Sunday, February 26, 2006

VSC Day 21 (I think)

It is bitterly cold here today. Five degrees right now with a wind chill of minus eight. I am pressed for time and can't write much but I wanted to check in with my blog. I went to Montreal yesterday and enjoyed it very much. Went to the Musee des Beaux Arts and had dinner at the Winston Churchill Pub. I will try to write a full post and get it up tomorrow.

Ciao from COLD Vermont.

Monday, February 20, 2006

VSC Day 14

VSC Day 14
President’s Day

I made a big mistake and tried to write a blog posting directly from Blogger’s site. Bad idea. It ate my post twice! Bad Blogger.

I don’t feel like writing very much the third time, but here’s a short version.

Very productive yesterday. I wrote from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. – about 7,500 words. Makes me very happy.

Today I took a much-needed break from self-contemplation and worked in the Development Office on the NEA grant I am writing for VSC. They aren’t open, but my co-worker here, Rebecca, decided to work, so the two of us spent a pleasant day accomplishing things.

I am going to fiddle around for a while, then eat dinner, then go back to my studio to write some more.

The food here is just stupendous. So good. A different, luscious dessert every evening – bad for the waistline, good for the soul.

Already 14 days here, leaving is beginning to weigh on people and come up in conversation. We all envy the Residents who are here for two or three months. And the staff who work 30 hours a week in exchange for a stipend, studio, and meals. Did I mention the food is excellent?

I wrote this on Word and saved it before publishing to Blogger, so if it screws up again, my post will not be dead again. I hope this works.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

VSC Day 12

VSC Day 12
February 17, 2006

Today is my sister’s birthday. Happy birthday, Janet!

Very strange day. I woke up and went to breakfast, then to the quilt shop (Quilted Lily) for coaching on my quilting project. When I left my room, it was mild and overcast. When I left the dining room, it was raining. After the very helpful and pleasant coaching session, I worked up in the development office for a couple of hours, and then went to lunch. While working upstairs, the wind began to blow ferociously and the whole building shook. That definitely got my attention.

At lunchtime, I went downstairs to eat. Suddenly there was an exclamation from someone over by the windows. Huge chunks of ice from the river were breaking up and sweeping by the dining room. The water, which is usually so clear that you can see the rocks on the bottom, was roiled and brown with mud. Spring had swept down while we weren’t looking.

Except, what’s this? As we watched the ice break up, the sun came out and the rain turned in to snow! When I returned to my room after inner, the ground was green, with all the grass exposed. When I went out to dinner later, the ground was white with snow again and the air temperature had dropped very sharply. I heard that it would be 5 degrees tonight. It is lucky that the snow was light, because with our stiff winds, it would have surely been a blizzard if it had snowed at all hard.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring. I will have to re-photograph the river now that the ice broke up. I can get pictures of it reforming over the next few days.

Today is a transition day. All the two-week Residents left – or will leave tomorrow – and a few new faces appeared at dinner, new two-week residents coming in. that reminds me that I am half way through my stay at VSC. I have accomplished a great deal on the book project, not as much on the quilting project. Well, the book I most important to me.

I want to keep my momentum going these next two weeks. I want to leave here feeling I have wrung every last drop out of the experience. I want to be proud of myself.

VSC Day 11

VSC Day 11
February 16, 2006

It’s late and I’m tired, but I haven’t been able to get a posting done for a couple of days – mostly technical issues and lack of opportunity to get on the internet – so I am going to pound out a few sentences to get caught up and then post it on Friday.

Tonight the artists held open studio. Most of the artists allowed to visitors to walk through their studios; all of the studio buildings were unlocked for the evening. It just fascinated me. People here are so talented and they are doing such original work. On Wednesday night, we had residents’ slides and about eight artists showed their work. On Tuesday night – yes, Valentine’s Day – we had a reading and four Resident writers read work, including yours truly. The writing impressed me as much as the art, maybe more because I know what it takes to write well and art is somewhat of a mystery to me. Leslie McGrath (poet), Shirley Ama Ainoo (poet from Ghana), Holly Hughes (poet & essayist), and I (memoirist & playwright) read this week.

