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.