Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Last full day on the East Coast

After more than a month, I'll be packing up to head home tomorrow evening.

Has it really only been a month?

You could tell me it's been a year and that would feel closer to the truth.

I'm not going to bother with my psychology right now, with what I've learned and what disturbed me, what I walked away from whistling and what I'll miss. It's enough to sit in the North End and just enjoy.

Before and after

On my way to get my hair cut at Liquid Hair Studios in the South End ...
A half hour later and happy! Yes, a little windblown with a piece of hair sticking up (fall's blowing into Boston), but I feel GREAT!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Boston rain

A friend's post about the simple pleasures leads me to ponder that subject on this rainy night three thousand miles from home.

MacDowell is all about stripping away distractions so you can work on your art. Toward that end, the staff works its collective butt off housing you, cooking for you, and just generally trying to take as many tasks off your hands as possible so you can focus.

And that's great. How often do you get a lunch basket delivered to you in the middle of the day, dropped off as quietly as possible so that you won't get distracted? (Not that I didn't run out to greet Blake most of the time, overjoyed as I was to have company.)

Here's the thing, though: the many simple things in daily life are lost when you leave home. Bantering and bickering with Adam, watching dorky YouTube videos with my feet in his lap (yes, I know, you can commence to gagging now), going to the gym (don't even talk to me about eating rich food and not working it off -- at least I've been hiking my ass around Boston), hell, even doing dishes and laundry and feeding Oliver. Oliver -- another one of life's pleasures, a kitty who loves you and shows it by leaning his head against your knee or puking on your floor. But I digress.

In a sense, MacDowell is beautiful deprivation, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. You're up on a hill above a small town in New Hampshire. Your meals are cooked, your linens washed (though you're on your own when it comes to laundry, and I enjoyed this small task because the laundry room was Mr. T the kitty's domain), and your solitude undisturbed. Cell-phone service is poor throughout the property, though Verizon customers did better than AT&T (I, of course, have the latter), and if you want wifi, you've got to go to the library or get a PC card for your laptop.

Therein lies the matter of simple pleasures: They are many, and they are varied. My simple pleasures at MacDowell included singing at the top of my lungs in my studio -- no one around to distract, and the acoustics were wonderful. I liked to take walks, pacing the meadow area in front of my studio, that part that led to what felt like the darkest heart of the woods. I didn't dare go there; I just peeked inside and shuddered. Sometimes I talked to the woods: What's up, woods? Glad we had this talk. Sometimes they'd answer with a shrill blast of wind, and I'd shudder once more.

I watched a swatch of leaves change color more quickly than I'd have expected this early in the season, framed by a small pane of glass in the huge window overlooking my desk. I made tea, listening for the snack! that meant the electric kettle had shut off. I drank it contemplatively, sitting on the porch in the rocking chair I'd relocated from the inside, propping my feet up, rocking a little too quickly if my mood was askew.

At night I lit scented candles and incense, sat in my bedroom wondering who had been there before and then gave up because I knew the list was too long. I got up early for breakfast and ate bacon. Lots.

But I missed city pleasures, missed petting strangers' dogs, walking from neighborhood to neighborhood, people-watching. I missed the connection and the kinetic feeling of a city. Most of all, I missed my family and friends. I can't wait to see them when I return.

The world is both big and small

Right now I was standing in Harvard Square, reading Margaret Cho's autobiography in which she mentions Sean and his family. Even when the people referenced in a book are real, they often feel fictional because you don't know them. This, of course, was not the case with Cho's book.

God I love the South End!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Peterborough to Boston

Barking Crab, clam chowda!
Boston Waterfront.
Under the umbrella ... and the hoodie.
Getting off the T on the way to the Institute of Contemporary Art.
Don and I at Acqua on my last night. Do I look drunk? There's a reason for that. They gave me a ton of shit for what I drank -- something called a Ginger Mojito Magic, a Coconut Rum, and the Pomegranate Martini that's pictured -- but hey. They also paid.
Don's very unsatisfactory tea selection.
Acqua: Me, Don, Jonty, Judy, and Alvin. I drove down, Don drove back.
Judy with the "Senior Colonist" t-shirt.
With Alvin. What an amazing guy!
With Pete, a kick-ass dude who ISN'T SMILING. He did smile when I flipped him off at dinner the other night, though.
Don with the Senior Colonist shirt. I flipped him off the night after I flipped off Pete.
Pan's Cottage, my cozy dorm.
Blake's big green truck. When you see this sucker coming, you know it's lunchtime!
Classic MacDowell. Taken from inside Judy's studio, Alexander. Hers was one of my favorites. It was like a damn stone monastery.
Just gorgeous.
A painter's studio can be so much more colorful than a writer's.
We all worked on this one when Judy was starting out, dipping our brushes and experimenting when she had an open studio for her birthday. I'd say she improved on our efforts.
With Blake!
Lunch baskets waiting to be filled.
Savidge Library, 11 a.m.
On my way!
Woody's Farm Stand, Leominster, MA.
Have a seat. Or two.
Classic New England fall morning.
Pick a pumpkin, any pumpkin.
These guys were irresistible ...
So I fed them.
Blurry but very evocative picture of the desk at which I worked (when I wasn't working outside) for a month.
Left to right: a card from Adam, a quote from Ayelet Waldman's "Bad Mother", a sketch of my studio, and some colony info. Below the card is a scrap of paper I pulled from the Oracle outside Chapman Studio on my second night. It reads: "Who will I be a year from now?"

