A Writing Residency (Part 2) August 14, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Writing.
Tags: Museums & Archives, Science Writing
LOFTY: AUGUST 14: A Writing Residency (Part 2)
We arrived at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony on Saturday, August 3, and now we’re heading into the last days of our two-week residency. To read about how we found Dorland and got settled, click HERE.
The days have been going very well since last Wednesday. Without the usual day-to-day obligations and goings-on of life—an alarm clock, meetings set for specific times, checking email multiple times a day, conversations with other people—we’ve fallen into a rhythm, not a routine but a steady pace. Sitting on the porch to ponder and to talk through possibilities shouldn’t be a luxury, but, at home, even when we do that sort of important, casual-looking intellectual-creative work, it’s an undertaking that we usually have to schedule ahead and from which it’s all too easy to become distracted. The uninterrupted hours of writing also shouldn’t be a luxury for writers, but, of course, they sometimes seem that way for many of us—or to those who look at our lives.
Fiction writer (and our colleague) Richard Bausch, in his “Letter to a Young Writer,” advocates developing regular habits and training oneself to write anywhere. Ideally, of course, a writer would have no need for a residency in a cabin on a mountain because he or she would write every day, make steady progress, and not let other demands of daily life take priority over the writing. Writers must not consider writing time an indulgence.
Bausch also suggests, “Never ask yourself anything beyond ‘Did I work today?’ If the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ then no other question is allowed.” For the last ten days, the answer for us has been, Yes! Yes! Here’s how that happened.
DAY 6: CHECKING OUT FOR A FEW HOURS
Last Thursday, we met up with two friends—Margaret Zamos-Monteith and her husband Matt Monteith—at Rosa’s Cantina for lunch. Anna had met Margaret at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference a couple of years ago, and we all happened to be in Temecula at the same time. We rationalized an interruption from our writing time, welcoming the opportunity to talk with another writer and a photographer and also take in Old Town, with its shops and restaurants. We also checked email and stocked up on groceries. Our meager adventure served as reward for what we’ve accomplished thus far and a deep breath before what we wanted to be a long weekend of focused writing.
Admittedly, the break slowed us down a little, and email and grocery shopping felt like annoyances, not what we were supposed to be doing. Nevertheless, we resumed writing that afternoon, and maybe regular breaks are a necessary part of the process. That evening, we went over new pages together, reading aloud and honing details.
DAY 7: WRITING, SIPPING, & SPACE STATION
We wrote. We exercised, too, and we had lunch together, chatting about memories of the last space shuttle launch and the first orbiter transfer to a museum. Mostly, though, we wrote.
At 8:00 p.m., we opened a bottle of Chaos Theory, a wine on which we had splurged a while back because of its name. IN VINO, VERITAS – IN CHAOS, ORDER, the bottle says. Tonight marked a week at Dorland, and we had new pages drafted, something intentional and tangible to celebrate.
At 8:22 p.m., we watched the International Space Station for a couple of minutes in the Northwestern sky. It wouldn’t be visible again while we are at the cabin. It has everything to do with what we’re writing.
DAY 8: ANOTHER DAY OF WRITING
That’s why we’re here. That’s mostly what we’ve been doing. Most of the time, we’re cooped up together, isolated from the world, in this cabin. Even when we’re sharing a meal, we’re in writing mode. Walking down and up the hill serves as a conduit for the thinking that is part of the writing. A symbolic stride we’ve hit after more than a week in this place.
DAY 9: A FIELD TRIP FOR SPACE NERDS
Today was the first time we set the alarm on our cell phones. We wanted to get to the Palomar Observatory in plenty of time to get tickets for the morning tour. Though the distance from our cabin to CalTech’s mountaintop telescope is short by way of the crow’s flight, it takes about ninety minutes of looping around and then twisting up. So, our break from writing took the better part of this Sunday day.
We’re space nerds, though, so this break fit into our work. Physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks adults should take field trips. We couldn’t not go to the place that played a significant role in our understanding of distances in the universe and the discovery of quasars. In 1993, comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, the first comet found to be orbiting a planet, was first photographed by the Palomar Observatory. We saw the Schmidt telescope that captured that image, now in parts before it is put on display at the visitors’ center. Just over a year after that comet was discovered, astronomers watched it collide with the southern hemisphere of Jupiter, the first time we’d watched two significant objects in space crash into each other.
DAY 10: WRITING & METEORS
We started the day with breakfast—to each, his or her own today—and a long talk on the porch. The hummingbird stopped by to poke its beak into the tiny magenta flowers. Then, we got to work. Now is the challenge to stay deeply in the project without hitting the edge of our particular temperaments’ stamina.
We ate an especially delicious dinner of veggie burgers topped with cheese, avocado, tomato, and vegetarian chili. Cooking has become fun and collaborative again. Afterward, once it was really dark outside, we walked out to see the stars and the Milky Way. A few Perseid Meteors streaked across the sky.
DAY 11: AVOIDING AND NOT AVOIDING EMAIL
Today’s breakfast was shared oatmeal with a banana and a big handful blueberries cooked into it and Greek yogurt added once it was in our bowls. Our morning talk on the porch was shorter, in part because we decided to go into town late this afternoon—instead of waiting until tomorrow—for internet work and want to make sure we get plenty of writing accomplished beforehand.
Then, of course, we wrote.
DAY 12: THE HERE AROUND US
This afternoon, after some writing, we plan to take a break to tour one of the local wineries. Several have bistros, too, so maybe we’ll stop at one for lunch before we do any tasting. There are a lot of wineries on this side of Temecula. Since we’re here for our writing residency and not somewhere else, we want to spend a few hours experiencing some of the here that’s surrounding Dorland.