The final post for the Monson Arts Residency! This is mostly musings on the overall experience and a thank you to the folks that made it possible. If you are wondering about doing a residency or about Monson Arts residency in particular, hopefully it is useful to you.
(And if you would like to know more about the town/area of Monson and some program basics, please see previous posts, Monson Arts Weeks 1 and 2, and/or the Monson Arts website.)
I'm writing this at home, reflecting on my month of Monson, missing the trees and the people and the quiet. I'm not adjusting well to being back; my home, full of projects and things calling out for attention, feels overwhelming. I can hardly stand to be in it. Maybe I can take a page from the lovely, pared-down simplicity of the residency and try to re-create it here.
What I hoped for Monson Arts was to get a lot of writing done, not be too homesick, not embarrass myself socially, and maybe see the Appalachian Trail. I also hoped, but didn't expect, to use the time as a breakaway from my life, to just be. To write without worry. To interact with other people without “shoulds,” to get quiet.
I think all of those expectations and hopes were met. Of course the point of going was WRITING. During the 27 days of Monson, the main focus for all ten of us residents was to get as much done with our projects as possible. Mine was to turn a "frankendraft" into a clean draft. I didn't finish, as I went off the rails with a new idea that wasn't working and decided to start again.
I was in good company; I think a common theme among the residents was, “Am I doing enough?” Some people expressed frustration over getting distracted with administrative tasks rather than squeezing creativity out of every moment. Even in Monson, distractions exist!
But the Monson Arts folks did their best to let us do our thing. Aside from the optional short presentations the first week and the (also optional) final week participation in an open house and reading for the community, our time was otherwise our own. (Another resident, Amanda Galvan Huynh, and I got a chance to work with a group of high school students for a couple of hours during our last week--but again, this was a no-pressure optional activity for us. We did some writing exercises with them, and just BTW: I was BLOWN AWAY by the depth, complexity, and completeness of the poems/stories/rap that the students produced. Just...wow! If you get a chance to work with the group, I highly recommend it!)
What I didn't expect was that there would be so much more to this experience than getting a lot of work done and that the things I'd hoped for happened in ways I couldn't predict. Some things that I want to hold close in my memory and in gratitude:
Balance: The easy access to nature, working in a group studio, and the simplicity of Monson, made it easy to be balanced, to alternate writing with activities such as hiking or chatting with other people. It made me realize this was lacking in my writing practice back home and is something I want and need more of: Being solitary and quiet in nature. Spending more time with people who put their creative process first. Playing! Rolling in leaves and dancing and writing silly things and midnight canoeing under the full moon (it was a little like summer camp!!)
Connecting: Not just chatting, but real, almost daily conversations about craft and process and frustrations and productivity. To sit at a table every day with people who are creating and sharing the same joys and frustrations was AMAZING. I loved getting to know the other residents, to see shy ones come out of their shell (apparently, I was one of these, too). I loved hearing their stories and and learning about the courage they put into their work, and seeing their creations and the mix of joyful and dark and intricate and beautiful.
Convergence: So many residents integrated environmental and nature themes in their work, including our human connection to nature and fear/worry about what we are doing to our environment. All of these resonate with my work, and made me realize how linked we all are, how much in common we humans have with each other, even when we think we are doing something solitary and separate. It made me see my work with new eyes and want to delve deeper into my themes. It made me think, again, about why I'm writing and why I'm writing this book.
Although each person's experience will vary, I think if you are a nature lover, hiking enthusiast, foodie, a person in need of quiet and time and space to be and create and connect, you would benefit from (and possibly love) the Monson Arts program, too. As mentioned in earlier blogs, the setting, housing, food, and studios are all lovely. The program is well run, and the people behind Monson Arts are warm, generous, talented, and welcoming. All of this makes it possible to focus on creating and being open to whatever other experiences await.
I'm so thankful that I was gifted with this opportunity. These weeks of being able to breath and be, coming in in the middle of my otherwise rather constricted, chaotic life, are a treasure I will long hold in my memory (especially through the long Maine winter!).
Thank you, Monson Arts! Thank you for letting me be a part of your wonderful program!
Thank you Dan Bouthot and Susan DeLoia and Stuart Kestenbaum and James Pullen. Thank you to Lucas Butler all the people at Pineland Farms and the Libra Foundation for making this possible.
Week two in Monson Maine!
Between writing sessions, I've been walking and hiking around and staring and staring because the trees are stupid gorgeous. Impossible colors. I have made myself stop taking a camera on my walks or I come home with hundreds of photos every day. There is an ATV trail a few blocks from the studio that I've been walking on most days. It's so quiet here. Just rustling leaves and shushing grasses.
