. Spend time in solitude. A long country walk. A stroll along the beach. An exploration of your own area at night or at the break of dawn.
You don’t even need to leave the house. In a panel I sat on with Kelly Armstrong at Ad Astra, she shared what a colleague of hers did. From time to time the colleague disappeared into the bathroom of her house with a snorkel. The snorkel was the critical element. With it, she could completely immerse herself in a dark calm and block out the whole outside world, leaving her with her own infinite universe.
The writer’s date is a gift you give yourself. It’s a gift of receiving, of opening yourself to discovery, wonder, and inspiration. It is ultimately a self-nurturing activity in which you let your child-self out to play. “The imagination-at-play is at the heart of all good work,” Cameron tells us. Cameron also warns that you may find yourself avoiding artist dates. “Recognize this resistance as a fear of intimacy—self-intimacy.”
It may be one of the hardest things to do. You (never mind others) will insist that it’s a selfish thing and you are shirking some duty you must be leaving behind with it. And you’ll find some reason to back out or include someone. Learn to guard against these invasions!
Keep it sacred. Let your imagination play and discover—or rediscover—what it loves.
As Carl Jung astutely observed, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.