Recently I spent a wonderful nine days and nights in the lovely New Pacific Studio in Vallejo: http://www.newpacificstudio.org/
I packed a dozen medicines and vitamins, drove 75 minutes and across two bridges, toted luggage, books and a large foam wedge up twenty steps for this purpose: to remove myself from distractions of home and focus on revising my 420-page novel draft.
The time was well spent, in fact wonderful—productive and replete with beauty of new place and friendship.
The host, Kay Flavell, showed exquisite kindness and courtesy, ensuring that I didn't lack any comestible (though I was on self-feed), or needed source of warmth (a blanket? a heater?). She offered relief from my satisfying but exhausting work with a trip to adorable downtown Benecia where I encountered a new view of the San Francisco Bay and the Carquinez bridge. On another day we walked together in the State Park of Benecia, looking out on the tranquil waters and marshlands of Benecia State Recreation area.
A week at home has afforded time to process my writer's residency and name its gifts.
In being away from family, home and garden, I concentrated on creative work. No longer as I walked from house to car did I see bushes that needed to be trimmed. No longer did I think about what three people would like to eat for dinner. No longer did pending housework nag at me. Because the home and garden around me was not my responsibility, I was unencumbered.
My four weekly obligations (and my too-frequent medical appointments) were also cast off. To concentrate on two things—self-care and my novel—was a delight.
- A Jolt
Being in a new place changes my outlook. When I awakened to see three old-style wooden windows and an antique table—rather than my husband's dresser, our twin bathroom sinks, our miniature poodle—I experienced a mental change. In the New Pacific Studio (NPS) I observed glorious art work on the walls, needle-point cushions on chairs, unfamiliar trees and garden. Accustomed to sixteen years in my own home, I scarcely truly see what it contains anymore.
I needed to see a different locale and objects in order to look at my life and my novel differently. Somehow the new beauties help me to leave my left-brain, get-it-done world of practicalities and move into the right-brain, creative-dreamer side.
My novel is about people of Japan (where I lived six years, immersed in its place, sending children to typical Japanese schools and speaking Japanese to neighbors, teachers and doctors). At NPS I enjoyed companionship in remembering and marveling at this exotic place as I perused my host's photo book of Japanese Inns and read her poetry set in Japan. They transported me to that country where I lived eighteen years ago.
- The Presence of Another
This was my first solo residency. I wondered whether being apart from family and friends, without being occupied with sightseeing or a structured program, would bring on bouts of loneliness. Would it be something to endure or enjoy?
Morning times the pangs of waking up in a bed alone instead of with my husband’s smile and kiss, were relieved by Kay’s smile and cheery "Good morning!" Though daily she prepared and ate meals separately from me, we still interacted in some measure. Her presence was quiet, not intrusive. I found a substantial difference between working alone at home or working while aware that another person works near me. With someone else in the house, though we don't talk, somehow it relieves a sense of isolation or loneliness.
Another boon was talking with Kay about writerly matters. Her suggestions and questions were often quite helpful. Plus the presence of someone valuing the arts (to the extent of sacrificing for artistic development) and with several published books validated my efforts and furthered my hopes that my work would go somewhere.
- A Change in Viewpoint
I returned from Vallejo with 125 pages revised and edited. A long way remains before completion of the novel, yet I've come home with a sense of hope and urgency not fathomed before. I appreciate Kay's generosity and my family's support. Both were necessary for me to receive this time of creative focus, jolted from the familiar and mundane into a rich grain of work, supported by the gift of understanding.