The economy dive hit me hard. I’m a writer by trade, but not the fun kind, which left me little time to work on my own creative projects, let alone remember what they were. Going to a writing retreat was out of the question — who had the time or money? So when Eliza called to tell me I’d been granted an award to travel to Iceland and study with renowned authors, I nearly dropped to the floor.
The moment you get off the plane in Iceland, you feel something has changed. For me, it was the first time I’d ever left the country, and I was plopped down into this alien-looking rocky landscape and was jolted out of my old reality. There wasn’t a thing in the duty free store that I didn’t want to eat or drink, and that was just the airport. And perhaps Iceland trains their citizens in wry, hilarious humor, but all I know is I found every native I spoke to was friendly and funny.
Even though I had to wait a bit for my room to be ready at the Natura, I was suddenly already surrounded by friends in the lobby. Everyone had descended from somewhere else around the world to talk and practice their crafts and were so friendly and forward, it melted any vestigial anxiety of adolescent summer camps.
When we all gathered for dinner and a reading, I was finally able to meet Megan Ross, the other winner of the Alumni Award, with whom I’d been chatting regularly online, developing a friendship. We sat with Elina Hirvonen, one of the featured writers, and immediately hit it off, Megan talking about balancing motherhood with creative output, and I talking about juggling multiple creative pursuits with making money. Also, can I just say: The food at the Natura is so good that I’m still thinking about it months later.
From there, we started our days of creative workshops. I was lucky enough to take two workshops with Adelle Waldman, who gave us so many practical exercises that I instantly felt unstuck in the large project that had stalled me out several times in the past year. I can’t begin to explain how freeing that was and that I was able to celebrate the feeling with so many other likeminded writers over a pint of beer. I’d done an MFA in fiction writing and had a background full of workshops, but I’d been so disconnected from the fun and excitement of creating that this experience was a major relief. And I’m not even covering the tourism part of this trip.
I still can’t believe all I saw and heard in such a short time in Iceland. I caught the last night of the Northern Lights and drank exquisite hot cocoa by a darkened lake, ooing and aahing over nature. I drank lichen schnapps and snacked on the best lox I have ever tasted and listened to an Icelandic folk artist do his own rendition of American hits in a way that felt almost like home. I drank champagne and ate chocolate-covered berries at City Hall, before watching the daily protests at the parliament, marveling at this country’s civic pride.
And on the day-long Golden Circle tour Eliza and Erica planned for all of us, I was grinning from ear to ear, trying to catch on video a geysir bursting skyward. We explored the countryside and listened to a riveting lecture on the history of Icelandic literature; it’s amazing to be in a place that values words so greatly. We climbed to the top of waterfalls and strolled through a valley between two tectonic plates. Everything felt BIG. At the art museum, I viewed the work of Ólöf Kristín Sigurðardóttir and was finally able to put my finger on exactly why Iceland felt so beautiful — the colors. Sigurðardóttir’s work captures the multitude of greens and browns that comprise the gorgeous countryside, something that’s difficult to describe in words. But that’s fine and good, because now you’ll just have to go and see it.
And did I mention the food? I have never wanted to be a food writer, but Iceland does inspire some interesting desires. If you’ve ever wished that your writing retreat gave you both the time and enthusiasm to write but also engaged you fully with the local customs and culture, the Iceland Writers Retreat is just that. And it’s heaven.
The application period for the 2017 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award will open on September 1.