Writers Colony Week 3: Beginnings, Bathtubs, Visits, Mochas Revisited, Reading Pages Aloud, and Random Shit

I’ve written two beginnings here. One was a beginning for a book I’d already started, but I backed up and started anew here, so all the words found in that new opening are words I found here. The second of the two beginnings I’ve written here is for an entirely other book. I had zero pages of it before I got here, just an idea. I just emailed 40 pages to E to read. I was hoping the book would let itself out while here and it did—and now it won’t stop. I had to show someone sooner rather than later before I write myself into a deep lake and can’t swim back up. One of the books I’ve started here is younger, and one is older. One is in one girl’s voice, one is in another. These books each have equal parts of my imagination at the moment, like I’ve given birth to a set of completely different and entirely distinctive twins.

Feeling sick at a writers colony is a strange thing. You shouldn’t be sick here, because this is not the real world here. Here, you forget the meaning of money and you forget what it’s like to work. Your health should follow suit. But one night I didn’t feel well, so after dinner I decided to take a nice hot bath. In real life I’m not used to taking baths. I never take baths. I filled the tub, got in, and it was warm and luxurious and beautifully relaxing. Right now I am in a bathtub, I thought to myself, I am in a bathtub HERE, of all places. I found that to be hysterical. It cheered me up immensely. Even feeling ill at the writers colony takes on an air of the surreal.

But the day after the bath, I got to see E. This is love: He took a four-hour train ride up to see me because I wanted him to visit me halfway through. He was here. I’m so happy he got to see me here.

Mochas Revisited

I had a mocha at a coffee shop in town, my first mocha of my stay. I stood near the counter and took a long-awaited sip. My joy at this taste of mocha, after being mochaless for about two weeks, could not be held in and kept quiet. This mocha rivaled my own at my beloved café at home. I squealed aloud, likely embarrassing the person with me. There are no mochas at writers colonies… at least none that I’ve been to. They care for you like you’re not cared for in real life, but it’s not like you get assigned a bedroom, a studio, and a barista.

Random Shit
I was standing, near midnight, under the trees talking about how I don’t have the compulsion anymore to share my random shit with the world the way I used to. Without Twitter and Facebook constantly at my fingertips, I realize I don’t have to tell you every little thing. Maybe only some things. Maybe one thing a day? We’ll see how long this lasts, once I’m home. As of tomorrow, I have just one week left.

Reading Pages Aloud to Yourself
Here now, and for only the days I’m here, I can do something I’m never able to do in my real writing life: read my writing out loud while I’m writing it. I can close my door. And I can type a paragraph and read it back to myself, the words on the air changing the words on the page. Since I write in the city I can’t do this in real life—there are people everywhere. I forgot how well this works, how good it feels.

Reading Pages Aloud to Other People
The opening pages of Imaginary Girls were read in front of human beings for the first time ever in my life this week. In a drawing room. Under lamp light. Our benefactor, the woman who founded this colony, looked on from her portrait over the fireplace as I read. Or it seemed like she was anyway… her eyes follow you wherever you are in the room. So, from now on, come far-off Summer ’11, when I get to read from Imaginary Girls again once, you know, it’s an actual book I can hold in my hands, I’ll remember the first time these words were ever uttered aloud before a group of people: here in this place I’ve been lucky to go to, Spring ’10.

Writers Colony Week 2: More Books, Libraries, Private Property, Why, Real Life, Pages, and Stairways

More Books
It’s been a long time since I’ve read like I’ve been reading here at the writers colony. I’ve been reading quickly, and in bits, usually midday while I take a break for lunch, and sometimes around midnight to get myself sleepy enough to close my eyes and drift off. I never read so much at home; I think I feel guilty about it. Here, I feel no guilt. As I confessed below, I took eight books and eight books only in my suitcase. Since my last writing I’ve read five. Six if you include the dud—there is one book I’ve tried to read, twice now, and can’t get through it, I’m sorry, I’m giving up.

I joined the local library, just for the month. There, I found myself drifting to the YA section. I found myself near the S shelf. I found myself looking idly for I-don’t-know-what. Then I saw it. DANI NOIR. The idea of some girl in Saratoga Springs picking out this book to read out of all other books to read gave me a thrill. I left it where it was and didn’t tell the librarian who’d just given me my new, shiny library card that it was mine.

