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Along the commute from breakfast to my studio at the MacDowell colony.
For the better part of November, I was in Peterborough, New Hampshire, at the MacDowell Colony, writing. The experience was everything you would expect—idyllic, inspiring, expansive—but also some things you might not expect—disorienting, guilt-inducing, a skosh lonely. Not that there weren’t great people there to commiserate with about those wrinkles during mealtimes, to inspire you with their own ideas and work, but that you’re away from your family and friends, you’re catapulted back, at least for hours or minutes, to middle school when you didn’t know which table to sit at for lunch. You’re bereft of even your most innocuous distractions. I had no cell reception, no wireless in my studio, no access to TV, e-mail, the Daily Rumpus. I enjoyed the spontaneous family that emerged–23 or so artists from all different disciplines, coming for the space and time and focus that an artist’s colony can provide. I met composers, sculptors, visual artists, animators, sound artists, and filmmakers. Of course I met writers, too, and poets. We saw each other in snatches—usually at dinner, but some of us at breakfast, some of us out jogging the rolling hills surrounding the colony (my favorite was a composer who ran in his street clothes. We gave each other high-fives as we passed). Lunch we were meant to work through, and most people I talked to did so. Baskets of sustenance (of the delicious and homemade variety) were left at our studio doorsteps. With the absence of dependents, basic household chores, jobs, partners or spouses, etc., there was nothing for us to do but read and work. It was a writer’s paradise.
One of the things I gained out of this entire thing—besides an unrealistic set of criteria that must be in place for me to truly “work” (Honey, I’ve said to my husband, could you make me soup from scratch, pack it in a thermos, and bring it by around noon, please?)—was a feeling of routine. Having a couple small people who live with me (they’re miraculously already 8 and 10. How did that happen?) and having several jobs, including program directing at Lighthouse, but also teaching here and at DU, freelancing occasionally, etc., my routine is usually built around things that are prioritized like this: (1) Is it a living being that depends on me in particular ways for its very life? (2) Is it something that pays me and thus helps keep priority #1 living and breathing in a home with electricity and all those other extravagances? and (3) Uhm, is it writing-related?
There’s a lot more to say about what it does to you to force all the other hats into the closet and just wear the writer’s hat. (Mine looks a little like a balaclava, so it’s actually as if I’m part-writer, part-cold-blooded-brooder, part-thief.) In fact, our newsletter editor A-Ray is sorting through a too-long article on that very thing for the next Beacon. But the gist of it is that it’s hard to create a routine around the #3-and-lower priorities in your life, because the top ones usually expand to fill all available time. (As do the distractions from the top priorities, be they blogging, surfing the ‘net, watching hockey or reality television, running half-marathons, or planking.) You need somehow to reboot the priorities, and to me, the stay at MacDowell was the reboot I needed. The composer who jogged in his street clothes said something as I was preparing to leave at the end of November. “It should be posted right there as you leave,” he said, pointing out the window to the dirt lot surrounded by lodge pole pines. “A sign should say, ‘Keeping it up at home starts now.’”
For my part, I spent my first week-and-a-half back home maintaining the morning portion of my MacDowell schedule—starting to write at 7:30 AM eastern time (so 5:30 AM here in Denver—a time which constitutes, in the dictionary of my life, a “sacrifice”). This worked beautifully if groggily until my kids, late sleepers as a rule, decided to get up and join me. And then I got sidelined with the flu. And then my father, who’s usually in Ghana this time of year, changed his plans so he could be here with us for the holidays. Etc., etc. Writing fell back off the routine, but, as the staff here, inspired by a particularly rigorous month of wine-and-cupcake intensive social literary events, decided to do what we’re calling the Lighthouse Cleanse (sayonara toxins and residual wine-and-cupcake party detritus. Oh, how we’ve all banked on this soon-to-start Lighthouse cleanse!), I’m rededicating myself to “keeping it up at home” starting January 1. No reason to wait, though, so I actually got back on the horse yesterday. Not at 5:30 AM, but from 2:30 to 4:30 PM at a local coffeeshop. Are you doing the same? Please, leave us tips and pointers! Happy almost 2012. (Can you believe it?)