Back to School

Good September, dear people! If the Seattle weather is any indication, fall is on its way before we have even had the opportunity to enjoy summer. A few people have commented that I seemed to disappear over these last few months… and perhaps it’s ironic that I spent a part of that time inside a school–Mineral School, to be exact–a beautiful former elementary school in Mineral, Washington, built in 1947.

For two weeks in July, three other writers and I called Mineral School home. Jason, Laura, Connie and I each had our own private live/work classrooms where we spent our days (and nights) writing and reading. We shared breakfast, lunch and dinner together each day, thanks to our fabulous chef (and Mineral School board member), Jess. We also had a cast of board member principals who took care of us: Elisabeth, Genny and Jane, the founder of Mineral School. During the second week, we gave a public reading of our work, but otherwise we were sequestered from our everyday lives. And it was wonderful.

Each morning, I woke before 7 am, thanks to the sunlight pouring through the large classroom windows. We met for breakfast at 7:30 and I was usually back in my room writing by 8:15 am. I was so hungry for this quiet retreat that I did not need to coax inspiration; as soon as I returned to my room, coffee in hand, the words flowed so fast I could barely keep up. On a typical day, I’d write all the way through the morning, and pop in my contacts a few minutes before lunch at 12:30 pm. After lunch, I would nip out for a daily walk and take a quick shower before writing until dinner at 6:30. The afternoons slipped away like quicksilver. After dinner, I’d go back to my room to write a little more, then spend the last two or three hours of the day reading until about 10:30 or 11 pm. It was luxury, that time to read. It was the first time in nearly six years that I did not check my work email while I was away. It was also the first time since my Civita residency in 2010 that  I had enough mental and physical space to produce high-quality work. One piece that I completed at Mineral School has already been picked up by Stoneboat journal, and the others are currently under consideration.

The brain and body need these solitary creative times that we so rarely give them. When was the last time you didn’t check your email, mobile phone or social media every few minutes? When was the last time you actually put aside chores and daily distractions to work on something generative? Two weeks at Mineral School made me realize that my habit of squeezing creative moments into the cracks in my day (that is, if I’m lucky) just isn’t enough. I’m going to contradict a Brevity post that I wrote a few months ago to say that, to produce art, we need more than a few stolen moments.

Thanks to Mineral School, I completed the first draft of my second book (YAY!), which is a collection of short fiction and essays set in the Pacific Northwest. My task now is to prepare this draft for submission to agents and publishers (read: edit, edit, edit.) To be honest, I’m not sure how to go about such a gargantuan task when all I have is minutes and hours, knowing from past experience that the task requires days, weeks and months. It’s not a race, but I don’t want a lack of momentum to lead this book quietly into that good night. My Mineral School experience, and the calm refresh I felt when I was focusing–quietly, for hours at a time–on my creative work, is forcing me to confront the lack of creative time available in our American lives. So, what to do?

The good news is that I was recently granted a residency next September at Vermont Studio Center (again, yay!) Between now and then, I’ll be plotting out time for editing my book (NaNoEdMo?) during which you all might see me even less, at least, until it’s done. I will continue to share publications news here and, hopefully, I will find a bit more time for generating new things, too. (It’s not like it’s possible to stop me writing, although life seems to want to try!)

For all those of you out there with a creative project burning a hole in your back pocket, let’s both take this upcoming three-day holiday to throw ourselves into the torrent, shall we? This weekend at home, I will be turning off my phone and email, and camping out in the back yard [almost] totally off the grid. We’re going to pitch a tent out back in the grass, cook quick meals on a camp stove, go for walks and bike rides, and spend the weekend writing and brainstorming creative ideas for the coming year. Instead of Netflix and chill, we’ll strap on our headlamps for reading before bedtime as we snuggle into our sleeping bags. There might even be S’mores involved.

Anyone else want to join? Let me know. It might be a little damp on Saturday, but that’s all part of the experience. As I look outside at the gathering clouds, I can’t help but feel that sweet sense of ennui that is intrinsic to fall. Rainy or no, I am looking forward to this last chance for summer freedom between Thanksgiving and that dizzy moment when the first bell of school rings next week….

However you spend it, I wish you a Happy Labor Day!