So, what goes on in an artist retreat? A number of things, some expected, some that might seem odd. At first there is a certain amount of talk about the OTHER places you have been-Yaddo, McDowell, possibly more exotic locations, one guy was alone for months in a very remote area-maybe Michigan or South Dakota. It's sort of like the beginning of camp. You eye one another and try to figure out who the hell you are going to live with for the next 30 days. My experience with communal living has been limited but not so bad. There was this crazy guy in college, I can't recall why we were living together, who used to draw a line on the cereal box to mark his consumption. I hated this behavior so I made sure to get up very early and eat at least a bowl so he would understand that nothing was in his control.
Ironically, I'm all about monitoring other people's behavior. After several days of bad coffee brewed very early and in lavish amounts, I approached the other writer, someone who has become a good friend and said, "Uh, could you stop making so much coffee or at least make it better? It's weak and bitter and there's so much." She looked, understandably, stunned. I think I might have stopped at weak but it seemed important to be as clear as possible. I apologized and we have bonded over someone else's faults but this is group living and one must tolerate a certain amount of imperfection.
So, here's my typical day. I wake up around 6 and then try to sleep a bit longer. I get up and make great coffee, not too much so it doesn't get old. Then I get back in my bed and I read or write. I am still in my pajamas. After that, I make my bed and see if there is anything important in my e-mail. It's amazing how few people seem to need me including my family.
Perhaps they are respecting this idea of being "off the grid" but I fear I will return to a husband, son and cats who have just postponed their grievances and need for all sorts of things, Husband: constant praise, undivided attention, home cooked meals, Son: Money, School Supplies, Haircut, shoes, constant praise, home cooked meals, Cats: constant praise, ear scratching, undivided attention, treats. Currently I am in this zenlike state of me, me, me.
So there's breakfast. Our chef-we have a chef-keeps the place stocked. I'm a smoothie girl so I make one with banana, frozen fruit, fresh fruit, yogurt and orange juice. Then I go write some more. I have been here 14 days and written 50 pages of very intense memoir stuff. It's hard to disappear into the work at home. Somehow you find yourself distracted by things-chores, friends, the gym, the phone. AT&T is very bad here. There is a bench where I can find signal but it's straight up a hill-a very, very steep hill. The memory work needs to happen and that's very hard in Chicago. I wake up here and my brain is filled with words for the page. It doesn't always feel good. There is loneliness and isolation and things you'd rather avoid thinking about.
I get to read books here which I'm not doing so much at home. So far I have read a memoir by Mary Cantwell, another by Joyce Maynard and I'm in the middle of another one by Jill Ker Conway. I've read a novel by Tim O' Brien and I'm reading a Richard Ford novel and also a book on writing memoir. I applied for another residency a few days ago and I'm trying to plan the writing class I'll teach the week after I return. It's amazing how being taken care of makes it possible to do the things you require as an artist.
I usually walk between breakfast and lunch. Either through the woods or straight back to the road which is basically going up and over a small mountain. I listen to music or I just hike with the sound of the birds, the leaves, the coyotes and silence. That is a minimum of an hour. I return and eat lunch-a bagel, mozzarella & tomato or leftover salad from dinner. The fridge is full.
The afternoon brings more writing. Maybe rereading and editing a bit. Reading and maybe looking at the
newspaper. A shower and some half-hearted stretching. I miss Yoga but I'm too undisciplined to do more then a few downward dogs. Yesterday I hitched a ride to Half-Moon bay and jumped in the freezing ocean. Bliss.
Dinner is at 7. Our chef arrives and amazing smells start to happen. We emerge and then there is wonderful food-mostly vegetarian, delicious, fish, healthy. The talk is jumbled, people tell about their days, their work, sometimes there are dinner guests, sometimes just us. We do the dishes together (some of us) and then it's time to return to one's space for more work or maybe solitaire and reading. At times the group feels like a family which means some people dominate the conversation and there is not always unity.
I keep my agent's e-mail words in front of me: