The West Coast Retreat

On Thursday, October 18, Marc, Dale, and Jeff B. flew from Atlanta to San Francisco, where they were met by Mike, who flew up from L.A.  They rented a Town & Country van (with a handicapped gear shift, which was actually kind of nice) and headed over towards Berkeley to pick up the key to The Cetusaurus.  Mike had lived in SF, so he was able to play tour guide as we headed across the bridges.

After we picked up the key, we drove a couple of blocks over to Phillip”s studio, a converted loft space crammed full of artists, Phillip included.  Phillip claimed to be a true Lichtenbergian in that he could not attend the very Retreat designed to include the West Coast members because he had work to do, but it was clear that the man is very productive.

Finally we hit the road and made our way over to the coast, where we drove up Highway 1. It is everything you”ve seen in the movies and commercials: a twisty, two-lane highway that hugs the mountains on the right and drops precipitously to the sea on the left.  It is absolutely gorgeous.

It”s also slow going.  The speed limit may be 55 mph, but only people in car ads drive that way.  It took us a good four hours to make it up to the house.  We started in midafternoon, and it was after dark when we got there.  (Great sunset, for which we stopped at one of the dozens of overlooks.)

There were also road signs warning of cows.  Cows.  And then, there were cows.  In the road, utterly unconcerned that they”d be struck by luxury vehicles careening around curves while filming commercials.

The house is exactly as you see it in the photos on the website.  Not as close to the beach as the photos implied, but that was OK.   We unpacked, sorted out sleeping arrangements, and opened the first bottle of wine.  As usual, the Thursday night discussion was over what we hoped to accomplish during the Retreat.

Jeff made no bones about the fact that he had been so productive that he had no intention of working on anything but grad school stuff.  Marc had brought reading to do.  Mike had a script he needed to finish, a song to work on, and juggling to practice.  Dale wanted to get back to re-orchestrating William Blake”s Inn, or failing that, to start on the “Five Easier Pieces,” and to work on The Book of the Labyrinth, a quasi-liturgical resource for meditation sessions in in the labyrinth.

Members will report on their progress in comments.

There had been no grocery store of note on the way up, and so there was no coffee for Friday morning.  Dale awoke early and drove back down to Manchester, where we were assured there was a well-stocked store.  (It was closed by the time we pulled through on Thursday night.)  It was well-stocked, being both a grocery store and an Ace Hardware.  Dale loaded up on essentials and made it back to the house as others were getting prepped for the day.

First, though, we had to go to the beach.  It was walkable, but it”s better to drive.  The beach was a giant boneyard of bleached tree trunk driftwood, driven there by Pacific storms.  Large outcroppings of basalt littered the terrain.

We drank it all in.  Jeff took a zillion photos.  Mike juggled.  Marc communed.   Dale drew labyrinths in the sand and meditated.   We climbed the outcroppings.

Finally we headed back to the house to work.  (See comments.)

The evening was given over to communion and meditation. (There was no hot tub, but a there was a sizable Jacuzzi which we used for solo soakings.)

Saturday.  We worked until lunchtime, and then at Marc”s suggestion drove back down the coast to Gualala for lunch and to play tourist at least a little bit.  Our main objective was the lighthouse at Point Arena, the tallest lighthouse in California, now renovated as an item of  historical interest.  More shipwrecks occurred there than anywhere else on the coast.

The view from the top of the lighthouse—they have removed the  to the museum—was stunning.

We headed back to the house for a little more work.  We wanted to drive down to the beach and watch the sunset from there—perhaps sacrifice a casino online goat or something— and there was some discussion about when we needed to make the trip.  Without internet, we were bereft of much information all weekend.  As Dale was debating starting supper—shrimp and grits—we were startled to realize that the sun, which had appeared to be safely above the horizon, was falling without let into the ocean eternal.

We leapt into the car and  rushed down the hill to the highway, watching with increasing hysteria as the planet revolved faster and faster, destroying our chances at this entirely meaningful experience.  At the end, all we could do was to pull in to an overlook and lamely get out to watch the afterglow.

Back at the house, we settled in to a quiet evening of discussion.  The main topic: “What do you fear the most?”  Loved ones were excluded.  We were honest.  You had to be there.

Sunday morning, we got up and departed around 5:30 am so that we could arrive early enough in San Francisco for Mike to show us some of the sights.  After negotiating the worst road in America over the mountains—we had to stop twice so we could calm our nausea—we emerged into the Sonoma valley.  Vineyards at dawn, quite lovely.   The landscape in general is amazingly beautiful.

When we arrived at the city, we stopped at the battery overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, which is pretty majestic.  In town, we almost resisted referring to the streets of San Francisco, including that section of Lombard Street which Mike took us down because, as he put it, “We haven”t had enough twisty roads today.”

We also went to Fisherman”s Wharf, where Mike took us to the Musée Mécanique, a “collection of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition.”  It was awesome!

Finally, it was time to head to the airport.  We dropped Mike off at the Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio, where his sister would pick him up.  (He was taking an Amtrak train back to LA.)  After lunch at the airport, Jeff split off to go work on a presentation and then board the plane for Norman, OK, where he was attending a Native American conference.  Dale and Marc flew back to Atlanta.

Summations, additions, and emendations in comments.

14 Thoughts on “The West Coast Retreat

  1. This post is not password-protected and will not be until the end of the week.

  2. Rather than join my fellow travelers, I spent my weekend working too much. I need an evening of labyrinthian confession quite soon.

  3. Dale’s account is quite marvelous. I was almost convinced he was actually there.

  4. Hey, I was there. Mostly.

  5. My goals were very unclear. I brought the scores to “William Blake Leads a Walk on the Milky Way” and “Blakes Tells the Tiger the Tale of the Tailor,” thinking I might take a stab at downsizing the orchestra to string quartet, piano, and keyboards, a project that I haven’t touched since last year’s Retreat and which I have to finish if the city of Newnan actually is going to produce it and send it to Scotland in 2014.

