The Retreat

By Zoe Brock


Friday, 5pm-

I’m holed up in a grand estate in Ojai, hiding from my life, pretending to be whole and happy, beset by hovering paparazzi in whirring helicopters that dance on the evening breeze as they try to steal a shot of the movie star next door.

I’m here, in a vast and ancient canyon, inside a rambling, Gothic house, feeling insecure and shifty, wondering if I belong. I’m not alone, you see. Oh no.

There are about thirty of me.

I’m part of a gaggle of writers fortunate enough to have the funds required to reserve a bed for the weekend. Except I’m actually not fortunate enough to be one of those writers with funds. I’m a blow in, a scholarship kid, a half-price wonder. The poor girl. I feel out of my depth, stupid, a black sheep. I wear my coat of shame. I question why I came here, what I’m doing, if I can hide away or leave.

I hear laughter all around me.

I look around at the kind eyes and excited, smiling faces. I hear snippets of conversation and begin to sense a common bond. I realize I’m part of one huge, pulsating, coagulated ball of shared insecurity, hope, humor and arrogance. We’re here because we can write. We know it. Sometimes we just forget. We’re all here to follow our leaders, to dance with our muses, to sit down and write.

This might just end up being fun.

Saturday, 6pm-

All over the house we are scrunched into chairs or crowded around tables, furiously scribbling or tapping on keys. If words need to be spoken they are whispered. Apart from a heated argument over breakfast about Richard Gere that turned into a fun conversation about genetically modified gerbils born without claws or teeth to make for safer insertion, it’s been a pretty mellow affair.

When we’re not writing we’re talking about writing. Or, we’re eating. We have a chef. It’s pretty fancy. I’m high on muse and an absence of chores and dirty dishes.

Throughout the day we’ve had classes with warm and encouraging teachers who gave various prompts and exercises that were both liberating as well as providing containment within a set of rules. It turns out I like having parameters and time constraints.

I dig the challenge. I feel competitive with myself. I fly.

This morning, for our first writing exercise, we were asked to make a list of masculine and feminine attributes and jobs, then we were told to pick a job and two attributes from each list to help round out a character of our opposite gender. The idea being that a character is more fully fleshed out, funnier and real if we incorporate attributes of the opposite sex.  We were given ten minutes to write, stream of consciousness style, about our character.

I chose a vain, burly fireman. His name his Hank. He is often perplexed and emotional. Enjoy!


I have a huge cock.

Sometimes I think that’s the only thing right with this world. This goddamn life. Sometimes, on bad days when I’m feeling low, I  look out the window at the city and just want to fucking scream, but then, if I choose, I can look in the mirror or down at the bulge in my pants and I feel reassured. Everything is going to be alright. I’m handsome. I’m packing heat.

I like being a fireman, sure. It’s ok. Fighting fires and rushing around is cool, I guess. But it’s the babes that are the biggest perk. The whistles and waves we get when we drive down the road in Big Red. The batted lashes, the smiles, the puffing up of breasts and wiggling of hips. This uniform gets me laid, yo’. Suckers.

The thing that gets me down is the death. It happens. I don’t get it. Sometimes we get there too late. We bust down doors and find bodies, perfectly still, externally unharmed, dead from smoke inhalation. Or worse. The krispy’s are much worse. The scars, the melted flesh. It’s a nightmare. The worst thing I ever saw was the body of a woman and her baby. A gas leak got ’em. She had been breastfeeding. They were just sitting there on a sofa like some kind of demented installation. The worst kind of fucked up nativity scene. Her tit was out. They were so still. I cried. I broke down like a chick. It was a fucked up scene and I’ll never forget it.

That’s what I see in my mind that makes me wonder about this world, this life. I see that mother and her baby, sitting there in that quiet room. I hear the sirens. I smell the death. Nothing, not even the fact that I have a huge-ass penis can take that shit away.

And that’s a crying shame.

Hank was a very illuminating exercise for me. It was the first time I attempted to write a fictional character of the opposite sex. I never play with fiction. Whatever you think of the piece itself, the prompts were an incredible tool. The ten-minute constraint was invigorating, there was just no time to mess around. The moment I understood that I would have to write from the perspective of a male character I heard those words and I was off.

I have a huge cock.

It’s good to know that while so many parts of me feel broken, they certainly aren’t dead.

If you’d like to try this exercise in the comment section below then I fully endorse it. Write a list of about 15-20 attributes and jobs for each sex and pick a couple from each list. Set the timer for 10 minutes and write like a crazy person about a character (or person you know) from the opposite sex. Have fun!


*** If anyone would like to join the incredible Marilyn and her lovely Writing Pad staff for the October 2011 High Desert Retreat in the Joshua Tree then please check out this link! I’m hoping to be there (and so is Hank). ***

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ZOE BROCK was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia. She has lived in more cities and on more continents than she can count (truly, she's a model and can't count) and is currently residing in the deep fog of San Francisco. Her true home lies on the dusty plains of Burning Man where she feels safe and challenged and truly alive. Zoë once had a very popular blog on MySpace and writes everything from awful poetry to truly delicious dark satire, and all sorts of sexy things in between. She has appeared on the cover of Elle magazine, inside the pages of Vogue, Cosmo and Marie Claire, to name a few, and is working on her memoir, an expose of 'growing up model'. Zoë is also a certified yoga teacher. Yes, that means she's bendy.

40 responses to “The Retreat”

  1. sarah gray says:

    poor hank.lovely read.thanks for an uplifting start o the day.

  2. Shelley says:

    Zoe, hilarious! I think you should dabble in fiction more often….
    Great to hear you were at a writer’s retreat. Love reading your writing, keep it coming and thanks for sharing!!

