When I’m Away & Some Questions Worth Asking
Today I leave for a brief, cherished residency at one of my favorite places in the world. Favorite because I always work well when I’m beside Eagle Lake, surrounded by woods, birdsong, meadows and the splendid Adirondack mountains. Favorite because the staff and director of this special place for artists has taken such care, over the decades of its existence, to build a truly inspiring community of artists from all disciplines, who are making work I admire, and taking care to draw connections between their art and the broader world: a world that needs our voices, our ideas, and even our advocacy.
I’ll take a few books (Lorine Niedecker’s ‘Collected Works’; a collection of essays by Wendell Berry called ‘Imagination in Place’, a field guide to North American trees), fresh notebook, and two projects I wish to focus on while I’m away and offline. The first is a book of writing prompts and provocations for writers and poets seeking companionship in their home writing practice. I don’t know the title yet, but I’ve written two hundred or so assignment prompts in the last four years, and tested them on writers (beginning and advanced), and I know they work. They lead to poems and happy poets and writers. Now I want to share this trove of sparks and ideas with others. What will I call it? My hope is that some time away from my usual duties and distractions will reveal possibilities. It always does. I’ll also edit the existing material.
The other project is ‘Here Stands,’ a collaborative installation with artist Melanie Mowinski, for which I aim to complete a cycle of brief poems. I can’t tell you how eager I am to give my attention to this, and to reread what I’ve got, and to move ahead into summer with this work.
Finally, I wanted to share this explanation of the “No Cell Phones” policy at the place I’ll stay this week. It’s wise, necessary and part of the reason I find I’m able to work so well when I’m away:
“We understand that many people think of the cell phone as an essential appendage. And that’s precisely why cell phones can’t live here. When one assumes the ability to communicate “out” at whim, the individual, and thus the collective, commitment to communicate “in” and “among” is weakened. It makes a Resident’s time far more rich if s/he doesn’t break every loneliness or respond to every workaday thought or anxiety with a call. And the quality of dinner table conversation is much improved if participants are less tempted to report from that day’s contacts with the outside world. Residents come here to do themselves a favor, a large portion of which is about freedom from the distractions of the everyday world. The mobile phone is no friend to that liberation. We do have a phone booth with unlimited long distance calling. And we do have email. So no one is cut-off from necessary contact with family, work or friends. There is an emergency number and 24-hour coverage in case of an incoming emergency. Our goal is to help everyone stay as present and creatively productive as possible. Please help us preserve the peace that makes the time at BMC memorable for our Residents.” (via Blue Mountain Center)
In a related vein, I want to leave you with the latest post from the ever wise Seth Godin, because I think these are exactly the kinds of questions we have to ask ourselves when we begin something, when we choose to continue, and when we’re trying to decide if it’s time to end a project or practice that’s no longer serving us or worth our effort. You can subscribe and follow him over here:
Or merely creating new wants?
Is it honoring your time or squandering your time?
Is it connecting you from those you care about, or separating you?
Is it exposing you or giving you a place to hide?
Is it important, or only urgent?
Is it right, or simply convenient?
Is it making things better, or merely more pressing?
Is it leveraging your work or wasting it?
What is it for?