Many other activities happened, but I can’t think of all of them now. I am working in the development office 10 hours a week for my work exchange, writing an NEA grant proposal for VSC. Other than meals and the VSC activities, I am mostly writing, writing, writing – over thirty thousand new words to date!!!

I had coffee at the Bad Girls Coffee House today and I am going to take a quilting lesson tomorrow morning. My weekend promises more writing. Wish my brilliant thoughts and strong fingers.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

VSC Day 8

February 12, 2006

Today I am writing and posting on the same day, so no lag on this post. I continue working hard. I have written around 12,000 words. I just hope some of them are good enough to keep! When I first start writing, it is just getting ideas on paper and it takes a lot of time and revision to get my soul into the work. I had a little breakthrough on that today - finding my raison d'etre for a particular section which had previously felt like a laundry list. With the right framing, it is suddenly much better and gives me hope that it will shape up into some excellent writing eventually.

My goal for VSC centered on quantity, not quality, so I don't want to get carried away and start doing revisions. That is for later. This is my equivalent of "write a novel in November." Yesterday the town of Johnson held a winter carnival. I had planned to attend some of the festivities, but it felt so cold when I walked to the store early in the morning that I gave up that idea and just worked.

Perhaps I'll have a meltdown due to overwork before I leave ... I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

We have been eating well. Perhaps too well. Tonight was my least favorite meal since we got here - baked tofu with roasted fennel bulbs and carrots, sticky purple rice, and a fresh tomato salsa. I didn't eat the tofu; I just don't like it. The sticky purple rice was okay. The fennel was pretty tasty, it was new for me. The highlight of today's meal was the mint chocolate ice cream and frosted brownies! Yum.

I understand that the Crones have been alerted to my blogsite. Hello to all my "Cronies" from Northwest Community UU Church. Also, a big shout out to my friends and colleagues in the Friday Morning Writers Group. Last - but certainly not least - hi to Alix, my longest (and dearest) reader.

I am so happy to have this opportunity to work at the Vermont Studio Center. I feel really privileged.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

VSC Day Six

February 10, 2006

Another intense day at VSC. Visiting writer Brenda Hillman treated the writers to a craft talk on poetry. She is herself an accomplished poet and teaches at St. Mary’s college in the Bay Area. Although her remarks were billed as a poetry craft talk, I felt that the ideas applied to writing in general. Certainly, they apply to my writing. I should tell you what she spoke about, but I m tired and I don’t want to think that hard. Another time, perhaps.

After lunch, I went back to my studio and churned out another 3,000 words. That makes almost 9,000 since Wednesday. The problem is, these are emotionally difficult words to get out. In order to write my memoir – The Requirements of Love –I have read hundreds of journal entries written during one of the most painful periods of my life. An extended period of suffering when lupus made me terribly sick.

I don’t like to read the journal entries; they bring back such dreadful memories. It is hard to read entry after entry of physical misery and emotional misery, too. It affected my whole family badly.

I don’t like reading about it, being reminded again of how we struggled. Then to add to that the painful circumstances under which Tori came to be in our family … well it was too much for me. I need a break now. It’s 10 pm and I think I’ve earned one!! I had planned to quilt, but I don’t think I’m focusing well enough for that (pincushion fingers, anyone?). So into my jammies and curl up with one of my books or a journal that needs to be written. Tomorrow is another day.


Friday, February 10, 2006

Vermont Studio Center Day Five

(Click on the link to go to the VSC website.)
February 9, 2006

Last night the art residents presented the first series of slide talks. Impressive. The work is wildly diverse, but all of it engages, challenges, and surprises. Two individuals paint with wax (that’s called encaustic, if I remember correctly) and their images were particularly haunting because of the way in which the wax obscured the underlying layers of paint. One of them, Vaughn Bell, created wonderful winter scenes by cloaking her landscapes in blizzards of white wax. Another painter, Sze Man Ho, from Hong Kong, creates installations with life-sized, traditional folk art dolls of paper arranged in rooms with furniture, flowers, paintings on the walls … complete environments that she created entirely in vivid color and detail.

