Taking a 7-Day Sabbatical

Sometimes when you’re trying to carve out alone time, you find room for unexpected encounters.

For one week, I rented a room (thanks, Airbnb) in Savannah for what I dubbed a creative retreat. People asked, “Who are you doing this with?” Me, just me. A solo sabbatical.

To daydream. To ponder. To plot.

I brought with me a hefty stack of books for company.

The first one I opened 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam talks about how we believe we’re always working and never have enough time for the things we’ve always wanted to do — write a book, learn a new language, etc. But she points out that everyone — wealthy or poor — has exactly the same amount of time in a week.

It’s what we choose to do with that time — pursue our priorities, or fritter our time away. (The average American watches more than 30 hours of TV a week.)

Vanderkam suggests an exercise called List of 100 dreams. Basically, you write out all the things you’ve ever wanted to do in your life — a giant bucket list. For me, that list includes stuff like taking a design thinking class and building a tiny house.

When I arrived, I realized this was the first time I had ever booked a solo trip. The thing is the room itself wasn’t fancy at all. Lots of natural light. Quiet. It didn’t even have a desk. So I sat on the floor and propped my laptop on the single chair.

I can’t put my finger on it but I’ve always done some of my best thinking on an airplane or away from home. Maybe having fewer distractions helps with gaining perspective and clarity. Or perhaps it’s the combination of getting more rest and not having daily responsibilities (i.e. laundry, dishes or putting the kids to bed) or temptations (i.e. netflix) loom as large.

Why Savannah? There’s something charming about the historic squares and parks mixed in with art students and tourists. A city of contrasts. Walk down one street to admire grand mansions a few doors down from dilapidated buildings.

Stayed in the Starland Arts District (which has gotten written up a bunch in the NYT) where you can see the potential for growth (and gentrification). Parked myself at a communal table at a coffee shop called Foxy Loxy where one afternoon I sat across from a SCAD grad working on a watercolor for a beer label.

Plus it’s driving distance from Atlanta. On the way down, I listened to Seth Godin’s Startup School. Highly recommend this to aspiring entrepreneurs. Oh, how I miss being part of a campus.

I thought I really wanted time to myself but after a few days, I craved human connection.

So I jumped at the chance to talk real estate aspirations with my Airbnb host Melissa, who invited me to share some passion fruit iced tea on her front porch. She managed to dissuade me from taking my Zillow obsession to the next level but told me about her next plans for projects in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree.

Around the corner from where I was staying, I had the best lamb gyro of my life at this small Arabic deli papered with National Geographic covers. This Chinese-Arabic family visiting from Lebanon welcomed me to their table and I was delighted at the chance to speak a little Chinese and see that their love of food was as all-consuming as mine.

When I returned later, the deli owner introduced me to an aspiring writer who worked for him. Huda told me about about her dream of writing fiction when she finishes her MFA at SCAD. Her eyes fixed me intently as I told her about breaking into magazines and she spoke with a gravity older than her years. I wanted to tell her to write her stories, the ones she sees in the deli. That is the stuff of life right there.

And walking back from Forsyth Park, I watched an older African-American couple holding hands, chattering happily, moving slowly with an unsteady gait. When I stepped on the street to pass, the man turned to me and said, “Sorry, we’re just so in love we don’t notice anything else.”

These snippets of life rose to the surface as I slowed my pace and my expectations.

Drove to nearby Tybee Island, where I walked on the beach, sat near the ocean and wrote in my notebook. And a new idea came to me.

My goal of the week was to get out of a creative rut and soak up some inspiration.

So as my time here comes to a close, I hope that I’m able to keep this feeling alive.