To write in solitude

What the faculty writing retreats at Casey are like
by Tobias Sednef

Started in 2017 and organized by Dr. Peter Moe, an Associate Professor of English, SPU Faculty Writing Retreats have given teachers of all SPU departments the opportunity to write uninterrupted for hours upon end and to allow a serene space in which they can allow their creativity to flourish. So, unlike many writing workshops, the retreat’s schedule does not impose any requirements or objectives upon its attendees. Rather, apart from a few hours dedicated to meals, the faculty spend their time as they wish to.

Professors Julie Antilla-Garza and Kristine Gritter enjoy the sunroom in the Colonel’s House.
Photo: Peg Achterman

On full days, nine hours would go towards personal writing sessions, which can be spent on whatever adds to one’s creativity. Adding to the freedom of time and the beauty of the natural surroundings, the Camp’s spotty internet connection has been viewed as favorable by some, allowing for undistracted writing.

“I had to pack more intentionally (which books and articles will I need to bring?) and then, because I couldn’t waste time looking at guitar videos on YouTube, I spent more time writing,” said Moe. “The only things to do up there are read, write, take a walk, or take a nap––all of which are great for writing.”

Though most of the time spent at the retreat is spent in creative solitude, there are times when the faculty get together. Kitchens are set aside for those who want to communicate or write together during their writing times. And after the last writing session ends at 8 p.m., the faculty get together and socialize, sometimes at the local pub in Coupeville.            

Dr. Traynor Hansen, also an Associate Professor of English, mentioned how the retreat allows faculty who rarely meet to connect with each other.

“There’s a real sort of solidarity and comradery that comes from everybody… doing their thing and writing during the day,” he said. “And then we have our meals together and sometimes go into town together or take the ferry across to port Townsend together. And we’re still all sort of, like, writing… alongside with other people who are really digging into it too.”

Professor Peter Moe soaks up the view toward Port Townsend as he writes.
Photo: Peg Achterman

Of course, perhaps the greatest benefit the retreat allows is the free, undistracted time that can be devoted to writing pursuits. For the faculty, it allows them either to write creatively or to focus on a larger project in peace.

For Moe, the faculty writing retreat allowed him to finish the first complete draft of his first book, Touching This Leviathan.

“I was sitting at a picnic table outside the colonel’s house, overlooking the inlet, wrote that final paragraph, hit ‘save,’ closed the laptop, and let out a huge exhale.  I’ve done a lot of marathons, even did an Ironman triathlon, but that moment––closing the laptop––felt greater than crossing any of those finish lines.”

For Hansen, the retreat allowed him to write an essay on William Hazlett for publication. “For me, [a key part of the retreat] been especially the opportunity to write without stress, to just get away from things for a few days. I have four kids and so, when I’m at home, focused writing and work can be difficult, but then the campus here is where I work and do a lot of my teaching. And so both places are places where it can be easy to distract myself with all sorts of life and other kinds of work. And so the retreat has always been a chance for me, when I went, to just sort of set all of those distractions aside and have some focus time to say, ‘This is my project. This is the thing that I’m working on.’”

Faculty members enjoy the porch of the the Colonel’s House at Camp Casey.
Photo: Peg Achterman

The retreat has been a wonderful experience for many faculty members; yet for the past couple of years, it had been cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. Now, with Hansen taking the lead, the faculty writing retreat is set to resume this summer.

“I know that when I announced that this was happening and invited people to apply for it,” Hansen said, “I just got so much gratitude from people who had been waiting for it, who said, ‘yes, finally, this is it. I’ve been waiting so long for this. You don’t know how much I needed this.’ And so, to have the opportunity to create that space for people and to know that it really is meaningful and beneficial for them, and that they’d been missing that.

“And so it just feels great to be able to say, ‘we’re going to be able to do this for you again,’ and to know how much that means to people.”