by Amy Hale Auker
(Written at the beginning of 2 weeks as Artist-in-Residence at Playa Summer Lake Residency Program, Paisley, Oregon)
I had forgotten what it is like to go to the totally blank page. The expanse of white. That nothingness needing be filled, screaming for ink, longing to be sullied with thoughts and ideas and connections between disparate philosophies and metaphors that cling like burrs in the brain. I had forgotten how amazingly hard it is.
Writing is a lonely activity, a solitary endeavor. A time of passionate reflection. The philosophy held by most directors of artistic residencies is that the optimum length of time for a residency is four weeks. Four weeks with a definite project in mind and a strategy for getting it done. Because most people find it difficult to take a slice as wide as four weeks from their lives, this facility offers two week spans. However, in the application, not only does the applicant have to furnish work samples, but he/she also must map out a plan for the proposed project. This is a place for those who are serious about their lifework.
Having private living space is key to this kind of atmosphere. I am in a cabin, alone with the writing. I can seek out companionship if necessary or desired in the Common Room, but mainly I am alone with this work. I wrote on the white board that if anyone is going to the near-by hot springs of an evening, I would like to tag along since I am without a vehicle. There are two communal dinners here every week… Monday nights and Thursday nights. Because residents arrive on Mondays and leave on Fridays, this works well.
In just two short days, I can see very clearly the benefits of residency programs. The distance from one point to another is removed. The clutter and demands of belongings and relationships are gone. Of course, so is the comfort of those things. Still, no conversation necessary. Just the animal body seeking warmth and the emotional/mental longing for the pen and the page—the work—the meaning. The real core of my drive is laid open and I don’t have to search for the tools. There is no need to fight for the focus—unless I am fighting my own self, a personal internal struggle. If I do some wandering, some avoiding, it is all on me. There is no one to blame.
This morning I sprang out of bed, dismissed the alarm, walked three steps to the coffee pot to touch the button, walked ten steps to pee and brush my teeth, warmed some milk, poured a cup of coffee, crawled back in bed to write morning pages facing east. My hand writing is neat, orderly, beautiful, marching with purpose across the page. The sky lightened and beckoned. I hadn’t intended to venture out into the cold air, but after I glanced at my phone (no one in my outside world needs me desperately) I got out of bed, put on warm clothes, poured another cup of coffee, and ventured out in heavy coat, scarf, and gloves. The walk all the way around the pond and compound was perfect… a one-cup walk. And the bracing morning air made me eager to return, warm and breathless, to my nest.
I am almost transparent with bubbles.
Playa Summer Lake Residency Program, located in the Oregon Outback in Lake County, is a creative retreat space for artists of all mediums. It is well-suited for the solitary activity of writing and editing with studio space for visual artists, dancers, and musicians. The residencies are awarded for each application period via a selection committee. Apply now to take advantage of a beautiful setting with very few distractions. Read more at www.playasummerlake.org
Amy Hale Auker cowboys on a ranch in Yavapai County, Arizona. Her day job feeds her writing. She is the author of 2012 WILLA-award winner, Rightful Place, and two novels, Winter of Beauty and The Story Is the Thing Photo by Kathy McCraine