Category Archives: Residencies

Rensing Center Writing Residency – part two

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Even though I grew up in the east, I have been awed by how different the south is from the north. Nature is more abundant here. This must have been the place where man first stood and said, “We must conquer nature!” I can handle the heat and humidity, but the bugs are really testing me. Ellen said, “You got to be tough to thrive,” and she would know. I have been keeping a list of southern sights and novelties that I have both loved and loved to hate:

Screened in porches, misty sunsets, sudden downpours, fireflies in the pasture, dense green forests, bug bites, the scent of everything pungent and ripe, singing frogs, beads of sweat, sprawling manicured lawns, shirtless men in trucker hats worn without irony riding tractors, signs that read “No trespassing. Violators will be shot. Survivors will be shot again,” churches with steeples, graveyards full of tombstones with no first names and no dates, bright red cardinals with black crowns, intricate spider webs, confusing racial relations, box turtles in the road, waterfalls, warm swimming holes, golf carts, packed campgrounds, confederate flags, legal moonshine, cotton gins, bluegrass jams, flea markets selling peaches and watermelon, waving from cars though rolled down windows…

Though I am finishing up my last days at Rensing Center, I plan to explore the southern Appalachia area for a while longer, adding to my list of amusements as I go. I am sad to leave though. I have had a very productive two weeks of writing here, being a hermit, taking long walks and joining communal dinners. I would recommend the Rensing Center to anyone considering the application fee. It is a completely unique residency and anyone would be fortunate to stay here.

Rensing Center Writing Residency – part one

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After three long days on the road, my husband and daughter deposited me here on the deck of the Guest House at the Rensing Center in Pickens, South Carolina before they embarked on their own adventure. Ellen, Evelyn, two other residents and the goats welcomed us into this beautiful space, this bucolic scene, with a hardy dinner and southern hospitality. Gifted a sweet little cabin in the shade of the woods, I immediately got to work in front of my circle window, inspiration everywhere.

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VSC Residency – 14th and Final Day

“Isn’t art, ultimately, about decoration?”

I knew right away I had said the wrong thing. The artists wagged their heads and mumbled their dissent.

“We make art for ourselves, not others. It has to mean something.”

As a writer, I write for myself, but I was taught to always have a reader in mind. The goal is not to get a whole bunch of people to like my work but just one person, one type of person that will dig what I’m doing. That imagined reader guides my writing, so that it doesn’t become an exercise in narcissism. I remember that my goal is also to entertain. I’m not a paperback writer. I have something to say. But I want to say it with well-crafted style in a way that will stir feelings and ideas in someone other than myself.

In the end, I think the artists and I agree but have a different language for the same goal. Art and writing are subjective. We want to create something that evokes. And we hope someone will pay us to do it.

VSC Residency – Day 4

At the Vermont Studio Center, there are writers and artists. Artists are categorized as either painters of sculptors. When I meet an artist that prefers not to be defined, I assume they are a sculptor. This is what I have discovered from my short time here — people who “make stuff” and “put things together.” I love the creative ambiguity of it, the mystery of composition. They are artists who allow themselves to get swept away in their creative currents, wherever that may lead. In a way, I can relate. I used to play around in all genres and I still do. I love to write poetry and non-fiction, but with time, I came to realize that focus is my greatest tool. I  appreciate the artists who adamantly define themselves. As a writer, words suit me. I’m happy to put a title on something. I write fiction. It is my focus, a concrete name given to a concrete purpose. For me, focus is necessary when you have something at stake.

Some can go with the creative flow and wistfully indulge in play, some can clearly understand their own focus and art without feeling the need to put it into words and then there are the rest of us — writers, painters and sculptors.

VSC – Day 3

It’s not writer’s block, it’s writer’s fatigue — the inability to think about words any longer, the desire to be outside where it is hot and muggy and teeming with northeastern ticks. I can’t even bear the computer screen another moment, hot in my lap, glaring at me to absorb more, learn more, produce more. I should be glad that I over-worked myself to a state of waste, but instead, I chasten myself for being out of shape. A fitter writer would work longer, harder and not wish for rain to entrap her indoors. She would need only her strong will power to sustain her. But I am weak. I make excuses. I am in transition. Having been writing for only two hours a day for the last four years (since the birth of my daughter), how can I possibly expect to work for four hours straight, plus the two hours before lunch? Must I return after dinner? It’s time to give myself permission to frolic, or just take a walk. Five hours today, maybe I’ll make it six tomorrow.

VSC Residency – Day 2

Open the floor to ceiling window and I am just inside of outside but slightly turned around. Downstream, a river’s uncertain course. So kind to place me here, to gift me this one sunny day perched on a window sill, framed by the corner chair. The all-important cushion. Unevolved pelvis, weighted feet. White rock pile, blue trash pile. Everything still unnamed. The moment before it becomes real.

VSC Residency – Day 1

In the Rockies, we mock the hills that pass for mountains in the east. But airplane descending over the sprawling farmlands of Vermont, I couldn’t help being enchanted by the Green Mountains, currently white tipped with snow. Even as our shuttle bus neared Johnson, it felt as if the “mountains” were “towering” above. The majestic Sangre de Cristos that I know and love are over 13,000′ tall, while these eastern rock formations are just above 4,000′. Yet, the hike from the base to the peak of these two sets ends up being about the same. My mountains in New Mexico begin at just under 9,000′, while these mountains begin at nearly sea level. I don’t want to belittle the difference altitude makes; a New Englander would be huffing and puffing up the alpine Rockies with diminished oxygen while I sprinted these boreal forests. Still, high altitude in the sunny southwest might be comparable to the northern climate of Vermont. And, I can’t forget, their small stature is due to their elder status. So, I will still continue to mock these eastern “mountains” with dry sarcastic wit, but with a new respect for them and their sister river valleys.