My Staycation Turned Writing Retreat

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My Staycation Turned Writing Retreat

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Oct 03, 2011

lounging by the pool at lae nani resort on kauaiI am holed up at Lae nani Resort on Kauai’s east side on a mini retreat. And I am working. Writing, that is. Because there is no vacation for a writer. Words and phrases and sentences constantly form in my mind. I walked the beach on which this condo resort resides, a small cove tucked around the corner from Wailua.

Have you ever seen a crab hop? I did. Rock-hopping crabs the size of dinner plates. Big, black crabs that hop like goats from rock to rock. Rock-hopping crabs the size of dinner plates. Big, black crabs that hop like goats from rock to rock. I repeated these phrases over and over, so I wouldn’t lose them between the fingers of my mind before I got to the shade of the heliotrope tree and  sat down to write out my thoughts in a little, red notebook.

The tide was low. Bright green limu, seaweed, reached its tentacles above the waterline. Miniature convict tang, Christmas wrasse and butterflyfish swam in a tide pool.

I penned the first two sentences of this post in my mind as I walked in the quiet of the morning, noting the prints of Golden plover in the sand, dew on the grass, the slant of the early morning sun. I have never been a big believer in the idea of a “staycation.” If I go on vacation, I don’t spend much time lounging around, preferring to explore overgrown trails, ply ocean waves and stuff my mind--and camera’s memory card--with scenic vistas and historical facts.

When the first condominium resorts were built along Kauai's east coast back in the 1970s, they had their choice of prime real estate. I now know whey they chose this stretch of beach. There is a small lava rock swimming pond built, I’m told, by the producers of Donovan's Reef movie, made back in 1963. There is a Hawaiian cultural site, a heiau, that once served as a lighthouse. There is a surf break offshore that attracts traditional surfers, as well as kayakers and stand up paddlers. All hidden on a side street that slips off the main drag into Kapaa. In a way, this short stretch of vintage condos is forgotten, overlooked by the newer tourist destinations of Poipu and Princeville, as the changing trends in travel moved up and out, as in multi-stories and sprawling landscapes. And, yet, this pocket of quaint resorts continues to exist right in the heart of Kapaa, for those who know. I was invited here by the general manager to get to know this property and its guests, so I can better write about what people want to read on these electronic pages.

And, so, I eavesdrop.

I am sitting by the pool, thumbing these words into the notes app of my iPhone. The pool may not be as grand as the newer resorts, but the view from the pool is: a sweeping view of the Wailua coastline from the beach, to the river and beyond, including more Hawaiian cultural sites and Lydate Park. And there are no screaming kids, as a woman across from me says to her husband. She wears a one-piece swimsuit with a ruffle on the bottom and holds an e-reader in her hands. He lies on his side in the shade of a palm tree, wearing red trunks tucked under the belly that a half a decade of living brings.

There are numerous couples here, all middle-aged, by the pool and in chairs on the grass behind the beach. One couple speaks in a foreign language that sounds European to my uni-lingual ears. They float in the pool and wrap themselves in each other’s arms. A man in a white, bucket hat and red rash guard bobs at five-foot end of the pool while he talks to his wife who reclines on a lounge chair. A paperback book sits on a chair-side table. There’s not a bikini in sight. Not even a Speedo on the foreign guy.

It’s hot. The air is still. I do not move my chair when the sun moves behind the fronts of an ancient palm tree high in the sky. The persistent sound of the ocean provides white noise in the background, periodic waves splash over the rock wall swimming pond. Such well-behaved waves. The kind that will lull you to sleep if you’re not careful. Or, if you are on vacation.

Wait. Here comes a bikini. But it doesn’t belong to the kind of housewife you’d find on Wisteria Lane. These people are not from Orange County. Thank goodness. Who needs to feel self-conscious.

I have never been more prolific. I polished and published one blog article first thing this morning. Fleshed out the bare bones of a second and wrote the first drafts of two others  on my laptop while sitting in a cafe down the street during the lunch hour. And, here I am hanging out by the pool at 3:30 in the afternoon. I am starting to be a believer in this staycation idea.

The Kindle-reading woman gets in the pool and exclaims. “An, this is just the perfect day.” I couldn’t agree more.

I've always said I love to write in hotel rooms. This condo experience is no different. I figured it's because there are no distractions. The lamp across the room does not need me to dust it. The sheets that I sleep in do not need to be washed by me. There is no dog begging for a walk. But I think, too, it has something to do with travel--movement, momentum--and anticipation.

I have my laptop with me. I could go down that rabbit hole. There's a television in the living room. I could vegetate in front of it. But I don't. I planned this visit to be a writing retreat. I made the reservation with that in mind. I packed books related to my writing topics--Hawaii Island Legends, Hawaii's Birds, Isabelle Bird's Six Months in the Sandwich Islands, The Art of Travel. And, so, when I checked in, after I unpacked, I simply started to write--in a notebook, on a laptop, with my thumbs on my phone.

