Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Confession Tuesday - Writing Residency Edition

Our note because last time, we had a few haunted incidents in our apartment (which I personally loved)...

Dear Reader, 

I am writing to you with my "retreat mind" still somewhat intact.  I know in the next few days I will lose this silence, and return to what seems "normal"-- NPR always on in the kitchen, the chatter of Facebook and the rest of the internet, the world's news coming at me from all directions, but right now as I type this, the day feels slow--even with many tasks and commitments ahead--I do not want to check MSN, Facebook, Twitter, but want to keep this calmness in my head.

But there's a lot that happened in a quiet week of working.  

To the confessional--

This is my room where I wrote for the last week.  I confess, by day two I had put a yellow blanket over the floral comforter because it was hurting my eyes or as I kept saying, "My bedspread is offending me."  Annette called my bedspread cover "Victorian Fainting Couch" style, and she was very close to naming what was hurting my eyes.

Annoyed Hornet in Wine Glass

I confess because the days were warm and I kept my windows open, I became the Hornet Trainer.  By the end of my stay, I was very much the Karate Kid of the Wine Glass, if you remember that scene with him, a fly and chopsticks, well, let's just say I raised the bar a little bit by adding hornets and a wineglass.  I could scoop them from the air by the end of this trip, in fact I've been cast in a new movie:  The Poetic Kid: When Hornets Attack.

I confess this is where I sat and wrote a poem straight through on evening at 5 (that is Mt. Baker in the distance, Denise Levertov's favorite mountain).  And I confess when I tried to recreate the magic the following night at the same place, it didn't happen.  This is poetic inspiration (similar to Project Runway motto)-- One night you're in, the next night you're out.  

The second night I did get a new poem, but it wasn't as brilliant as the first poem in the way it was written out.  The first poem came out start to finish (when this happens, it's truly a gift).  The second poem had many arrow pointing in between other lines.  The second poem worried if it was doing it right, if it could be all that its big sister was before.  The second poem dropped the baton, but picked it up and kept trying.

Romantic Movie Lovers: notice the background of "An Officer & a Gentleman" (it was filmed here)

I confess my writing residency made me make a choice that was hard to make. On my 2nd day there, the awards celebration for the Washington State Book Awards (Susan Rich, Oliver de la Paz, and I were all finalists) was scheduled in Seattle AND January O'Neil was in town to do a reading.  I bought a dress, I planned on going to both, and then... I didn't.  

This wasn't an easy choice.  I sat with myself and listened hard.  My ego wanted to go.  My ego wanted to get dressed up and be part of the crowd, the glorious winners.  But my writer self wanted to stay tucked in.  My writer self said, "You will leave here at 1 pm and not return until midnight or the next day."  My writer self said, "You will lose one full day of writing and have to resettle in."  My writer self said, "It's about the work this week..."

So I stayed.  My apartment mates helped me feel better about my decision and at the time I did.  But I confess, there is a part of me that wished I could be in two places at once.  Because I chose not to go, I made a point to write and revise more while on the residency to make sure, something would come out of the time I chose to stay.  And it did.

I confess I took a daily nap at the residency.  I was amazed how tired I was--write a poem, take a nap.  This was my schedule.  And I was good at it.

 I confess I think everyone should take yourself out of your regular life for at least a week a year. And really try to take yourself out.  I texted my family mostly so not to be drawn into the daily details, though I learned I could call them at night, but I kept it short.  I would always end with "I need to get back to work" as a reminder that I wasn't just up here giving myself pedicures and talking with the gals, but actually producing new work.

And I confess, returning to one's home after such an experience offers a few interesting things to consider--

1)  Your family realizes HOW MUCH YOU DO when you are here and appreciates you more.  Honestly, it felt good to be missed.

2)  You are creating good role models for your own kids (if you have them), especially if you have girls who will grow up with their own passions and interests, and especially, if they are artists themselves.  (I write this because women/moms seem to have bigger issues about leaving their families for a while to write than dads do...)

For example, the first time I went away to write when my daughter was even younger, I was a mess. I felt guilty.  I felt as if something terrible was going to happen when I was away.  I cried.  I called home all the time to check in. I could hardly be away.  And then about halfway through my week, I realized my time to write was almost over.  I didn't waste it away by worrying or crying (okay, I still did both occasionally), but I wrote.

I wrote new poems and remembered what it was like to be a person with dreams, goals, interests and passions.  Getting away to write reminds you that you are a person with individual dreams, goals and passions.  That's a good thing.

3)  Coming home can be a bit of a transition.  -- I've gotten better.  Two years ago, I came home terribly vulnerable and basically crash landed back into my own life.  There were tears and fights and more than I can write here.  But what I've learned is to allow myself back into the world more softly.

I ask my family not to ask anything of me on the day I return.  Even the question of "What do you want for dinner?" can make me fall apart sometimes.  As I said, I've gotten much better at transitioning faster, but do give yourself some time to reconnect with your own life.  There may be some things you see in your life that you don't like anymore, or you need to fix when you return.  So give yourself some time to return back in.

I love these signs; they remind me of The Partridge Family.
C'mon get happy...

I confess while my manuscript is still untitled, it's on its way.

When I left, I had two pages of poems I felt were complete, now I have thirteen pages in my manuscript.  I also have a nice selection of poems asking to be revised and saying they are almost ready to be included (I came close to putting them in, but I'm really working on not adding poems to my manuscript until I feel they are completely and positively done and the best I can do).

So I feel good about what I did.  And maybe I'll start submitting poems again. I haven't for awhile because I felt as if I didn't have anything acceptable enough.  I do now.

Thank you to a week of poetry.



  1. I've been in Port Townsend three times: once in 1984, in October, at the end of a weeklong trip along the west coast with a poet friend. (We started in Los Angeles and finished in Port Townsend where she was living at the time.)

    The other two times (July 1987 and July 1990) I was there for the writers' conference that's held at Fort Worden every year. I recognized the dock (with Mt. Baker in the background) in the photo you've posted here.

    I *love* the town, the place, the times I've been there. During the past year I finished work on a long series of poems that I'd been working on for years and years, about the trip on the coast in 1984 (I think I may have said something about it in an earlier comment here). The longest poem in the manuscript, the next-to-last poem, takes place in Port Townsend, my first visit there.

    My poet friend that I traveled with was living in the town when An Officer and a Gentleman was filmed there. She turns up as one of the people in the crowd in a couple of scenes in the movie.

  2. What a beautiful post! I love the fainting couch! And the hornet in the wine glass.
    I am looking forward to the new manuscript--or rather, book.


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