After more than a year and a half of RECOMS events online, an optional writing retreat happened in Barcelona in the beginning of October, 2021. Read Zhanna’s impressions of this event — the making, the occurrence, and the aftermath.
A writing retreat was something most of us were looking for in the past several months. For a variety of reasons: some wanted to have time and space dedicated specifically to cracking that stubborn article-in-the-making, some longed for a change of scenery to feel inspired and bring that inspiration to finishing up their PhD projects, some, quite frankly, had never been to Barcelona and wanted to go. Going anywhere was not an option for many of us in the past year and a half; neither was saying a proper good-bye to each other and to the ITN. We saw one another as pixelated rectangles on the screen, had a few laughs in the group chat. It felt like without the writing retreat — or any sort of a final event in person — RECOMS would just disintegrate, all of us moving on with our lives, scattered on the surface of this planet, fun distant memories at most.
Until we received a ‘yes’ for the writing retreat.
Till the very last moment, I didn’t believe that the writing retreat would happen at all. With so many other things repeatedly being postponed, cancelled, or moved online in the past year and a half, it seemed like a totally plausible scenario — us going nowhere at all. If anything, organizing the writing retreat was legit juggling: when it felt like things were moving forward, there was something else going wrong, and the processed needed to start anew. I remember very vividly how frustrated I would get when something that seemed like a sure deal would fall through, hence nullifying efforts of the past however many days. I would catch myself being impatient when waiting was the only thing we could do. For none of us organizers the retreat was the main task: with people either already out of contract, soon to be so, and having other commitments outside of their work and PhD (and either combination thereof), aligning our efforts was not a small feat. Moreover, a chunk of the preparation happened in August — a dead month when one expects a reply to an email.
One of the main reasons for us to want the retreat so badly was that, symbolically, it was a proper closure with the project — as well as the opportunity to spend time together after a long time of no face-to-face contact. Personally, I felt like if we could know for sure that in the end our efforts would bear fruit, working on this project would have been half as hard; however, if anything at all, the months since the training event in Vienna — the last time we all got to spend altogether — have taught us to sometimes just go with the flow.
And the flow brought us to Barcelona! Sunny, humid, full of smells, words, hugs, and walks into the night when, out of breath from laughing, we would share ‘news’ of the missed months. Seeing other fellows felt surreal yet somehow comforting, like seeing a friend whom one was close with as a child.
One of the most memorable experiences for me was the visit to the former cooperative and now a social center, La Flor de Maig, because of its rich, tortuous history. I did not realize how culturally entrenched the culture of coops was in Catalunya, and was amazed at how people reclaimed spaces through direct action. Our host, who at one time was the ‘president’ of the social center herself, told us stories that expanded far beyond the building of La Flor de Maig to the neighborhood, city, province.
In general, I was pleasantly surprised how varied the excursions were, and am immensely thankful to Sergio, RECOMS fellow and a local of Barcelona, for showing us the city from a very non-touristic perspective. Because of him we could see more in just a few days than we might have seen in a month. Ruben, another person organizing the event, often dubbed as an informal guide for a majority of us, unfamiliar with the history of Catalunya and Spain, or the language of either. We envied his ability to blend in with the locals and get to places we could not.
To be honest, I was surprised at how well the retreat went — and I am saying ‘well’ because not just me personally, but also from my conversations with other fellows, I’ve gathered that people enjoyed the event quite a lot. It was very intensive with writing and excursions, and social elements combined, and now, after it ended, I feel very tired but it’s a good kind of tiredness indeed. I think I speak for the majority of attendees when I say that the writing retreat was a wonderful closing event, and although not all fellows could attend, I am certain that we will retain the sense of community we have built in the past years, both in person and virtually.
On a related note, being on the ‘other side’ of the event and plowing through for it to become what we all got to enjoy for that one week, I am full of appreciation to everyone whom I got to work together with. You all rock.
Zhanna Baimukhamedova (November 2021)