Well, not really, not conquer, but retreat sounds like a strategic withdrawal from the battle. So who is to be defeated? No one. But perhaps one can conquer one's self, with discipline and luck.
My first retreats were not strategic but desperate. I was trying to write with four kids at home. The oldest was just starting school; the youngest was challenged and needed a lot of time. So did I. When my parents went away one winter, I used to get a baby sitter and take a cab to their place with my typewriter. Not often because that was expensive. I set up arts and crafts projects at the kitchen table for the kids and sat at my desk in the adjacent dining area, my writing space, and wrote short things not because I had a short attention span but because they did. My husband helped. One time we were going to Montreal to the wedding of one of his closest friends and Bill suggested I go by train so I could write. So he put me in a roomette, or whatever they call those little private moving cells, and I wrote my way from Winnipeg and he met me in Montreal.
By the time we moved to Stratford it was a habit, to take work with me when I travelled with Bill. If it was in Ontario, to Toronto or Ottawa, I would take my own portable typewriter. If further than that, I rented a typewriter in whatever hotel we stayed in and wrote during the day while Bill worked. Yes, I worked at home, too, but not with the complete focus I had when alone in a room without interruption.
After Bill died, my writing moved up to to necessary top priority because I was trying to make a living with it. (No one told me it couldn't be done.) I started going to stay at a friend's home in Bermuda. It happened almost by accident but then one or the other of us would phone and ask for time. They had basset hounds they wanted me to look after and I wanted the uninterrupted time. I wrote a number of books there.
Bill (W.O.) Mitchell helped me to the next phase. He parachuted me in to the Writers' Retreat in Banff: two, three weeks, I forget how long, and I wrote up a storm. The last year that I lived in Toronto I spent more consecutive time in Banff than I did at home: at the Advanced Writers' Retreat; in a Leighton Artist's studio; in the Playwrights' Workshop; and even once, not forgetting my day job, as a guest speaker at an insurance conference. (I was Canada's favourite widow by then.)
My accountant suggested I get my own writer's retreat and spend less money on travel. That's when I moved into a winterized cottage on the shore of Bass Lake in Muskkoka. When I moved in, the septic tank was on its last dregs so I kept moving until the weather was warm enough to install a new one That's when I went to the MacDowell Retreat in New Hampshire where they bring you your lunch in a basket left on the doorstep of your own little cabin in the woods. (Bliss!)
Owning your retreat is not as good. Not only are you the one who supplies the basket but you also have to shovel the snow. There's always something to do, to be done. Eventually I moved back to Toronto, though not for 16 years.
Last fall (October, 2013) I had two retreats. I applied for and was granted a month in Stegner House in Eastend, SK, to work on a project. (I wrote the first draft.) I also applied to Canada Council for travel assistance because Eastend is far away. I took the train, two nights and two days in a "cabin" that served as a decompression chamber, allowing me to prepare to focus on the book I am still trying to complete at home.
I have become very reclusive now, not as hard as it used to be because I have lost so many family and friends. I'm not careless, just old.
I didn't intend this to be a blow-by-blow account of my retreat history, but I think it demonstrates how necessary it is to be absent. The End of Absence (see yesterday's blog) is scary. I can't speak for everyone but I know that I absolutely need solitude, far from the madding internet. These days the crowd is closer than it was, and more threatening, and you have to work at conquering the constant assault on consciousness.