Friday, November 19, 2010

So Just What is a Writers' Colony?

For years now I have made my pilgrimage to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the VCCA, an artists’ colony at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural Virginia. Before I leave, friends wish me well. “Happy Writing,” they say; or, “So you’re off to writers’ camp;” maybe, “Have fun at your workshop;” and the most bold, the most direct, “I don’t understand why you have to go there.”

So just what is a writers’ colony?

The VCCA sits on a hill top surround by fields where cows graze. Out the back gate are country roads, narrow and unlined where the few cars that pass drive fast. There are small houses, where if you turn right, you’ll find mostly African-Americans; turn left and you’ll find white folks. Dogs roam freely. The are woods. On my walk, today I passed a field where, under the bright Virginia sky, goats grazed. Sun shone down. There was a breeze, and birds thought fall had turned to spring. I passed no stores, no strip malls, no baseball fields or tennis courts.

Back on the grounds of the VCCA, I sit in my studio, the corn crib, a free standing building that looks like Hansel’s and Gretel’s cottage, and yes, it was a corn crib with its slanting walls and slanting roof. I sit at desk, my computer in front of me. There is a bookcase, an upholstered chair, a single bed, box spring and mattress on a metal frame. I don’t sleep in that bed. I sleep in a residence hall about a football field or so, down a driveway and across a wide lawn. The bed in the studio is for what Virginia Woolf called her well. When it went dry, she waited until it filled again. So I lie on my studio bed, my well fillling my mind drifting, aimlessly, it seems, but not airmlessly, for my sub-conscious brain is hard at work. Here, the phone does not ring. I don’t collect mail, and the real world is far away.

Around me in studios I cannot see other artists work as I do, writers, painters and composers, all of us toiling long hours in our solitary spaces, coming together for meals, although some choose to eat alone, sharing our work at readings and open studios, although, some choose not to share. They’re not shy. They’re simply not ready.

Because we are here, together, something happens. It is as if invisible seeds fill the air. We feel them them floating, and we plunge deeper into a story or a painting. Perhaps, we try something new, return for dinner estatic: a break through. If this sounds a little woo-woo or new age, think of yourself when you were a child, the way you built whole cities out of sticks or sat mesmerized by a rainbow inside a puddle after rain. This is the artists’ world, cities out of sticks, a rainbow in a puddle. Here, we have the space around the time to squat down, to look, to listen, to fill the well. Here is where art is born, then suckled. We are kindred spirits, kindred souls.

So yes, this place is all of the things you asked about, writers’ camp, workshop, and now you know why I'm here.

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