I am beyond excited to share the brand new website for Writer’s Renaissance. Now going into its third year, I decided the retreat deserved a home as beautiful and inspiring as Florence itself. I think the new site achieves this goal, and I hope you think so too.
People often ask me how I got the idea for Writer’s Renaissance and why, when I am quite obviously busy with many other projects, I continue to run the retreat. I’ve found that the obvious answer – “Uh, have you ever BEEN to Florence?” – doesn’t quite satisfy. My biography page on the new website provides some explanation, but I’m not sure I had the full answer until after I returned from the 2014 retreat.
To say the start to the 2014 Writer’s Renaissance retreat proved a challenge would be a huge understatement. The hardship really began at the end of January when one of my neighbors shot my dog in cold blood (bear with me – the story gets better). Luckily, and miraculously he survived, but the ordeal took its toll physically, emotionally, and financially. I spent almost a month lost in a fog just trying to make up for lost time and $.
Then, less than 24 hours before I departed for Florence, Lufthansa went on strike, failed to rebook me, and was not responding to any calls. I had no choice but to purchase a brand new ticket for about 8 times the price of my original. I still have received no refund or compensation (or even a response for that matter) from Lufthansa to this day. But that’s another story…
So I arrived in Florence exhausted, stressed, and worried about how I would manage to create the outstanding experience the 2014 women participants were expecting, and knowing I had to. I have a deep sense of responsibility to everything I undertake, but when women put their time, money, and hearts into my hands, well, letting them down is not an option.
But the city began to work its magic on me immediately. On my first evening, the soft sunshine slipped into a sorbet
La Bella Notte a Firenza.
sunset as I enjoyed my first gelato of the trip on the Santa Trinita bridge, gazing at the Ponte Vecchio. I visited my favorite paper shop, reconnected with friends over dinner, and fell into bed at my “home away from home” hotel. After two full days of basking in the beauty of Florence, the vice grip around my heart began to loosen. I was both ready and eager to meet the renaissance women of 2014.
Traveling, especially by oneself, is both rewarding and challenging in myriad ways. First, it is an assault to our senses. The people, the food, the atmosphere, the culture – all might be vastly different from our home. Some of these changes are welcome and exciting, and others can be frustrating and frightening. Often it is difficult to predict which reaction you are going to have to what triggers, making it difficult to find equilibrium.
Yet, this kind of travel holds the power and possibility of transformation more than any other. When we jolt ourselves out of our comfort zones, we suddenly become more aware of our surroundings and more present in our experiences.
For example, each time I go to Florence, the very first gelato I eat is always the best, regardless of the flavor I choose. Why? Because of the distance between the last gelato I ate on my previous trip and the first bite on this one. I haven’t yet acclimated to the flavor, and the reunion is delicious indeed. The first time I hear cathedral bells ringing can move me to tears. And don’t even get me started on the smell of garlic wafting from whatever plate of pasta I’ve ordered.
Since so much of writing is noticing, sensory stimulation is great fodder for the page. But even more transformative is the fact that our emotions are also on high alert during travel. Whatever we might have lurking under the surface of our consciousness tends to come forth HUGE when traveling. Getting out of our daily routines forces us to confront our lives in a way we cannot when we’re on the treadmill of life. This confrontation leads to introspection, self-discovery and sometimes even epiphany.
During Writer’s Renaissance 2014, I learned that I had been letting fear take center stage in my life. I was holding on to emotions and ideas that were not serving me, my loved ones, or my work. Every day since my return from Florence, I have recited a mantra in the morning reminding myself not to act in fear, but in love and trust instead.
I can also tie other trips to life-changing (and life-affirming) decisions. The one where I learned my anxiety was taking over my life and needed to be treated. The one where I decided I HAD to leave my job and pursue my dream of writing. The one where I rediscovered the intensity, beauty, and brevity of life and realized I needed to leave my marriage. Then there was Writer’s Renaissance 2013, my first post-divorce trip, that made me realize how fully ME I was, and how ready I was to let go of the past and begin anew. Time and again, travel brings me back to myself, re-roots me to the earth and to my life, and gives me inspiration that sustains me long after the trip has ended. The outward journey always leads to inward journey. Rebirth, renewal, renaissance.
To end with the beginning, I started Writer’s Renaissance because I wanted to share the transformative power of travel with other women. Because once your senses have been stimulated, your emotions heightened, your self examined, you simply cannot remain the same person, and I believe the insights gained always lead to positive (or necessary) change.
Some even ask – “Why Florence?” I think what they mean is, it’s so far from where I live. Why not run a similar retreat here in the States?
That answer is easy. Traveling to Florence will cure anyone of the idea that dreams are not achievable. Look into the eyes of Michelangelo’s David and tell me if you still believe anything you might want to do or create is impossible.
Go on. I dare you.
, Travel Writing
, Writer's Renaissance
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, Julie Hedlund
, Retreats for Writers
, Travel as Transformation
, Writer's Renaissance
, Writing in Florence
, Writing Retreats