My Self-Imposed Seclusion (Shared)

I finally decided I’d had enough. After having spent months working with my life story coach to free up my suppressed creativity, I found myself spending less time than ever in pursuit of my creative endeavors. After having spent all of 2019 and 2020 creating daily motivational slide images and then devoting 2021 to creating 365 slide images, one per day, dedicated to the subject of love… nothing. Well, almost nothing. There was still my professional work, my day job, which is steeped heavily in business and marketing communications. There was also the occasional poetic slide published on social media — less than one per month — and the occasional (read: even more seldom) blog post here on MGD Time, but none of this could ever pass for forward progress, not after the things I’d already accomplished.

My excuse? Life. I work 35 miles from home, fighting traffic both ways. I’m tired when I get home at the end of the day. My wife, who suffered a debilitating injury a year ago, needs my help with common household chores. So I help, during the week and on weekends. This all sounds good, doesn’t it? But it’s bullshit. It’s not about time but priorities and when your actions do not serve your priorities, stress ensues — self-instigated stress, but stress nonetheless. There is no such thing as a writer who doesn’t write. Understanding that I had caused the problem, this began to bother me greatly. I needed to take massive, corrective action and fast. In other words, I needed a hard reset of sorts.

The Plan
I had a bit of unused vacation time left at work, which would be lost if not taken soon. After consulting with my wife, I arranged to take the second week of October off and then use a portion of that week for a solitary, off-site writing retreat. Knowing full well that if I tried to do this at home, I would end up doing chores and then beating myself up for not following my own priorities, I began looking for affordable accommodations a safe distance from home, friends, and heavily populated areas. I set my sights on south central Wisconsin and soon found a place that met nearly all of my criteria.

I have ridden my motorcycle past the Round Barn Lodge, located in Spring Green, numerous times on my way home from other destinations over the past years. With its bright red buildings, the place caught my eye every time, yet I had no idea what the place was, nor did I really care until I began looking for rural accommodations with moderate rates and high-speed internet. As had been the case while riding by in real life, the Round Barn Lodge stood out like a sore thumb in my online search. Well-reviewed, fairly priced, and ideally situated, the lodge also offered a decent swimming pool, rooms with king-size beds, ample working space, and picturesque surroundings. Surely this must be the place, I thought to myself. After trading a few emails with their general manager, I booked her favorite room, a deluxe lodge-themed king room, facing away from the road and located on the second floor at the farthest end of the hall.

The Execution
On Wednesday, October 12, I left my home in Plainfield under less-than-ideal conditions and things deteriorated from there. A frontal passage had been moving from the southwest toward the northeast and if I was going to reach my destination as planned, I would be driving through what appeared on the radar as a near-vertical line of red. Light drizzle gave way to moderate rain. Moderate rain gave way to heavy rain. The low point of my trip occurred near the Illinois/Wisconsin border, where my phone began chirping an alert from NWS of a tornado warning in my area. In all candor, the rain had already lightened up as the warning alert sounded, but just to be safe, I pulled off at the Wisconsin Welcome Center at Beloit and checked the radar. Sure enough, I had driven up behind the brunt of the storm, which was already east of my location. So it shouldn’t be a total loss, I made some small talk with someone at the tourism information desk, who turned out to be an active writer. She proceeded to hand over numerous publications that she thought I might find useful. I was grateful and we were both grinning ear-to-ear as we bade each other farewell.

As I continued north, moderate rain gave way to drizzle and before long, gray clouds gave way to beautiful blue skies. My first scheduled stop was just a few miles northeast of my final destination. My wife and I first began visiting Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac back in the mid-to-late 1980s. The late Bob Wollersheim was still living at the time and as I remember it, the main entrance to the winery was the arched doorway of what is now the entrance to their bistro. There was no beautiful, winding walkway back then as there is now. In fact, if I remember right, the parking lot hadn’t even been paved yet. But, oh, we adored this place and every weekend trip we took to that area included a stop at the winery.

Now celebrating its 50th year of operation, the Wollersheim complex includes not only a winery and vineyard but also a distillery — and a pretty good one at that. Me, I came for the wine and left with a half-case of my favorite selections, some of which I would drink during my self-imposed retreat.

The Round Barn Lodge turned out to be exactly what I had been looking for. As far as lodging goes, this place is a little unique. It’s situated on the edge of town, not that the town is all that big. It’s eco-friendly, as its field of solar panels indicates. The staff is helpful as well as personable. And if my room was any indication, the accommodations are comfortable, though not luxurious, and as clean as they come for an inn of this class. As soon as I checked in and unloaded my car, I knew I was going to do just fine there.

Rather than go out to eat on my first night, I opted to visit a local market, where I picked up some locally-made cheese, a box of crackers upon which to put the cheese, and some almond biscotti to enjoy for breakfast on mornings when I didn’t go out. Then I settled in and began to do what I had come to do.