  3. dwoz says:

    Gender: female;
    Occupation: model;
    Attributes: optimist, cocky;

    So photoshop it, asshole. This isn’t my problem.

    I mean, really. Your tantrum is not my problem. I was here on time. The call was for 5:00 a.m. (which is going to fucking cost you,) and it was YOUR vision to catch the mist in the first light of dawn streaming through these giant northern California redwoods on this fine March morning, not MY vision.

    It’s 39 fucking degrees and I’m half-wearing a fucking transparent silk shirt and you’re upset about MY nipples being “too much?”

    Not my problem.

    I’m not the one who “ruined” your shoot. Buy your stylist a heat gun. Or better yet, pay for a real stylist. Or even better yet, find some other line of work you’d be more suited to, like handing out licenses at the DMV.

    Why don’t you take off that sweatshirt and let’s all see what your nipples look like.


    I’m not complaining about this undrinkable tree bark juice you are calling coffee or what has to be yesterday’s donuts, am I? I’m not complaining that your photographer showed up with dead batteries, am I? I’m the goddamn professional here, and I’m almost done. It’s probably a good thing the coffee is undrinkable, because I’m looking around and I don’t see a real bathroom either. When my bladder tells me it’s time, I am not going to squat, I am going to leave.

    It’s not MY portfolio that’s going to get a bump from having YOUR name in it. Let’s just remember that, shall we?


    • dwoz says:

      this was a fun little exercise…

      I’m currently struggling with characterization in my manuscript, and specifically first-person female characterization. Being a man, I am constantly terrified that I am going to have female readers say “this is a guy writing (poorly) what he imagines a girl would think about. It’s like a neon sign blinking in our faces”

    • Zoe Brock says:

      AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!! Stoked that you did the exercise!

      She’s very real and funny… in fact I think I know her 🙂

      Did you have fun? Sounds like it…

      • dwoz says:

        Yes, I did have fun! Thanks for the invite.

        I got a good chuckle out of the idea of the model realizing she was going to have to go behind a tree and squat, which seems to be so much more of a hassle and undesirable thing to do for girls than guys (girls in my world seem to want to completely exhaust the possibility of a real bathroom being available before they’ll go behind the tree…), and I liked the idea of the portfolio being a surrogate in the “dick measuring contest” between the AD and the talent.

        Your bit, by the way, was pretty vivid and spot-on. I think guys with grotesquely large junk DO use it to measure their lives.

        • Zoe Brock says:

          drip dry!

          I tried to pee in a park the other day but there were homeless people sleeping under every tree and I thought it would be very rude of me to pee near them.

          thanks again for taking part… I’m really excited about all these new things that help inspire me to create, it’s great to see them working for you. I loved your piece. 🙂

  4. Esther Sanchez says:

    You have done a great job with Hank…..I know Hank. You got him spot on:)

    I seem to remember a discussion we had including the Joshua Tree Monument & mushrooms.

  5. sheree says:

    Great writing. Thanks for the read.

  6. Hank Cherry says:

    My name is Hank…

    That was really grand. I really dug the description of your writing weekend. It was like a having a huge…

    Keep it up! Man, that sounds like a double entendre.

  7. Zara Potts says:

    I am just so goddamn excited that you are back! That you are writing! That you are writing about Hank’s huge cock!
    You are such a treasure and whatever you write, fiction or non fiction, rhyme or prose, all of it is wonderful.
    Just. Like. You.

    • Zoe Brock says:

      You want Hank. I know it.

      Miss you lady. Hope you’ve settled in and started sleeping better. If you need a getaway you know where I am. x

      • Zara Potts says:

        A getaway sounds divine. I’m going to see your Mama in Melbourne in May. Wish you were there, lovely girl xxx

  8. Tom Hansen says:

    Well done Zoe. I’m impressed with your portrayal of Hank, especially for your first try. Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, that’s a very realistic portrait of many men, sensitive with depth, and yet shallow at the same time. Excellent job.

  9. josie says:

    It seems in every class there are two dominant types, the overly confident narcissistic types, or the overly sensitive insecure kind. But no matter the profession, in order to improve and evolve, continued education is required. Writing workshops rock!

    Enjoyed Hank.

    Thanks for sharing the writing exercise.

  10. Richard Cox says:

    I think Hank needs a last name. May I suggest Barnacle?

    I like the piece, though. The fiction exercise. Nice work.

  11. So an appropriate greeting for good old Hank would probably be: How’s it hanging?
    Love this!

  12. Zoe Brock says:

    Thanks Robin! I really appreciate it. xx

  13. Andrew Watt says:

    Spectacular ten minutes of writing. Great exercise. Surely you got an A+
    I knew a Hank once. He was a cocaine dealer. We called him Hank Snow only partly in honour of the country singer of the same name. I never saw his cock. Probably never will.

  14. Seth Pollins says:

    It’s so nice to be around your people, don’t you think? Writers retreats, MFA programs–the real value, to me, is just the chance to be around other blockheads that share your love/addiction to writing.

    In terms of constraints, I think of the incredibly important notion of a vessel–even our free-spirited blood is contained in a “vessel”. Without vessels, we devolve into chaos, or inactivity. I am totally not explaining this idea clearly. Sorry, it’s 7:30 AM here.

    Thanks for the post.

  15. You’re writing again. (I think three posts in a fortnight counts as ‘writing again’.)
    That’s nice.

  16. Joe Daly says:

    Way to work it, ZB!

    Fun exercise, and you expose your deep generosity in your choice to endow your character so generously.

    Sounds like a blast and a half. I do believe I’m going to hit that October thingie. Emailing now for more info…

  17. So nice to read your work again, Zoe. Hope all’s been well in your world.

  18. Writing retreats frighten me. Ojai frightens me. Hank frightens me.

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