Private Property
I sometimes take my notebook to the gardens, which are open to the public. On the way back up there are signs that say it’s private property past this spot. One day I started climbing the hill and walked on the lawn past the signs. I saw a couple below me. They looked up and watched me go. It seemed, for a moment, that they wanted to call out to me, “You’re not allowed up there! That’s for the artists!” To warn me. But I kept going and they decided not to yell. Maybe it seemed like I was allowed to be here after all.

Why come to a writers colony? To be alone with your work. To face it. No, really, to FACE IT. To have time for it, more time than maybe you even wanted. To struggle with it with hours to go till dinner and no one to keep you from it but yourself. To be taken care of. To look around and think, How is it that I’m worthy of being taken care of? But also: To be with others who are doing the same. To connect. To absorb. To enjoy it. To savor it. To make the most of it. To do here what you can do nowhere else.

Real Life

When I realized I had just three weeks left here I began to pick up speed, even more so when I began to approach the mark of two weeks. I feel a sense of urgency. In real life, I have distractions. In real life, I have constant access to you, the internet. In real life, I will have freelance projects. In real life, I’ll have hard and fast writing deadlines—I am thinking of one in particular. In real life, I have responsibilities. Here, I have none. But it’s itching at me. Real life. Some days I forget.

I don’t know what it is about this place, but there’s something. Something is definitely here. Why else would I somehow, in a fit of energy, start typing on a Friday morning and look back on a Friday afternoon and realize I wrote 16 pages in one day? I’ve never written that much of a first draft in one day in my whole life.

I have two choices of getting upstairs to my rooms: (A) a wide white staircase rising up before a beautiful stained-glass window or (B) a narrow, dark, twisting staircase that I think was for the household help to use. Guess which staircase I always use?

Week 1: Inspiration, Internetlessness, Closets, Notebooks, Boys, Mochas, Books, and Writing Alone

I always do what I say I won’t do. If I say I’m keeping a vow to not eat chocolate, say, just as an example (what a horrifying example!), be assured that I will eat a bite of chocolate within four to six hours of making the vow, and I will feel guilty for an instant and then I will love it and be thrilled at the idea of breaking the rules and feel no more guilt, none at all.

I am now at the writers colony, where I said I wouldn’t blog. But maybe I can tell you random things focused solely on me and my state of mind because I like saying I’m not going to do something and then doing it anyway.

Here’s what I’ve found so far:

Already in my first week, I’ve had two distinct and exciting ideas for my writing that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. If I hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t have discovered these two sparks, as they are directly related to this place and this moment and this space around me. I got a shiver just thinking of them now.

I love not having constant internet access. I’m writing this post offline in fact, and I’ll have to carry my laptop to a place where I will be able to upload it, and I may get to that today or tomorrow or the next day, so the instantaneous feeling of writing this will be lost, and I guess it’s possible that I may write it and not post it at all.

I have trouble sleeping when it’s too quiet. Also, related: Closets in old houses are very, very long—have you noticed? Closets have the feel of tunnels, shrinking smaller and smaller the farther back they go in, and in daylight they look like ordinary closets, but in nighttime they seem to expand into new dimensions, and their doors must be closed while you’re sleeping. I knew this as a child, but I’ve just relearned it now.

Writing longhand in a notebook while sitting on a shady spot in the grass of a completely empty patch of lawn can be magical. Even if you always use a laptop and have forgotten your grade-school cursive, try it. Take a notebook. Consider a mechanical pencil—it makes a satisfying scratching sound, and you can erase. Find a place where you can’t see anyone. Put your jacket down on the grass and stretch out. Put pencil to paper. Feel the wind on your face. See what comes.

Boys and Mochas
I miss E. I miss mochas. I miss E more than I miss mochas, exponentially more. But I do wonder if Think Coffee has noticed me gone. Are they worried? Do they wonder if I’ve been kidnapped? I don’t know if Think misses me, but I know E does.

I was able to fit eight books into my suitcase and wish I’d stuffed in a few more. It’s only the end of the first week and I’ve already read four.

