Know Your Character Retreat

Retreat. Retreat… Retweat…. Wetweat….

It’s not about two steps forward and one step backward. It is three steps forward and then some. I suppose when one begins to feel stale, or even antsy to break the minutiae of the status quo, then that one has to be motivated for a change. A change of scenery perhaps. Pesky COVID came without any warning. I lost weight, finished another book of poetry but mentally, I felt trapped and needed to do something about it. The sooner the better, or I will end up foaming in the mouth watching pimple popping videos till morning in Youtube. Yes, I am that stran-jay. Deal with it!

Day in and out, I wake up to the sight of a steel spires needing to be weaned with concrete and glass. It’s taken shape into another cash cow for these Spanish usurpers milking the native plebes for what it’s worth but we won’t go there. Other than the monotonous sound of industrial hammer and incessant and cacophonous chorus of drills singing out loud outside of my window, the sight of elevators up and down or down and up, is a constant reminder that I need something new to see, smell, touch, hear and even taste.

A retreat.

What was the criteria again? Ah yes, a place up in the hills (check). Idyllic (check). Far from the hustle and bustle of this delta we call Da-Vao (check). It has to be cold during the evenings and palpably warm during the day (check). To be close to nature with a bubbling stream, tons of trees and perhaps roads with less cement(check). A galaxy away from yellow balls and racquets (check). And op kors, commune with animals, stretch those tired muscles and do my breathing exercises with yoga, and eat nutritious food(check). With that said, one place beeped under the radar.

Malagos Garden Resorts . . .

There was something magical about this place. If Siargao, Panglao, Boracay and El Nido were correlated to the sand, sea and air, this place would be the place close to the heaven. I’ve been there before for a day visit. It offered a variety of activities that would’ve enticed the young ones all the way to peeps like me. My agenda was two-fold; spend a quiet two days of stretching my intellectual capacity (should it still be functioning!), dig deep to come up with fantastical stories, assert meself as a storyteller, dream of oddball characters (what they want or need or even wish) and conjure up conflict that’s never been read before. The second reason was outlined from my earlier diatribe. The place was familiar. We were here before for a day trip. We went to feed the birds, checked out the Chocolate Museum and devoured the gooey yet not-so-sweet chocolate cake that everyone is talking about. This time, I won’t have the luxury of time to watch raptors fly all over the place. Money was immaterial at this point. What is coin if I am to commune with words, sentences, characters, conflict, and work towards a future? I booked it for two days during the week, not the weekend. I figure it won’t be that busy while everyone’s working. It will be an intimate situation for me, myself and I.

I brought the necessities; Current books by Ocean Vuong and Paulo Coelho, a yoga mat, my laptop, yearly agenda/calendar, drafts of the short stories I’ve been working on for my next book, and grad school applications. I even created my own retreat schedule to ensure that I work on the goals of this retreat. I felt I needed the structure so as not to lose myself wandering around endlessly in this moment of creativity.

As soon as I arrived, I sensed that I will be pampered from head to toe. Nina seemed to anticipate my needs before I even asked for them. They gave me this large, clean room with a veranda and it overlooked a small stream running down a hill from the left to the right. It was like they knew what my ideal room was. There was a lot of space that it could’ve had a small kitchen with a sink and fridge in it. You could put a queen-sized bed in the bathroom. What clinched it for me was the veranda had two wooden lounge chairs on it overlooking the stream. Water trickling down all day and night was a plus. I’ve a feeling I’d be well rested amidst conjuring up worlds of conflict and interesting characters. The windows had an old world feel in it. It wasn’t glass sliding to open or shut, just wooden shutters that one has to be opened manually.

I went to work right away. If I feel like I needed to stretch, I’d get up and flex my hands, neck, arms and legs and deep breath. Sometimes I needed to close my eyes for five to ten seconds. I stopped around seven pm and went to dinner. Dinner was at this cavernous open hut called the Koi Cafe. I get it, there were koi ponds of black granite on each side of the building teeming with its fat colorful namesake.

I was alone.

Imagine that.

No one was there except me and the staff. This time, it rained like it was monsoon season. It wasn’t just droplets but buckets of water falling from the high heavens. I am glad I brought my own umbrella. I didn’t go home soaked. The cafe was just 40 paces away from my room. Oh, didn’t I tell you I actually bought some snacks which was actually a no-no but I brought it in anyway. I even brought my own water bottles only to find out that there was a water dispenser outside my door. At around ten pm, I dozed off at the table I was working on till it was two am. I turned in for the night. This was the routine; write, stretch, eat, nap repeat.

Why the title? Not that you care but this is about storytelling. In order to be a storyteller, you need to know your characters; what makes them unique, what are their quirks that you deem as a voice that need to be heard. It’s not all about what they want or need, but why do they need the want? In case you don’t know, want and need may be the same but it isn’t. Add conflict, stakes and resolution to the compendium of drama and voila! You get the gist. I, the writer, am the lowly conduit who will set up them interesting obstacles to make a story work.

As I was writing this dirge, I didn’t realize how this retreat is also an extension of my ethos. It was also a soul-searching exercise. I march to the beat of my own drum. I bang it to make me think, be happy or sad, and deal with it the best possible way I can, and to a greater extent, to survive. Perhaps that is quite evident on how I view things about people; who I am close to and who to stay away from. Few people surprise me. Those are the sly ones who sap the energy out of others and relentlessly need to validate their existence at other’s expense. I should learn how to say NO more and often, give these people some bullshit excuse why I said it and let it go and let them simmer with it. This way they don’t take advantage of me. Also, I should learn not to divulge any more information than necessary because these people will turn it around to benefit them. I guess that’s how it is here. Being quiet can be a good thing. Not everyone needs to know my business. Of course, I ended up being manipulated and acquiesced on such an underhanded stance so I will just let that be a notch on experience. A friend, may he rest in peace, who used to belong to this group warned me but I didn’t think people are capable of such trickery. I only want to play the sport I enjoy playing, not a part of drama. See, even at fifty-six, learning never ends.

Oh, did I digress? I needed to put that soul-searching/venting bit in. It is important.

Will I have more retreats in the future. Yes. Will I bring someone with me? NO! I am used to doing things alone and will continue to do so in the future until I am unable. It is hard to maintain one’s composure with the expectation that the other will either be helpful or a distraction to your cause. It will also be good to look around and start anew. I am but a nomad till I find my own resort in the sky.

With renewed hope and hard work, patience and perseverance, all my dreams will eventually come true.


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