Bright and early on a Friday morning in mid-May, I made my way through the security line at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on my way to Kripalu –– and I was nervous. Not only was it the first time I was flying since September 2019 (my family’s last plane trip before the pandemic), but I was heading to a writing retreat at this nonprofit yoga-based retreat to meet three women who I only knew through Zoom interactions.
Would we like each other IRL? Would one of them be weird or pushy? Would we all get COVID and bring it back to our families located in four different parts of the country? There were so many unknowns to the trip that seemed much scarier after being cocooned with my husband and two young children for the past two-plus years.
Nerves aside, I knew I needed this trip after months upon months of isolation, social distancing, virtual schooling, and more. I needed some time to be free of mom obligations, recharge my writing batteries, and strengthen my making-friends muscles.
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I met the other women joining me on the trip through our membership in the Women’s Fiction Association. When one of the women who I did “writing dates” with, where we write as much as possible in an hour and a half, asked if I was interested in being in a writing group, I said yes, hoping it would be a good fit. But any writer knows that finding a good writing group is nearly impossible. Few people are on the same writing schedule or even level, some writers critique too harshly, others flounder when their work is dissected.
But when I started talking to these women in August 2021, we just clicked. We named ourselves the Still Writing Squad and started Zooming monthly and texting daily –– my husband often would hear my phone blowing up and say, “Who in the world is texting you?” It was the Squad, talking about querying, asking craft questions, raving about the latest book that made them swoon. It was clear that these women were my people… at least digitally.
After a drama-free direct flight on American from Austin to Boston Logan International Airport, I met up with one of the writers, who was coming from the Bay Area. Luckily, there was zero awkwardness, and we spent the easy two-hour drive to Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, talking about anything and everything.
When we arrived at Kripalu, a 160,000-square-foot former Jesuit seminary built in 1957 that sits on 100 acres of lush lawns, we met up with our two other friends, who were just as delightful in person as expected. And Kripalu was also enchanting. My blood pressure dropped as soon as I stepped into the peaceful building. My friends and I had rented a four-person room with a queen bed and a bunkbed and a shared bathroom down the hall. (The center offers a variety of options, including single rooms with private bathrooms and dormitory lodging with shared bathrooms.) While we were all somewhat leery of sharing a bathroom with strangers, it turned out great. We never had to wait for a shower and there were plenty of bathrooms throughout the building.
The only con to Kripalu was the first night when I realized there was no air conditioning. This Texan, who is used to chilly air blasting at all times, had a hard time sleeping the first night, when temps were in the 80s. But then a storm came through, cooling things off for the rest of the trip. The low-tech resort also has no TVs and only allows cell phones in certain areas.
We were at Kripalu to attend a three-day workshop with Cheryl Strayed of Wild and Dear Sugar fame. I’ve been a journalist my whole career and had been writing fiction for the past few years, but this workshop was about looking inward and writing about your personal experiences. To say I was stepping out of my comfort zone was an understatement.
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But Strayed’s program, which featured 10-and-a-half hours of learning and writing, was phenomenal. She would do a lesson and then give us four or five prompts to choose from, like “write about a day that changed everything” or “write about what you don’t remember.” And then we’d have 10 minutes to write whatever we wanted and share with those around us. After each session, she’d pick people from the 300-person audience to read their writings from the stage. It was an awesome exercise in opening up and realizing that everyone has stories to tell.
In between the program sessions, we would take a yoga class, explore the gorgeous grounds –– where you’ll find hiking trails, a lake and a meditation labyrinth –– and enjoy the delicious food. Kripalu is known for serving a wide variety of vegetable-heavy, cafeteria-style options. Some dishes we dined on included a tofu curry I still think about, spiced black bean cakes, seared white fish with chimichurri sauce, and yummy baked goods like blueberry crisp and banana chocolate bread. And oh, was it wonderful to not have to worry about cooking or doing dishes during our stay.
After our three-day program ended, we headed to an Airbnb in nearby Monterey, Massachusetts, for another three nights, where the four of us wrote, cooked, exercised and slept on our own schedules. As a mom of two young children, it was beyond glorious to not have to worry about entertaining kids, feeding them on a schedule, or getting them to bed on time. It was just what this mom needed to finish the last push of her novel and return to her real life renewed and refreshed.
If You Go
Multiple airlines offer direct flights from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Boston’s Logan Airport. Then rent a car to drive an easy two hours to Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
For an immersive, relaxing experience, book a room at Kripalu, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The famed yoga and health center offers a wide variety of programs, including creative expression, yoga, self-discovery and even silent retreats. Each program comes with daily yoga classes, three all-natural meals and access to the magnificent, sprawling Kripalu grounds.
Kripalu has silent breakfasts, so don’t expect to chat over coffee in the morning.