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solo retreating into words

Photo: Stack of notebooks and journals on Kimberly's desk

Following an in-depth design season and some unexpected reminders that I need to take better care, I found myself tapped out creatively and longing for some gentle replenishment and quiet moments for reconnecting. I felt a pull to reconnect with my creativity in a way that was simply for the sake of being creative rather than related to my art business. This need for reconnection and remembering drew me back to one of my earliest creative roots and forms of self-expression: words.

Read, written, spoken

Everything about words draw me in, fill me up, and inspire me to ponder, envision, and move. An ever-welcome invitation beckons me to immerse myself in another time and place through the imaginative realm of novels. Ideation is activated when I listen to the words of neighbors both known and yet unmet. As I remember again and again how much we share in the most meaningful ways and how our differences are to be celebrated and an opportunity to learn and better understand. Thoughts are unearthed when I put pen to paper, freeing up space in the corners of my mind, letting poetry spill out in whatever way it wishes without rules or worry.

I observe that when I am actively engaging with words, I feel more invigorated, more alive, more 'me.' Yet when busyness rises up, the quiet, rejuvenating time spent with them is nearly always the first to be set aside for another day. It isn't that they aren't important, but simply that there are ebbs and flows to running a small business on my own that necessitate shifting seasons and shifting hats. As I often remind myself, there is something to be said in the taking of turns, so instead of berating myself for allowing this endearing love of mine to wait in the margins, I have opted instead for learning to anticipate the dry spells. By doing so, I can be intentional about scheduling a restful recess between busy seasons.

A spur-of-the-moment solo retreat of sorts

I had already set aside a Friday to focus on creating content, but when I woke and saw the gently diffused light streaming in my second-story window, I made a spur-of-the-moment shift in plans. I decided to go on a solo retreat of sorts, a whole day set aside for a happy return to words. The second I made the decision, a sense of joyful expectation rose up as though rusty wheels had begun to turn in eager anticipation of knowing that they were finally going somewhere. You may have spotted me in my IG Stories sharing my progress as I went along.

Being me, I wanted to 'do this right.' In my mind, it already had a name: a solo retreat, a 'happy return to words'. And once I give something a name, it becomes an experience, something worth undivided attention and thoughtful consideration.

For me, the act of embarking on something- whether it be trip, experiment, or new pastime- always requires a bit of preparation (my 'J' in Myers-Briggs runs deep). As backwards as it may sound, I feel more free and adventurous when I have some set parameters or an outline within which to work.

The first thing determined was that I needed to create some mental space free of distraction, 'shoulds', and task lists. I closed out of my email, silenced my phone, quit applications I wouldn't be using, and tucked my planner away out of sight.

I then went about setting the scene for optimum inspiration. I tidied my desk, slipping wayward pens into their designated spots, and straightening or setting aside stray papers for revisiting later. This simple task made my little window nook begin to feel unencumbered as if there were more space for calm and for ideas to breathe.

Photo: Kimberly's studio close-up of a stack of books, flying pig ceramic figurine, jar of felt flowers

Next, I pulled together my materials and stacked them neatly at the ready. The stack consisted of my...

  • field notes notebook filled with things I've learned from others or through self-reflection having to do with creativity,

  • ideas journal where I jot down ideas for writing and designing,

  • little clues notebook illustrated by Crystal Hung in which I tuck away ideas and quotes that impress upon me and open windows into what is most significant to me and why it is so,

  • trusty laptop for moments when words must flow fast in order to catch them all,

  • and a favorite aqua-mint Muiji pen gifted me by my friend Jackie Sun.

Whetting my palate with something small

With everything in place, I decided to start with something small, an unassuming exercise to whet my palate. I pulled up my browser and typed in the URL for ONEWORD, a free online resource encouraging the practice of free-writing without overthinking things. I clicked the "Go" button and a solitary word appeared on the screen along with an empty text field. I had 60-seconds to type whatever came to mind. Here's what came from my 1-minute exercise:


there were corners

even when

there wasn't space or ends of place

i will tuck them each away

every memory, self-contained

in little corners of my mind

It felt so lovely to have an impromptu poem within the first minute into my solo retreat, and I was excited to keep going.

Alternating between writing, reading, and listening

I opted to alternate between writing, reading, and listening, and took some time to engage with the words of someone who inspires me. I pulled up Kayte Ferris' Simple and Season blog and perused her recent posts. One of her titles instantly captured my attention, How to Find the Value You Can Offer the World. Taking my time, I read through her insightful words and penned some notes for safekeeping and further consideration.

Photo: Kimberly writing a quote in her 'Little Clues" notebook- "Value exists when your strengths and what other people need collide." - Kayte Ferris

I finished Kayte's post feeling inspired to do something tactile and tangible next, so I found a blank page and stream-of-consciously began to jot down words I love for their meaning, sound, and sentiment. When words trailed off, I put my pen down and reviewed what I'd written down. So many of them felt like friends, some of them being words I'd been drawn to since childhood. Others felt like new acquaintances carrying meaning I want to hold close when illustrating and making new things.

Kimberly's 'Little Clues' notebook lying open-face on desk with Muji pen

I took a break to listen to a conversation between blogger and podcaster Ruth Poundwhite, and author and writing coach Greta Solomon. Their conversation in Episode #28 of the Creatively Human podcast, covered a host thoughts and ideas regarding creative self-expression and self-acceptance through writing and journaling. Listening along was both enjoyable and invigorating, and I found myself thinking about implementing a morning journaling ritual, which is something I haven't done in some years.

By this time, my fingers were itching to write. I opened a new blogpost entry and began to type, words flowing out as if they'd been built up and waiting for me to open the floodgate.

I had such a lovely time solo-retreating that I'm looking forward to plan another. While this one centered on words, I'm now brimming with ideas of ways to immerse myself in music composition, reading through a book series, or perhaps trying to perfect a recipe or experiment with new ingredients and flavor combinations in a favorite dish.

I'd love to hear if you've enjoyed any form of solo retreating, and if it's sparked new ideas for creative projects.


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Welcome to the personal blog of of Kimberly Kuniko, a Nikkei American illustrator, collage artist, poet, and host of cozy, virtual guided creative retreats with a new theme each month.

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