In The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton writes about the poet Baudelaire. "He was throughout his life, strongly drawn to harbours, docks, railways stations, trains, ships and hotel rooms, and felt more at home in the transient places of travel than in his own dwelling. When he was oppressed by the atmosphere in Paris, when the world seemed 'monotonous and small,' he would leave, 'leave for the leaving's sake,' and travel to a harbour or train station."

There's something else about these "transient places of travel" about which Baudelaire writes. There's a sense of anonymity here. No one knows me--knows my accomplishments, my faults, my fears. Underneath my floppy hat, I am just another visitor with a book--or phone--in hand. If I choose, I do not have to carry the weight of a conversation, the burden of an ego that is my self, and because I am traveling solo, I am not tempted to see to someone else's happiness. There's a freedom wrapped up all that, like some beautiful gift I've given myself. A freedom to be me. A freedom to be a writer. A freedom to, simply, write.

Baudelaire lived in the 19th century. In 1859, after a difficult period in his life, he spent much of two months observing the comings and goings of a harbor. "Those large and beautiful ships, invisibly balanced (hovering) on tranquil waters, those hardy ships that look dreamy and idle, don't they seem to whisper to us in silent tongues: 'When shall we sail for happiness?'"

Hotels and condo resorts and airports--those transient places of travel--whisper to me in silent tongues, "Let's write."

By the pool on the shores of Kauai's east side, words float my way on light trade winds. It's the bikini lady. She could be Australian--now, Australia's a place I want to visit, although I won't plan a mini-retreat there but a full-on adventure--and, I realize as she walks by, that she could be pregnant.

A couple of men arrive. The Kindle lady calls out to them, and the two couples--newly made friends from afternoons spent around the pool--recap their culinary excursions. One couple ate at Passion Cafe, where I fell into a deep well of writing wealth, and the other at Pono Market. One of the two new men to make his end-of-day ritualistic journey to the pool, the requisite vacation beer in hand, reports he rose early to watch the sun rise, took pictures with his phone, emailed them to his sister and then went for a swim in the ocean--with his phone in his pocket. He didn’t seem to mind. That’s what vacation will do for you, I guess. That and write. Write. Write. Write.


What about you? What do Baudelaire's "transient places of travel" do for you? Do you look forward to plane travel--tucked away in a bubble of isolation, the perfect place to read? Are you drawn to airports and harbors and train stations and hotel lobbies to watch people and humanity go by? Please share.


Elaine Masters | Oct 03, 2011 06:00 PM

Hello, Loved your post and yes, I love writing when I travel. Barely six weeks ago I was sitting in the lobby of the Waikiki Outrigger and had an amazing flashback to my Mothers doing the hula in the kitchen. I wrote about it on my blog: Also I had a chance to stay at the Outrigger in Kailua, Kona on the same trip with the family and it was a perfect launching spot for our intrepid group of scuba divers, runners and photographers. One day I'll return to explore more of the coast and swim with the Mantas Rays, Turtles and Dolphins in the area once again.

Kim | Oct 03, 2011 06:43 PM

Elaine, I just read your blog post. What a beautiful memory of your mother. Did she used to live in Hawaii? I'll be reading more of your blog. Mahalo.

Beverly Diehl | Oct 04, 2011 04:00 AM

SheWrites sister here. I don't have a laptop, but still find ways to write when I travel. Steno pad. Other people's computers. Because the writing comes out, where ever I am. I don't *try* to work, the words demand to be written. That said, some places - like this one you describe so well - seem to be more inspirational than others.

susan | Oct 04, 2011 05:04 AM

I am not so much inspired to write while traveling as I am to read. Specifically, I love reading about place, the history, culture, people of the place. Not guidebooks, but maybe novels written by writers of that area or true accounts of real people. I happened upon this way of deepening my travel experience by accident, when, many many years ago, on my very first visit to Hawaii, I read Mitchner's Hawaii. It added so much to the experience, now I do it on purpose. Tony Hillerman and Willa Cather in the southwest, Gunter Grasse's Cat and Mouse while driving thru the Black Forest of Germany, John Muir's diary while hiking in Yosemite. I am already planning the reading for my visit to the Pioneer Museum in Eastern Oregon. I have not found a place that someone else has not been and written about it. Praise to the writers!

Julie Farrar | Oct 16, 2011 06:00 PM

I finally made it over here from SheWrites. I love de Botton's book and take it with me frequently if I'm on a longer trip. I would love to have more opportunities to go away for even just a weekend to write. There are no daily expectations to distract me. Of course, it's more important that I discipline myself to put words on paper where ever I am, right?

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