Writing Alone
I am not used to writing alone. It’s always said that writing is a solitary occupation, but I’ve realized that I am never alone by myself when I write. There are people all around me in the café, and there are people all around me in my writing spot, and that feeds me somehow, the knowledge that there are people and they’ll know if I’m not working. I never write in a room alone with the door closed, where no one can see if I’m working or not. But I am now. Imagine the freedom of that after never having it, never. Imagine looking around and seeing no one. Imagine typing and having no one hear you tap those keys. No one can see me doing it, but I’m working, I am, I can’t help it. That’s why I’m here.

How I’ll Miss You While I’m Away

Bye, blog readers and random strangers who might happen upon this blog and wonder who I am. I’ll miss you.

This is the post where I really and truly log out and leave this time. I mean it. It’s time to go! As of crazy-early o’clock tomorrow morning, I’ll be throwing myself from my loft bed, making sure I haven’t forgotten anything, probably forgetting something anyway, hugging E desperately, going back and hugging him once more, and then lugging my human-size duffel on wheels down four flights of stairs and into the waiting street, where I may or may not get a cab, depending on how late I’m running for the train.

Actually… that duffel is pretty enormous. I will need a cab for sure.

And I have a feeling E won’t let me go to the train station by myself.

If you’re idly curious about what I may have packed for the writers colony, in my enormous duffel on wheels you will find:

  • 8, possibly 9 if I slip one last one in my backpack, books
  • 13 pairs of mismatched socks, 14 including the ones I’ll be wearing
  • 1 pair of writing slippers, bought from a glamorous bin off Canal Street
  • 3 pajamas
  • 3 sweaters
  • 5 notebooks
  • no movies
  • 1 umbrella
  • 1 itty-bitty flashlight
  • 1 pair of pink sunglasses (Annika, you know which ones!)
  • plus lots and lots more

My bag:

(I am considering unpacking some things because it’s so heavy. Beautiful Creatures, I want to read you, but you are too damn thick!)

Why am I packing so much? For those of you who may have missed it, I’m heading off to spend four weeks in a magical place among other writers and artists, where all I’ll need to do is write. Just write. There will be a chef to feed me and a room of my own to stay in—all for free—and my time will be my own to do with what I want and… it doesn’t sound real, does it? It really doesn’t!

But the place is called Yaddo. I swear it exists. Look, Wikipedia says so.

(I hope it exists, as I’ll be arriving there off the train with that enormous bag and nowhere else to go!)

I won’t be online much while I’m there. You can reach me via email if you need to, but it might be hard to reach me. I’m sorry in advance if I get swept up in the writing and let anything sit.

I’m sorry to abandon this blog for so long, but I won’t be blogging my time while I’m there. I also won’t be logging in to Facebook or Twitter, and I’ve turned off all notifications, so I won’t see messages or DMs until I return.

Thank you to my supportive other half, E, who is not happy that I’ll be away for so long but is being so amazing about it (and who will be getting a lot of pages to read once I get home). And to my agent, whose support with my new ideas has me so excited to dive in while there. And to my great friends, who are helping with the nerves. And to Yaddo, for awarding me this residency in the first place! I’m so honored. I’ll make great use of it, I promise.

So that’s it from me for the month.

Have a wonderful and inspiring April! I’ll be back May 3. 🙂

Preparing for the Writers Colony

(For my previous post all about writers colonies, see here.)

So here I am, days away from going. The closer I get to leaving, the more quiet I’ve found myself becoming online. I’ve had less and less to say. Maybe this is practice—since there will be no tweeting, no Facebooking, and no reading blogs or writing my own blog while I’m there. That heavy silent object on my shoulders is my own head, and I’ll be spending a lot of time alone with it once I’m there.

I’m feeling this great sense of anticipation. As if so much is possible. The two new projects I’m working on are buzzing all around me. I’m so excited about them.

Also, practical thoughts are spinning through my mind: How muddy will it be there, do I really need my galoshes? Can I live without the 9 or 10 books I’ve piled up to carry with me—should I ship them to myself, or just use the colony’s library? What will my room be like? Who will I meet? What will we talk about at dinner? Can my iPod work as my alarm clock? How terribly will I miss E, and can I fall asleep without him? Where is my flashlight? Etc. Etc.

But then I push all that aside and I think of the writing, only the writing… which is why I applied to go in the first place. All my questions will be answered soon enough, and then I’ll be alone with my writing… for four weeks. What a gift.

I’ll say good-bye before I go… so you know just when I’ve disappeared!