by Ramona DeFelice Long
Writers, imagine a wonderful place where artists get to mingle with peers and do nothing but creative work all day.
Imagine a barn built in the 1930s and newly renovated to provide private studio space—for writers with a desk and an ergonomic chair; for musician/composers with pianos; for visual artists with creative materials and good lighting.
Imagine a view of open fields and farmlands, gardens with sculptures and benches for contemplation, and hiking trails for walks.
Imagine a private room in a nearby residence hall with buffet meals prepared--and cleaned up--by staff people.
Imagine group dinners followed by evenings devoted to impromptu readings, musical performances, or chatting with your fellow residents.
Imagine no responsibilities or cares other than to write. No cooking. No cleaning. No chores. No errands.
Sounds like a fantasy, doesn’t it? It’s not. What I described above is the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an international artist colony for writers, visual artists and composers set in foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In February, I will be in residence at the VCCA, for two weeks. Fourteen days. A private room in the residence. A private studio in the barn. Evenings with peers. No interruptions. No duties. No meals to prepare.
I’ve been to various types of writing retreats in the past: weekends organized by my writers’ group in a B&B with antique shops nearby; a memorable group retreat with an intrepid bunch of mystery writers/flood survivors; a self-organized weekend with a writing friend at the beach. I spent a week at Rosemont College studying short story writing in a program sponsored by Philadelphia Stories. I was accepted into the Delaware Division of the Arts 2008 Biden Center Retreat, where a fiction group spent a weekend in a renovated World War II barracks in Cape Henlopen, Delaware.
All of these were wonderful experiences that taught me much as a writer and allowed me to make many new writing friends. But none of these were devoted solely to private writing time.
I've daydreamed about going away to a colony, but who has two weeks to spare, just for writing? It seemed almost sinfully indulgent. Then I read a novel set in a colony, where the writer/narrator disappeared every day into her studio to work. So sacred was her creative time that, at noon each day, there was a knock on the door. When she opened it, a boxed lunch sat on the doorstep, delivered by someone she never saw or spoke to. For all she knew, it could have been delivered by elves.
The boxed lunch did it for me. I've spent years working at home, scrounging for sandwiches, wishing I could go out to lunch like other working people but knowing that would mean changing out of my yoga pants and putting on make-up. The idea of my creative time being so precious that meals were prepared by elves (okay, they're probably not elves, but it's my fantasy) made me get serious.
Get thee to a colony! That was my theme for a year.
I began applying. The process involves work samples, references, project descriptions, even a letter of testimonial that said, basically, I can behave myself and respect other artists. I sent off the applications and did what writers are advised to do about submission: forget about them and get back to work writing something.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from VCCA announcing that I’d been awarded a residency. I was thrilled. I posted it on my Facebook page. I called my mom. I sent heartfelt thanks to the writing colleagues who’d provided my references.
I imagined myself in my studio, concentrating on writing for long quiet days.The evenings discussing my progress with like-minded people.
It was the perfect dream. In a couple of months, it will come true.
Except for one thing. I looked online at testimonials from alums, and guess what? The VCCA doesn’t do box lunches. They put out a self-service spread for the artists.
Oh well. No fantasy is perfect.For two weeks in a private studio, with no responsibility other than to be creative, and evenings with potential new writing friends, I guess I can forgo the boxed lunch...and the elves.