The Work
I spent all of 2021 producing daily free verse love poems for social media, 365 of them in all, published once daily using the hashtag #365daysoflove. At some point, I had in mind that I would publish a bound hardcopy version of the series. Unfortunately, I had produced the poems in no particular order — I just wrote them as they came to me — and it hadn’t occurred to me to somehow arrange them into a series as I wrote each piece. So arranging the series became my first hurdle, one that I had started months ago but never finished, until around 11 PM that first night. I went to bed tired but happy.

When I first began dropping my unedited love poems into a preformatted Word template, they seemed incomplete. What I had originally produced for social media looked nice and fit well on a tiny square image, but upon revisiting them, each piece seemed more like part of a free verse poem instead of the whole enchilada. So my second hurdle quickly became fleshing out the remainder of each poem, one at a time. This was not going to happen fast if I wanted them to be any good. At the end of day two, I had finished rewriting all of ten poems, less than three percent of the total. I went to bed tired but hopeful.

While finishing the task at hand was out of the question, quantifying it was not. I got up on day three, the last full day of my stay, with that outcome in mind. The only time I left my room was to have supper. Up until that time, and also after I got back, I worked on my poems. At the end of the night, I had rewritten my way through the month of January. Using that as my gauge, I reckoned that it would take the equivalent of six weeks in seclusion to finish the rewrite — not practical but still a very useful measurement, something to take home with me and put to good use. I went to bed utterly exhausted but satisfied and just a little more knowledgeable about my project as a whole.

The Fun
Whenever I travel, I enjoy visiting local restaurants, drive-ins, bars, etc. that I could not experience while staying home. Even though I did spend some mealtimes snacking in my room, this trip was no exception. On the morning of my second day, I ventured out to Arena, Wisconsin to enjoy breakfast at Grandma Mary’s Café. I knew I was in a good place when I saw most of the parking spaces filled and several tables inside populated with locals — you know, farmers, senior citizens, and the like — all chattering away. I ordered my usual, a couple of pancakes with a side of bacon and a cup of black coffee, all of which I enjoyed very much.

That meal alone kept me full until suppertime, when I ventured all the way across the road from the lodge to a classic roadside establishment called RumbleSeats Drive-In, where I indulged in a burger called the Marilyn Monroe. Not for the faint-of-heart or the weak-of-arteries, the Marilyn is definitely not health food. In fact, it’s not even finger food! I had to use a fork and knife to eat this wonderful creation. I should point out that there is a major chain fast food joint nearby that probably had a line at their drive-thru. This place was much less busy. Why? Because the other place is a major chain, I guess, and by comparison, this place looks a little worn and dated. But hey, that’s part of the charm! Me, I’ll choose a decent local joint every time. If the food is good and service friendly, places like this deserve our business. When in doubt, go for that experience.

On my last night, the only time I had left my room that whole day, I went just a few doors further across the road to Arthur’s Supper Club for, what else, a traditional Wisconsin Friday fish fry. I started my meal off right, with a brandy old-fashioned that was big enough to last me through the entire meal. I opted to include the soup and salad bar, which was basic but very fresh. My batter-fried cod was crispy, flakey, and utterly delicious. The tartar sauce appeared to be homemade and was very flavorful. All in all, I enjoyed my meal as much as I possibly could while eating alone. Another good choice.

The Run for Home
For the most part, the weather during my stay had been overcast and chilly with occasional drizzle. By contrast, there was nary a cloud in the sky when I packed up and headed for home. Having had a decent taste of personal productivity, there was a part of me that wanted to stay longer, but my objectives had been fulfilled. It was time to go home and apply what I had learned.

On my way out of the area, I stopped in Arena again, this time at Arena Cheese, the proclaimed home of Co-Jack, located directly across the street from Grandma Mary’s. After admiring their large fiberglass mouse outside, I went in and picked up a few different types of cheese for my wife and me to enjoy later. They only make fresh curds during the week, so I had to settle for day-old curds, but they still squeaked. Good stuff!

Before crossing back into Illinois, I pulled off in Beloit to get gas and fill up my abdominal cavity one more time. A little roadside research on my phone turned up a gem of a place called Doc’s Seriously Good Food. They weren’t kidding! Think fast food, only not quite so fast, and much better in terms of quality and flavor. That’s Doc’s. Here is one more instance where I would choose a place like this over a chain any day. I’ll be back.

The Lesson
Did my controlled run away from home help? Yes it did, in several ways. For openers, it was fundamentally therapeutic for me to spend that many uninterrupted hours working at my craft, writing. Beyond getting something done, beyond working toward a goal that I had set sometime in 2021, I was living my guiding purpose. Everybody has one, that essential reason for living that gives meaning to their existence. Mine is that of a storyteller and guide, to share experiences, feelings, and ideas with others. This endeavor got me away from the distractions of my present life and back in touch with myself and my purpose. That’s what made it worth my time and money. No regrets.

Think about this. For a period of days, I was hiding. Only two people in the world, my wife and the general manager of that lodge, knew where I was staying. Yet throughout my time away, I was sharing glimpses on Facebook and now, just a few days afterward, I am telling you all about it here on my blog site. Why? To what end? Because this is what I do! And everything that I do means less to me if not shared.