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Take a breather

Ever since March, when I found out I'd gotten into MacDowell, Adam and I have been bracing for an extended time apart. That was compounded later that spring when I learned I'd been accepted to Kimmel Harding.

Six weeks apart in a matter of months. It's too much.

These residences are very valuable. They're also an honor. But I'm not doing any more monthlong ones unless he can come with me. Two weeks is plenty if you really have your mind set on accomplishing something -- at least it is for me.

As I drove from Peterborough to Boston today, I realized that this is the first time in months that we're not preparing for that long time away from one another. It's a nice feeling.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Moving on

Tomorrow is my last day at MacDowell. Really, today is my last full day -- tomorrow I will have breakfast, hop in my rental car, and motor down the scenic route to Boston.

Every song on Pandora seems to be about change, about leaving, about packing up and heading out. The weather provides an excellent chorus: windy, chillier than during my entire residency. The leaves are changing, the sky blue in that way that tells you fall has arrived, winter hard on its heels.

At MacDowell I have found new ways of crying, laughing, and thinking. I'm working on perfecting my Ping-Pong strategy. I've lit several short-lived fires and will try again tonight, late, after drinks, one last time. I have felt both isolated and understood. I danced in the very library where I sit now, shaking my ass to Michael Jackson, watching everyone around me just be themselves, there, just for that moment.

Lunch Poem No. 22: The last one

This poem
is not to talk about change,
about the hello-goodbye
and April-come-she-will
playing over my headphones.

I want to tell you
about trees,
who we see
as seedlings,
gawky adolescents,
proud adults,
and finally
as corpses.

That is our cycle.
That remains the same.

Lunch Poem No. 21

We're going
for drinks tonight.
It seems appropriate,
this celebration.
Cap off
a month
of yourself,
of sitting
on a screened porch
listening to the echoes
of your brain,
wondering how
to escape
that mosquito's whine.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What I've learned

In part, at least:

Greatness begets greatness. That means those who are great in their creative lives are also great people. Not always the case, of course, but often enough that it gives me hope.

Stepping out of your comfort zone brings results. Duh, I know, but sometimes that's gotta be reinforced.

Things come in waves. Tomorrow you might feel entirely different about the thing you hated today -- or, for that matter, the thing you loved.

Pay attention to what you dislike, and what you are drawn to immediately. Expect that your reactions may fluctuate.

Be honest and go with your gut.

Ask yourself the question: "Who's in charge of me?" (Thanks to the composer who taught me that.)

If you need something and you have access to it, go for it. You'll probably meet with less judgment than you might expect.

But don't be afraid of judgment. Don't let it stop you from going the places you need to go and doing the things you need to make happen.

Take a day off. Go to places like Kittery, ME and Burlington, VT. Bring your camera or a sketchbook, or just a good radio and a curious mind. Stepping away helps you see a picture more fully.

Sing, especially if the acoustics in your studio make you sound like Diana Ross. Sketch. Take a video, make a fire, arrange flowers. Pace around and talk to yourself. Everything is part of the process, and if you contain yourself to a single activity, you will grow to resent the very thing that brought you here.

Speak your mind, especially when talking to yourself.

Tell the people you love that you love them -- at least once a day, and more is better. Love is rare, love is a gift, and that gift shines ever brighter at an entire country's distance.

Feeling all star-like

I just had the best photo shoot with Joanna Eldredge Morrissey, the staff photographer here at MacDowell. Jo drove up in her Jeep and just made me smile the entire forty-five minutes she was here, telling me stories about the ice storm in December (apparently a tree fell on my little New Jersey studio, damaging an entire section pretty badly) and swapping thoughts on New England versus California. I've seen some of the pictures and they look great. Can't wait for the rest!

Lunch Poem No. 20

I'm reading Facebook updates,
pissed off
at a bunch
of cliched crap.

Is that a line
fit for a poem?

Cliched crap?

Are the trees cliched crap?
The leaves, the bears?

What lasts?

What, indeed, lasts?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just a moment

There is no need to cling to the moment where I was arranging flowers on the porch, separating them into bottles. No need to strangle that happiness with tight hands. Of course I will see it again. I carry it with me.

A change

I was surprised today to hear myself say: "I'm an extrovert."

I've thought of myself as an introvert for a while now, but things started to change once I hit Kimmel Harding. I realized, and not for the first time, how much I need interaction with the outside world. That really energized me while at Kimmel Harding, and while at MacDowell as well.

