Backyard Explorations: Point Dume

For we wanderlust sufferers, it is easy to overlook the fact that getting away from it all doesn’t necessarily require a big splurge on plane tickets and hotels. Next time you need a change of scenery, consider looking in your own backyard.

canyon1

Topanga Canyon

LA has been my neighborhood for almost three months now, and it’s high time I did some exploring. Work pressures and writing commitments have been piling up. I could use some perspective.

And my motto is, when the going gets tough, the tough go driving.

The Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH, for cool) is the famous road that follows the coast of California. It runs all the way up to San Francisco and beyond, but I was not planning to go that far today.

canyonview

My eyes were too busy watching the road to notice where the camera was pointing.

In order to get to the coast, I took the 101 freeway west and followed Topanga Canyon Boulevard up, up, up and down, down down – winding around the mildly frightening mountainous terrain with my game face on. I even managed to hack a few photos with my free hand.

canyon3Coming down the other side, the first thing I noticed (aside from the gorgeous canyon views) was a distinct drop in temperature. After 90 degrees and climbing in the valley, those first whiffs of 69 coming over the hills was dreamy.

Topanga Canyon is a really charming part of the world, with barren hills suddenly boasting civilization. Signs for businesses and houses and even a Post Office. I felt a little nervous for the safety of several cyclists hugging the teeny margin of street next to vehicular traffic, but nothing horrible happened.

pch1

I wish I could do it justice (you’ll have to go see it yourself sometime), but suddenly out of all this up and down comes a stunning ocean view. This being a Saturday, the view was made slightly less stunning by the volume of cars lined up all along the side of the road.

These beaches do offer paid parking, but most visitors would rather take their chances on the side of the road than waste their nine bucks.

I drove the PCH for eight or ten miles, just looking around and soaking in the atmosphere. It reminded me of weekends in Virginia Beach – the smoosh of locals clamoring for some beach time on their day off.

Once I hit Malibu, public beaches gave way to houses built right on the coast (completely blocking the view). I thought these might be fun and eccentric like the ones in Florida, but they were mostly forgettable. Still the main drag feel was fun and funky, with a mix of fast food and kitschy Mexican establishments lined up together.

The first glimpse of something promising...

The first glimpse of something promising…

I set my sights on a quieter, less commercial part of the world. On the map, Point Dume State Beach (I pronounce it ‘Dyoom’ so it doesn’t sound so ominous) forms sort of a horn protruding into the ocean. I imagined a wide swath of sand from which you could enjoy a 180 degree view of the Pacific.

Who knew if that’s what it’s really like, but it’s fun to imagine.

I had a dream when I was planning my Key West road trip that the highway through the keys was just two lanes right on the water. I know that’s probably impossible, but come on, engineering has absolutely nothing to do with the way my mind works.

oceanview

So there I was, beginning to look for my next turn, and the world opened up before me. The traffic, the busy Saturday, the deadlines, the questions about the future, they all fell away.

This is what exploring can do for you, folks. You take a break from your schedule. You simply behold.

This is discovery, in my book.

More on Point Dume tomorrow, but for now: when was the last time you followed a road you’ve never seen the end of? Maybe that should happen soon.

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DIY Writer’s Retreat

Once you start inviting writing gurus to send you weekly emails, you will find yourself facing a number of invitations to part with cash. Some of these money-spending opportunities are extremely helpful, depending on what you need at this point in time and where you are in your career.

One invite that never fails to draw my salivating interest is for writer’s retreats. A week away in a beautiful place with yoga classes and creative prompts, and no responsibilities but to write.

Doesn’t that sound like the definition of bliss?

Chances are, if you’re still in the ‘build’ phase of your writing career, you don’t have a couple thousand bucks to dispense on a week of bliss. Or maybe you do and you’re cheap. Which is basically my situation.

So what’s the cheapster to do when her writing piles up and Puerto Rico beckons? What we always do when we want something without paying for it. Do It Yourself.

No money, no problem. Hole up and write.

No money, no problem. Hole up and write.

With three quarters of a screenplay, a serial or novel, a short story languishing for want of research, a couple Ebooks, and an idea for a kids’ travel book weighing on my creative mind, I’m overdue for some serious writing time. So the plan is to devote three days of this week to writing.

No email. No errands. No cleaning. No phone calls. Just me and my computer and my notebook.

I hesitate to put this plan out there in Internet Land, only because my grand plans have an infamous history of falling apart. Undramatically, but tragically and completely. Leaving me with nothing but a list of good intentions and a guilty conscience.

But I am making an exception for scientific purposes. I’ll state my hypothesis, spend the week in experiments, then report next week with my conclusions. I flatter myself that this process will benefit other writers as well. So if a week away from life as you know it is just not in your budget this year, consider joining me on a DIY Writer’s Retreat.

Important considerations when planning one’s own writer’s retreat:

1. What is my goal?
Yes, writing, but more specifically, which writing. I listed four or five projects above, but no way will I touch all of them in three days. Better to choose one and go hard. The more specific the goal, the better.

I intend to finish the rough draft of my screenplay. That’s basically 40 pages. Just rough, no editing or tweaking. Not even spell-check. Just one pass to stretch it out to a full length.

2. Preparations
If all I’m doing is writing, that means I won’t be able to go grocery shopping. So I’d better do that first.

Depending on your personality, it could be helpful to come up with a rough schedule. For me, it’s hit or miss – a schedule could really help me focus, or it could send me into a panic of lethargy. So I’ll keep it low key: exercise in the morning, do some writing. Take a couple hours’ break for lunch and a book or movie, then write some more.

Nooooo pressure.

I do have a store of inspirational quotes and books and videos in the event that I lose motivation and wake up in the middle of a House marathon surrounded by origami rejects. A little Bret Lott or Anna Quindlen will get me back on the straight and narrow.

3. Go Somewhere
Just because I can’t afford Puerto Rico doesn’t mean I can’t day-trip to San Francisco. Or Phoenix. Or Starbucks.

Again, this is a matter of preference. I enjoy spending time in my little baby apartment, but it can get noisy during the day, what with the children and the skaters and the bird. My neighbor has a bird that squawks hellishly for approximately 2 hours every day.

I’m really good at ignoring stuff.

As long as I have music as white noise, staying home will probably work fine for me. But it could be fun to kick off at a coffee shop, so I can savor that feeling of starting something new and exciting.

4. Soften expectations
As much as I want to spend three days only writing, the bald fact is since starting this blog post, I’ve thought of calendar items for every day this week. Why don’t I write stuff in my calendar? This is a separate, but contributing, problem.

So in reality, it will probably be like 2 days and 3 afternoons. But that’s life. It’s DIY. We make exceptions.

But in the end we have this beautiful thing that we made, and it’s all the more satisfying because it didn’t cost a cent.

Off we go, busy writers. To create and to explore. Godspeed.

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