So hey Jesse, what was the Rally like?
I’ve been trying to answer this question ever since I came back. My first attempt to explain was a bit garbled, but since then I’ve made a little more sense out of things.
Maybe you know me and you read my blog and you want to know about this weird thing.
Maybe you’re coming here from elsewhere because you want to know, no really, what is this weird thing.
What I say when people at work ask me how was your writing retreat thing is: I got a lot done.
What I say to the people who get me: It was inspiring and grounding and affirming and wow, did I write a lot.
But that doesn’t really explain its power.
What Rally was not
Not like the back-breaking, crackling intensity of a NaNoWriMo project (which I’ve done twice — 50,000 words in 30 days). Though I did write 18,000 words in 3 days.
It was not remotely the kind of thing where you work like hell and just let go of the fact that most of it is crap because you know you’ll be editing later; quite the contrary, I love almost all of what I wrote during Rally.
Rally was not even on the same planet as those productive periods in my life wherein I set up a careful, manageable plan to tackle a huge project on a deadline, and then did it, in reasonable chunks or in late-night panics. I had a plan, and then I threw my plan out the window, every single day, and was enormously productive.
But it’s so much more than mushy gushy loving-my-writing and planless abandon. So, so much more.
So, what was Rally like?
It’s not at all like any kind of thing, really. Sorry. Because the Rally is its own beast. Wild, maybe from the future, talking to you and sending you symbols and helpers and signs like mad. Not like any other writing retreat I’ve ever heard of, unless maybe there is peyote involved. But also gentle and calm so you have no idea you’ve done so much until you look back and think wow.
Let me explain a little more. I know that whatever words I put down cannot transmit the essential magic of the Rally. But I’ll be a little more specific.
Every day we started with Shiva Nata. If you’ve never come across it before, Shiva Nata is brain-scrambling stuff with math and sometimes words thrown in, and at the end of 45 minutes (which feels like 15) your arms might be aching but your brain would be a little fuzzy and crazed with brain-scrambled laughter and we’d lay down on the floor and close our eyes and listen. Or watch.
Because I saw strange visions.
This was part and parcel of Rally. Rallying is all about getting visions, even when your rational brain is saying, This is ridiculous I cannot believe you are thinking about this symbolic door thing when clearly we are here to outline our novel and then make measured careful predictable progress and we’re losing time!
Shiva Nata takes that rational, smart part of your brain and hushes it up.
Then the rest of you (your future you? your smarter you?) is then free to flood you with information, ideas, structures, chaotic loops, landscapes, people, leaps of insight, messages, quests, bonfires, memories, lines of dialogue, questions, unlikely revelations, and other less nameable things.
Let me tell you: I had a strange vision on Day Two, tried to ignore it, and it forcibly broke into my new vision and kicked me out of my own imaginary landscape.
(I’ll tell you more about that one later. It was kind of important.)
But as Havi kept reminding us, all roads lead to Rome. There is no part of the Rally—nothing you could write or think or do or say—that would lead you in any direction except back to your project, your thing that you brought to work on. And it’s true.
For instance: what in the world was the connection between that strange vision that kicked me out of my imaginary landscape, and my novel, which has nothing to do with landscapes or visions? Actually, I’m still working on the answer to that one. But the Rally’s power was to bring that vision, and then help me figure it out without negating or ignoring it and allow me to work on my novel anyway.
I most definitely did not: see my vision, feel blocked and confused, then give up and take a nap. (Though that would have been a totally valid choice if I had.)
I also did not: get annoyed and then check my email and disappear down the internet rabbit hole for two hours, because of course there is no internet at the Playground, which is a small but key part of its magic (and probably not in the way you are thinking).
No, I dove right into whatever crazy, wild thing appeared, and on the other side I found a pure state of flow, from which I produced amounts of work and epiphanies that would have felt like sheer intense insanity in any other state, but amidst Rally seemed totally normal and awesome and calm.
What our days were like:
There was Shiva Nata. And then writing. And then more writing. And sometimes drawing. Every day your brain would give you directions about what to work on. So you’d do it.
Emotional breakdowns both small and big, requiring visits to the Angel Refueling Station (which you think you won’t need during the Rally but you totally, totally do, and thank god for the kleenex in there, too).
Extreme silliness. Laughter.
Blanket forts, costumes, sea shanties!
Chronicling and processing your process. (This part was big. I feel like I know Havi’s techniques but I didn’t really get the “processing the process” part until I was there and suddenly I GOT IT in the way you “get” one of those waves that sweeps you off your feet with its power.)
Rally sounds like: a beautiful, productive, humming beehive, if bees liked to laugh more. And also spread their papers out in nests around them.
Rally feels like: trust, playfulness, flow. A measured, calm productivity channeling through you, with no moments of ohmygodican’tdothis except even if they did happen, there was help all around you. Hints, maps, lists.
It was like finding the secret entrance behind Havi’s blog, and finding an amazing little cave there, and people you love and who inspire you, and getting to play with them for three whole days. And making absolutely amazing progress while just playing around.
And just when you think you’ve hardly begun (though in truth you’ve been working all day), you stop to roll around on the floor and listen to your muscles and joints and bones creak and stretch. And when you get up you have another flow or idea to follow, and then suddenly the day is over. You’re tired but calm: not exhausted, not overwrought. Though at the end you will need rest. But not a breakdown.
Of course, Rally ends. It’s beautiful and amazing, and then you have to go back to real life, which will look a little dimmer and not smell quite as awesome as the Playground does.
The most beautiful thing it gave me was not what I wrote, though that of course is pretty cool.
No, its gift is that is helps you create a bridge to doing it again.
Rally builds a bridge to the part of your mind that understands flow. Not back-breaking flow, but just-right flow.
At the end, I sat down and designed one perfect day. For me, it’s a Sunday morning. It takes less time than you’d think, to get to the Rally state.
For me, it will be one morning in my local cafe, away from home and the baby and chores and all those things. I thought I was going to create a very boring, very predictable outline while I was there, but of course Rally (and my novel) had other plans. I ended up with a list of seeds, little clues on the trail towards my novel. Nothing to do with structure and forms, but everything to do with the what and the who and the when and the how.
I have a day job, and a busy life waiting for me at home, but I have absolute, perfect faith in what came out of Rally because it produced enough epiphanies and scenes and ideas for, like, three novels. A dozen. Every time I go back and look at my journal, where I chronicled the process of writing and wrote about my crazy visions, I find new insights I don’t even remember, ideas for scenes, dialogue, characters.
Unlike before, I know I can get back to that Rally state and write more. Maybe even finish the novel. Maybe see if it has a home somewhere. It’s not contingent on waiting for the stars to align so free time magically coincides with the urge to write. For someone like me, whose project was living on the margins of my thoughts, this is a godsend. If I want to get there, I know how. And I will, very soon.
I know because Shiva told me. And my novel told me. Or maybe I just told me. I just know that I know.
So there you have my take on the Rally. The why and the what and the huh? of it all. This is just Part One because I have other things to share that I learned there. I’ll write about them soon.
Before I go, just one message: if Rally calls you, you’ll know it. Listen to that call and heed its message. Your project is calling. The Rally is ready to work its magic on you and it’s probably coming sooner than you think. And don’t worry if you don’t feel ready, because that’s part of it, too.