I've sat on this screened porch and watched summer slip into fall. The leaves are turning and the breeze is brushing them from the trees. Soon I too will pack and leave.

Lunch Poem No. 19

The ones I like
said hi!
You're back!
How was your trip?

The others kept talking
over their orange juice.

You cannot adore everyone.
Too much admiration
clouds the sky
with light,
blocks out
each star's brightness.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Colony Hall, I will miss you

And the voices echoing, and the silences, and the voices within those silences.

MacDowell has been one of the most challenging things I've ever done. So of course it's won my heart.


It's one no that wasn't even unequivocal. Buck up, Chumly.

Monday, September 21, 2009

No cynicism

I've been pretty immersed in the art world this summer and early fall, having spent close to six weeks at artist residencies in two different states.

I am knocked out by the support, encouragement, and enthusiasm I have experienced both at Kimmel Harding and MacDowell. These are people who believe in the power of the written word, the brushstroke, the actor who steps on the stage, the film, the musical note, the architectural design. They more than believe it -- they spend their professional lives making it happen.

I cannot thank and promote these places enough. I am so grateful to be at a point in my career where I can experience this -- and I hope to return to both!

Greetings from Colony Hall

Working here before I head off to Burlington!

Lunch Poem No. 18

Feed stray cats
and they become family.

How does this translate to artists?

Will we linger
around your legs
as you chop onions,
and insistent?

But the cats
have no departure date.
There is no outside world,
no phone calls to make,
no husbands to embrace
at the San Francisco Airport.

We can linger
but only for so long.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The wonderful ones

The composer who made me smile the first time I heard his voice, and has made me feel at home every time he's sat down at the dinner table.

The Irish playwright who can make me laugh with a sentence -- or a word.

The painter who said: You speak your mind. I love that about you.

The poet who drove us to town, saving my sanity and allowing me to buy veggie chips.

The British composer who said I blame you, laughing, when we both stayed later than expected at the dance party.

The poet who, like me, missed her husband.

The documentary filmmaker with down-to-earth eyes and a fascinating project.

The video artist who provided an accessible entry to amazing work.

I am so glad to have met them all.


I've been sitting on my screened porch listening to gunfire in the woods all afternoon.

I am missing.

A heart, an arm, a leg, a kidney. Hell, a nostril.

I am missing what I need.

I am not whole here.

I am crying.

I miss you.

Lunch Poem No. 17

Raymundo thinks I should leave early.
"Who'll notice?" he husks
in his doggy-smoker tones.

He throws one of his wooly charges
the eye
and the creature retreats.

Like that.

Not a word.

"You gotta be like that," he says.
"Tell them who's boss."

He forgets we're both caged.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Today's writing

I gripped my tray table on the flight over, eyed every dark-skinned man who seemed capable of doing more than sneezing. Not on my flight, you fuck. No you don’t.

In the days after the attacks, I tried to hunker as close to home as possible. At one point I had to take the subway into San Francisco for a job interview. Waiting for the train back to the East Bay, I saw a man in a turban checking his cell phone. A bomb, I thought, and he’s bringing it aboard. The train arrived. He stepped on. I remained on the platform.

I didn’t tell anyone. I knew what I was feeling would be considered wrong, prejudiced, jumping to conclusions. I also knew the depth to which it was felt, and how I didn’t want to have to defend myself.

I wondered how many people stayed behind on that platform with me.

Paul McCartney, "Baby I'm Amazed"

Maybe I'm amazed at the way you love me all the time
Maybe I'm afraid of the way I love you
Maybe I'm amazed at the way you pulled me out of time
And hung me on a line

Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need you
Baby I'm a man maybe I'm a lonely man
Who's in the middle of something
That he doesn't really understand

Baby I'm a man and maybe you're the only woman
Who could ever help me
Baby won't you help me understand,

Baby I'm a man, maybe I'm a lonely man
Who's in the middle of something
That he doesn't really understand

Baby I'm a man and maybe you're the only woman
Who could ever help me
Baby won't you help me understand, oohhh

Maybe I'm amazed at the way you're with me all the time
Maybe I'm afraid of the way I leave you
Maybe I'm amazed at the way you help me sing my song
Right me when I'm wrong
Maybe I’m amazed at the way I really need you

Oh maybe I'm amazed.
Maybe I'm amazed.
Yeah, yeah yeah.
Yeah, Maybe I'm amazed.
I'm amazed, with you.
Oo-oo. Oo-oo.

Baking a book

I saw Joyce Maynard read from "Labor Day" today at Toadstool Books. She wrote it at this time last year -- right here at MacDowell in Kirby Studio. It was written in two weeks. Two weeks!

Joyce is an avid pie-maker, and she said: "It's all about the crust. Anyone can do filling." When I asked her how that metaphor translates to writing, she said: "Don't overhandle the dough."

Good to remember.