Toni Small uses a pinhole camera to create self-portraits that evoked Julia Margaret Cameron, the 19th century British photographer. Jim Schantz paints sky-filled New England landscapes that made me think of the work Lynn Randolph recently presented at WIVLA. Alyce Santoro has invented a process to makes fabric from cassette tapes. You can play the clothing and listen to the sound still residing on the tapes after she weaves them! She showed us beautiful weavings and many unique wearable installations. Louisa Armbrust paints game structures – people at play – with a wicked sense of humor.

I wish I could remember the names of everyone who presented. Next week, I will take a notebook with me to capture that important information. Tomorrow at mealtime, I should be able to track down the missing names from last night.

We writers will have our first reading next Tuesday evening. I will read then. I might have preferred to wait until the second or third reading, but my new friend Holly has to leave next week and she flattered me by expressing a desire to hear me read. Vanity, thy name is Writer!

Speaking of writing, I have been working hard. It is incredible, actually. I spent Monday and Tuesday on structural issues – mind mapping the contents of the book – and reading/marking passages in my journals that pertain to the period I’m working on. Wednesday I began writing. In the last two days, I have written over 5,700 words. I did make a promise to myself to concentrate on quantity, not quality, so they probably aren’t the best 5,700+ words I ever wrote, but I don’t care. I am so productive it frightens me. And thrills me.

There is something about living in a room with your computer staring at you and having no diversionary tasks available to you. I have nothing to do but write. What a concept!

On Friday morning, the poet Brenda Hillman will present her craft talk to the writers. I will be there, of course, even if I am not a poet. Who knows what could happen in a place like this?


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

VSC Day Three

February 7, 2006

Another perfect day in paradise. It snowed in the morning, then cleared up and gleamed in the sunlight. After lunch, I walked with a friend, Holly, to the spring. Not exactly sure where to find it, we set out, hoping it would not be too far. The local elementary school overlooks aptly named School Road. An old-fashioned-looking, red clapboard schoolhouse abuts a newer, off-white clapboard school.

As we walked down School Road – on the shoulder, no sidewalks – we passed College Road, which goes steeply uphill to Johnson State College. I have not visited there yet, but several of my acquaintances have used the gym and the library. Not far past the school, we found the spring. It consists of a black hose, emerging from a hillside buttressed with cinderblocks, which runs into a beat up tin pail with a hole in the bottom. The pail drains onto the shoulder of the road right next to the driveway of the spring owner's house. The driveway is very steep.

Mother Nature, who never takes a day off, operates the spring and so the ground around it is clear of snow and soggy. Holly and I each stepped up to the spring in turn and filled our water bottles. I took a quick taste of the water before capping my bottle. Delicious. It tasted sparkling clean, like a cold day, as bright in my mouth as a slice of lemon.

I carried with me a small water bottle from my plane ride here. I will have to go buy a larger bottle so I can get a more ample supply of spring water on my next trip. Holly suggested that we could walk to the spring every day, but I would prefer to have a reserve in case I miss a day.

After we got our water, we went on to the covered bride. Again, we did not know exactly where it was, just that it was up School Road. In fact, as soon as we rounded the bend near the spring, we saw the bridge. For New Englanders, it is probably a run-of-the-mill covered bridge, but I found it charming. There is only one lane, and cars must wait for the oncoming traffic to clear before using it. Not that traffic seemed to be a problem. Along each side, there is a pedestrian walkway, carefully separated from the driving lane by timbers.

The bridge also has large, open windows, but they were too tall for me to look down. I did have a lovely view of the sky. Below the bridge is the Gihon River, the same one that runs along side VSC’s Red Mill, which is our dining room. The river bends just below the bridge. Above it are a series of fast rapids that run alongside a red clapboard structure. With the bridge named “Power House Bridge,” it seems likely that the red building is the powerhouse. There are rapids immediately in front of the powerhouse. Perhaps it is generating power from the river.

