Sunday, June 22, 2014


My residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts ended a month ago. While I was there, a friend and fellow writer sent me an email. She was working on a lecture/essay about the challenges of maintaining balance in our lives as artists. At that moment, I put the email aside. Nothing was farther from my mind. I was the person I was meant to be, rising early without an alarm, doing yoga in my pajamas, dressing, then walking slowly out to the barn and my studio, carrying a half a grapefruit, a boiled egg, both of which I’d picked up in the dining room, entering and leaving, wordlessly. I’d walk past a paddock where horses ambled, their breath coming in ruffled snorts. At my studio, I’d insert my key into the lock, then enter the stillness I’d left the evening before. In a nearby kitchen, I’d plug in the electric kettle, and as water heated, I’d look out a window and watch bluebirds. After brewing my first strong cup of my day, I’d sit alone at an outside table or in my studio where I’d already pulled a big old broken down overstuffed chair to a window. There, I’d eat my egg, perhaps some fruit, maybe crackers with peanut butter or cheese. Surrounded by silence, I’d watch the sky, and all this time I would not have spoken a single word, so that when finally I’d take up my pen or go to my computer, the subconscious writing, my brain had done the night before was waiting and ready to pour forth.

Nights, after dinner when I’d walk down the long front drive, I’d seen a sign: “Entering the Real World.” The VCCA is an alternate world. A different world. Now, I wonder, is what feels like balance to me it’s opposite? Since I first learned about them in high school, I’ve been drawn to utopian communities, Brook Farm, the Transcendental community outside of Boston, the Shakers. I was the kid who loved camp. Now, I love the VCCA or retreats of my own making when I travel abroad, rent a room, research and write. When I write, I enter what my friend and fellow writer, Alexander Chee calls a fugue state. Alex says, “… when you enter the fugue state required for making art, you can’t really be a normal person. The good news is that at a colony, you’re not expected to—you’re expected to be civil to other colonists and respectful, but not normal. It’s a huge relief.” And I might add that travelling solo, knowing no one affords that same freedom and relief.

So here I am one month later, back in the real world, and I’m juggling, tossing balls up into the air: doctor and dentist appointments, commitments to family, to friends, to Sam, my standard poodle. I’m doing yoga, hiking into the mountains, walking, daily, swimming, gardening, travelling—and I’m reading and writing. My life is rich and full. Yet, I yearn for the VCCA where I live in a fugue state twenty-four seven. At home I enter that state for short periods. That, I suppose is real life. As for balance—which I perceive as equilibrium—that’s not me. I juggle; I totter. And I dream.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A New Week

     Taking stock of my week on Monday after the new week has already begun, but that's the way this past week has been for me. I'm running behind the bus, arms outstretched, yelling, “Wait for me.” Not the best feeling. So far today, I have managed 45 minutes at my computer working on an essay, an hour yoga class, breakfast, my second cup of coffee with Sam, my standard poodle, behind me on his bed chewing a treat I've given him. His sounds calm me, and so I'm trying to breathe, to say, this is my life. At this moment I write for as long each morning as I can before life intrudes in the way of  my yearly physical which I put off until it catches up with me, the dermatologist, the dentist, the birthday gifts and cards, the graduation gifts and cards, events that I scheduled long before my calendar got full. You know how it goes. So this last week my major writing accomplishment was finding a title for the essay I'm working on about Germaine Poliakov, a ninety-five year old French woman who was a caretaker in a house hiding Jewish refugee children during the Second World War. I’m calling the essay "Connecting Threads." I like the way the title moves backward and forward. I've been tearing the essay apart and putting it together in a new way. I got about four new pages this week. I've also been searching for material for a workshop I'm teaching at the Ocean Park Writers’ Conference in Ocean Park, Maine in August, but I need my course description in about a week. West Moss, friend and writer, helped me move my thinking away a narrow technical focus to something more open and much more fun. Thank you, West, for your help. I think I've found a perfect essay for the group to read and talk about, "Traveling," by Grace Paley. It's in her book Just As I Thought. If you haven’t read the essay, do. She did, then, that we’re talking about with essays now, a lyric, braided essay—of course. What else?