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.


  1. Thanks for these good thoughts, Sandell. I struggle with this as you do and long for the fugue state, but I'm getting better at recognizing that balance will always be elusive in the writer's life. We have to seize the times of quiet concentration when we can, even if it's only an hour.

  2. Katy, thanks for commenting. I miss you.


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