    In the back of my head, there was always my Five Easier Pieces, a follow-up and apology for Six Preludes (no fugues). The truth is that I haven’t composed a note since finishing the Cello Sonata last October, and I didn’t know if I could ramp it all back up in the two short mornings of the Retreat. A source of anxiety, a very major source of anxiety.

    I also took my new blank book with me. For about a month I have thought that it would be nice to have a book of verse/inspiration available for sessions in the labyrinth, just something that anyone who wanted to could open up and read from. A liturgy that would be, as I described it to Craig in a letter, “never required, always available.”

    My inspiration for such a thing was the occasion at one of the Retreats when Jeff Bishop read Rumi in the hot tub. It was a sublime experience, and I’m going to assume it was the mystic poetry and not the hot tub that provoked it.

    Anyway, I’ve searched for just the right book: the right size, the right cover, the right paper, and the right flexibility to stay open in the hand for reading. I finally found one, serendipitously, online, and it arrived in the mail the day before we left for California.

    All of that was prologue.

    I abandoned the William Blake pieces. They’re huge, and I really needed my big monitor to work on them. Also, I haven’t heard squat from the Arts Council about the project; they may be no longer interested. Why waste precious Retreat time on them?

    I decided to begin on the Five Easier Pieces, which was bold, since I didn’t have a piano keyboard to diddle on. I just opened a Finale file and began drawing notes on the screen, and thus I began. It’s a waltz, in vaguely C major, so it’s a walk in the park for me to invent stuff, and it took shape fairly easily. All in all, it’s not a bad start, although I am still having issues with disciplining myself to work on the music.

    The book was interesting to work on. Rather than a random chrestomathy, I wanted to structure it in much the same way a meditative session in the labyrinth would be structured. That meant defining the potential contents of such a session and trying to foresee the needs of the community in any given event.

    After some futzing, here’s what I came up with:

      Drawing the Circle
      The Path

    Breaking the Circle

    On the table of contents page itself, the inner four sections are enclosed in a circle. The outer bits are self-explanatory, I hope. The inner sections are the actual work of the evening, and are as follows:

      The Path: texts for the labyrinth; taking the path; on the path; at the center; leaving the path; anything appropriate for those who are contemplating the journey
      Numen: texts dealing with the Mystery, the Void; the problem of naming the Tao; connection, gratitude, etc.
      Within: texts for inner issues; grappling with ego, identity vis-a-vis the Infinite
      Connection: texts for communion; calling to the others; connection, one-ness

    I am open for submissions.

    One of my goals for work in the Retreat was to experiment with this structure for communion, and I meant to explore that in Friday evening’s meditation. However, I am not Craig, and my inexperience left Jeff and Mike hanging. I really meant to be supportive and assistive, but my miscalculations on timing kind of screwed that up. My apologies, guys. More work is required, as we say.

    Personally, I approached the meditation with some rather severe issues, most of which involved my mind’s inability to let go of self, of ego. It’s been rather painful for the past few months. However, even though I did not explicitly work on the issues individually, I found that the next morning my mind was no longer buzzing—I seem to be better centered.

    I’ll give one specific example. My role as director of GHP is still the most positive thing EVAR, but it had consumed me. Everything was about GHP. I think now that’s why I haven’t been able to compose or to meditate with any meaning—there wasn’t room in there for anybody but Mr. Lyles. It got to where I felt incomplete if I were not wearing my name badge, proclaiming to the world that I was DALE LYLES, GOVERNOR’S HONORS PROGRAM.

    So it was with great relief that I realized on Saturday that somehow I had managed to unclog that spiritual block. GHP is something I do; it is not who I am.

    In that regard, the Retreat was a great success for me, and a very necessary one.

  6. An aphorism took shape during today’s walk. This seems to be the forum for it. If it is not useful, may it at least be useless:

    When at a party, we all want to flock around the one who knows rather than the one who doesn’t. Perfectly understandable.

  7. Do we need to put this behind a password? Does anyone need that kind of privacy?

  8. I think we are getting to the password protected point fast. The end of week timing may take care of that by itself. Big strides made by Dale in one sentence: “GHP is something I do; it is not who I am.” Marc, an addendum to your aphorism: “He who knows doesn’t speak, but he who doesn’t know speaks.”

    I sometime really miss not being able to make the retreats.

  9. It doesn’t look as if I can password-protect the post and still have comments. My research into the issue is inconclusive.

  10. Hm. Curious.

  11. A date to be commemorated: today is the first day I didn’t bother checking our website. Technically, I did check it. After all, I had to post this comment. But earlier today I was about to check the site and stopped myself from clicking on my shortcut. Now I visit merely to note the fact. Symbolically and structurally, today is the first day I did not visit our website. I ponder the meaning. Are we finally content with our creative lot in life? Are we, perhaps, well and truly ensconced within the Great Conversation of the West and readying ourselves to reap the rewards? Or have we finally fully moved on to consider the vagaries of the Ineffable? Such is the nature of Enlightenment. We are consigned to silence. We’ve transmigrated from “Are we?” to “We are.” I note I had to play with both periods and question marks: placing and erasing both as I proofed this piffle…

  12. A fresh complication. I checked the site today to see if my comment prompted further comment. Perhaps I have answered my own questions.

  13. I stopped checking the website months ago. I will look at it maybe once a week at most. What meaning that has I do not know nor do I dwell upon it. I would like to think that “We are consigned to silence.” But I think we have become too consumed by our other worldly distractions to pay any attention to the distraction we set up just for that purpose.

  14. Well said! Perhaps the Solstice will disclose more…

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