There is a nice crescent-shaped pool at the Round Barn that looked most inviting. Even though I always carry a pair of trunks when I travel, I did not swim once during this stay. I would have had the pool to myself most of the time. No matter. I don’t care to swim alone, especially in a nice pool like that. For me, what’s the point if I can’t look across at someone and ask, “Isn’t this great?”

There was a large flat-panel television in my room that I never once turned on during my stay. I hadn’t driven 235 miles to watch TV alone. I came to work on something that would eventually be shared. The collection of poems will eventually be published and whether I sell ten copies or a million, I’ll have fulfilled my purpose once again, just as I’m going to do the moment I share this post.

As always, thanks for hanging with me.

The Ride

My last post, My Apolitical Take on Masking, went over like a lead balloon with my readers. Okay, I get that. I’m neither a health and science writer nor a political writer, so that was a bit of a curveball. Fair enough.

These have been most unusual times for many of us, in so many ways. I have close friends who are not yet able to articulate their fears about what has been going on in their lives. I am sympathetic to them because I have things going on in my own life that I don’t talk about, either. Moreover, circumstances are such that I have a deal of free, solitary, discretionary time, during my evenings and weekends, that I assure you, I never wanted to have. But I have it. So I did what any writer would do… er. well, almost.

I’ve been taking a poetry class. Not so that I could begin spewing out love sonnets — although that would be something — but because I wanted to push my boundaries further with regard to the way I use words to convey not just thoughts and ideas but also emotions and sensory experiences. Poetry.

The course I’m taking recently had a session on metaphor and included a writing prompt on crafting a conceit, where the entire poem becomes an extended metaphor. My readers can breathe easy because I didn’t write a poem about masking. No, I wrote something I called The Ride. It did okay in peer review, so I thought I’d share it here.

The Ride

On a Summer Day in February

miss-scarlett

Sounds like a good title for an article about global warming, right? I assure you I have no such lofty ambition. But it was an unusually warm, sunny day here in Chicagoland today and with very little residual salt visible on the roads to deter me, I decided to take Miss Scarlett out for a run.

First I had to clean her up a bit, as I have yet to put my dust cover on the bike this winter. I use a product called Plexus on my windshield. It’s a very effective cleaner, leaves a protective coating behind, and does not have a yellowing effect on clear plastics.  For all the bodywork, my favorite product for years has been Original Bike Spirits Spray Cleaner and Polish. As waterless detailing goes, these two products have given me very satisfactory results.

After a quick check of my tires and air suspension pressure, I disconnected my smart charger and fired up the bike. Sweet music indeed! I suited up and took a shakedown cruise through the neighborhood—always a good idea after spending more than a few weeks off the bike—before heading southwest toward Starved Rock State Park, a major attraction in the state of Illinois.


Major attraction indeed! The large parking lot by the Visitor Center was packed, with cars illegally parked along the outer drive lane. Later on I discovered, on my way out of the park, that the overflow parking lots had gotten pretty full as well. Ah, but what would one expect on such a beautiful day?

sr-lotsr-grounds

I don’t consider myself a good “alone” person, but today, following a rather trying week at work, I was in serious need of this wind therapy and personal down time. As I rolled along Illinois 71, between Yorkville and Ottawa, I left all the stresses of the past week behind me. Once I had gotten to the state park and began my ascent to the top of Starved Rock, I had let go even more. By the time I’d reached the summit huffing and puffing, I’d forgotten  what I was so stressed out about.

 

 


I walked around the top of Starved Rock for a while and then walked to the end of the paved walking path before returning to my bike to head home. Under other circumstances, I might have been less than pleased about the number of attendees present. Instead, every time I passed a squirming rug rat or an errant dog,  I smiled from within, only too happy to have walked amongst all this humanity.

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I’ve been coming to this park since I was five, maybe longer. It’s beautiful. If you live in the region and you want to see something cool, please check this place out.

Thanks for hanging with me.

Likes to Play with Food

italian

I like to cook, but sometimes I can’t leave well enough alone. I like foods a certain way and seldom follow a recipe to the letter. Most of what I learned about cooking, putting certain foods together, etc., I learned by watching my mother. She seldom followed a recipe, either. I don’t go crazy yet ordinary often isn’t quite good enough. My arena, therefore, falls somewhere between the two.

shrimp_diavolo

About a year ago, I began toying with the idea for an unconventional cookbook that, despite having no conventional recipes per se, explores my approach to a variety of dishes, including creative uses for the leftovers. All of this would be interspersed with anecdotes relating to the food and the people who caused them to happen, whether directly or indirectly. The working title of this book continues to be What Recipe?

During most of 2016, What Recipe? remained essentially an idea and nothing more. I developed a preliminary outline and penned a chapter or two, but that was it… until last December. Since then, thanks to the constant encouragement (okay, pestering) of a close friend, this book is actually taking shape.

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I can’t say how soon What Recipe? will become available for order, but it’s a safe bet that my online followers will be among the first to hear about it. Wish me luck, and thanks for hanging with me.