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). ***

My love affair with America was inflamed today as I sat at the bar of Margie’s Diner on the verge of the 101.

Lit up by determined, crimson letters flashing *Real Food* *Real Food* *Real Food* a man in a stained and faded hunting jacket stirred his coffee for the seventh minute and a waitress licked her lips and winked at me… and my heart skipped a beat.