Graffiti across an inside wall of the bridge is all that detracted from the lovely view. After admiring the bridge and taking pictures of each other, Holly and I walked back. Once we rounded the bend near the spring, we could see the school and our houses at the end of the road. School House Road dead ends there; it was an easy walk back home.
When I am not going walkabout in the snow, I am working hard. This is a thrilling opportunity to concentrate on my writing. Perhaps I’ll discuss that tomorrow - perhaps not. There is so much to feed the imagination here.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

VSC Day Two

February 6, 2005
It started snowing last night and has snowed off and on all day. Each time I left my building, I found the snow line a bit higher. In the afternoon, the sun tried to melt it, but failed. With the afternoon chill and darkening evening, it just accumulated more and more.
My building is set back behind the two other buildings and the foot traffic is light. When I went to dinner at 6:00, I stepped out into a dark night reflecting off a pure white, untouched blanket of down.

The rising wind blew the snow into my face, stinging my cheeks with pinpricks of cold, as if quilting me. I could have raised my hood and fended off some of the sharpness, but I didn’t want to. Walking a block into the wind-driven snow is a rare treat I have not experienced in twenty-odd years.

At that time, I did not find it a treat. Perhaps I will lose my giddy delight in snow showers quite soon here in Vermont as well. I don’t really expect to, though. This small town, dark and silent, with few cars disturbing the quiet, is a step backwards into my past. A glance at then that I can appreciate now.

With red L. L. Bean snow boots to encase my feet, a red Lands End parka to cuddle my body, and fleecy red accessories for my head, throat, and hands, I fear nothing the weather can bring.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Vermont Studio Center - Day One

February 5, 2006
When the Sunday paper gives you a bad horoscope, watch out. Especially if you are traveling. Today is the day I embarked on my writing residency adventure. I left Houston on a 9:00 am flight, through Detroit, and into Burlington at 3:30 pm. There, the VSC shuttle was to pick me up. I say, “Was” because it never happened.
First, let’s address flying through Detroit. Today is Super Bowl Sunday. The Super Bowl is being held in Detroit. Need I say more? The plane was chock full. Second, there was supposed to be a blizzard in Detroit last night and today. Fortunately, that did not materialize; however, a mechanical failure in our puddle jumper to Burlington did develop, leaving a planeload of people stranded on a very small plane at the gate for two hours – to hours during which the last VSC shuttle left the Burlington airport without me.
As a mature adult, I did not let this get to me. I simply read the book I had brought long in case of blizzard and planned my next move after consulting by phone with Kathy Black at VSC.
Gear Aside: Modern technology is just so wonderful. I have traveled for many years and never has a screw-up been so easy to deal with. Cell phones, the internet, online reservations … fabulous stuff. I called VSC from the plane and they gave me quote on taxi rates and a number to call for the best fare. I called Michael from the plane and he checked prices on car rentals in Burlington for me. When I discovered that it would not be a benefit to rent a car, I arranged a $60 cab ride. Ouch, but at least I was not stranded. Moreover, the price would have been higher without the referral from VSC.
I did get to the Vermont Studio Center, although at 7 pm instead of 4:30 pm. They nicely saved me a tasty dinner. I met the people who were on the shuttle I missed. I am in my room and all unpacked. It worked out fine, horoscope or not.
Room Aside: It is not the Ritz, but it is big and has a huge desk to work on. Actually, I think this is a door or a kitchen countertop. I believe it will work for me just fine. The bed is narrow and short, but I like to curl up in my sleep, so that’s okay. I am in Bivins House. The Green River should be visible outside my back window, I’ll know in the morning.
Tomorrow I will catch up on the orientation I missed today and attend a writers’ meeting. I also plan to go to meditation at 7 am. That said, I need to get to bed. It will probably be tomorrow when I post this, but the date in the title is the date of the events. Since I don’t have internet hookup in my room, I will not be able to post regularly, but I will put things up as often as I can.
Ciao from Vermont.