Other than working on our goals and being bombarded by gorgeousness, this week we ten residents had short presentations for each other--just five-minute reports so we would all know what we do and our goals for the time here.
I was only a little nervous about this beforehand, but as each person presented, I shrank further and further into my seat, hoping to somehow disappear. The other residents are amazing. Check out some of their websites (and if you do, note that Sara started off the presentations--how would you like to follow that??):
I just kept thinking: I'm here with them?? How???
In the end, I did speak a little about what I'm doing (revising my young adult novel AGAIN), but I went last and started by saying: "Compared to what all of you do, what I do is the literary equivalent of a Bob Ross painting." Which got a laugh, at least. So there is that.
Also, just to clarify: I'm NOT dissing Bob Ross--Bob Ross is groovy, baby! I love Bob Ross!
Just...Bob Ross probably isn't going to have his paintings hanging in the MET someday, and some of these folks just might. It's a bit intimidating, you know?
But despite their much more advanced talents, everyone here has been very kind to me. It's a truly nice, interesting, diverse group of people. We eat two meals a day together, at The Quarry restaurant, and have spent time hanging out in the lakeside cabin, warmed by a cheerful, cozy fireplace. It's fascinating to hear the other residents talk about other residencies they have done (this is my first--it was none of their first), their processes, their lives.
So I get to write, hike around, have interesting conversations with interesting people, and someone else is doing the cooking.
Gotta say, am liking the residency thing. This is Living the Dream!! :)
And last, some images from the Appalachian Trail. The trail is about two miles outside of Monson. This was my first time on the A.T. and it was sort of magical to step on the actual trail, to actually be there surrounded by the stunning, quiet beauty of the Maine woods.
While hiking, for some reason I kept saying, "this is legit!" Not something I typically say, but I guess my brain was trying to come up with something appropriately momentous and that's what it found. I will kindly think that it was too awed to provide more lyrical language. :P
Hello from Monson Maine! I'm here participating in the Monson Arts Residency program, one of ten people that will be staying here for the next four weeks.
WHAT: 27 days of provided housing, food, studio space, and a stipend
WHEN: September 29-October 25 (other residencies held other months of the year)
WHERE: Monson, Maine (small town in the middle of Maine, surrounded by woods)
WHO: Ten people from different areas of the country/world and from different art/writing backgrounds
WHY: To focus on creating, meet other creative people, and promote creative growth in Monson
HOW: Residents selected through an application process. Apply on-line at monsonarts.org
Monson is about an hour and a half north-west of Bangor. There are about 600 residents year round, twice that in the warmer months. It's heyday was in the late 1800's and early 1900's, when about 6000-10,000 residents, many of them Swedes and Finns, lived here and worked in the industry of slate mining. The legacy of slate remains today, from footpaths and old mines to driveways and walkways, kitchen counters and bathroom floors.
You might know Monson from its being the last town before the final 100-mile leg of the Appalachian Trail. The Trail used to go right through downtown Monson, but has been moved about two miles out of town. There are still some back-packers around town now, resting up before heading out for the final stretch to Katahdin.
Monson's newest claim to fame is the Monson Arts program. This program is run through Pineland Farms, (which is funded through the Libra Foundation), with a goal of developing "economic and creative growth in the area" (from the Monson Arts brochure). The Monson Arts website explains the program along with stunning photography, so I recommend checking out the website if you'd like more information.
This is the first time I've done anything like this, and I expected something like "college dorm meets summer camp" but it's much, much nicer! Four days in and it's been amazing! The other residents are engaging and friendly--there are five writers and five visual artists.
And the food is so good it deserves its own blog entry. Seriously. Check out The Quarry's Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/thequarrymonson/?hl=en
Below, more information about the town and living/working spaces, for anyone interested:
We are staying in houses near town, two or three residents to a house. The houses have colorful rugs over hardwood floors, cozy furniture and homey knick-knacks. There are full kitchens, laundry rooms, linens and towels, and each person has their own bedroom. Backyards are woodsy, and when it’s quiet, I can hear the leaves whispering. It’s easy to feel at home here!
We each get our own individual studio spaces, which are more simply furnished than the houses. We are the first residents to use the Moore Building, which has studios for seven of the ten of us residents.
The houses and studios are all within walking distance to the main street of town, which includes:
Also downtown, open seasonally, are the Appalachian Trail Information Building/Monson Historical Society Museum and Gift Shop, two antique shops, and several galleries (ceramics, paintings, wooden bowls)
Specific to the Monson Arts residents, and also within walking distance, are other Monson Arts buildings, such as the the lakeside cabin with a fireplace, and canoes and kayaks.
The town is snugged up against a beautiful lake, Lake Hebron. There is even an otter that hangs out near our studios.
Welp, I'm off to write (that is why I'm here!!). More about the surrounding area in the next post.