Friday, December 09, 2011

The Gift of Time...and a Boxed Lunch

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.



Joyce Tremel said...

That sounds absolutely wonderful! Even if there aren't any elves. Sigh.

Annette said...

"a memorable group retreat with an intrepid bunch of mystery writers/flood survivors"

Gee, I wonder who you mean by that.

The residency sounds FABULOUS. Boxed lunch or no boxed lunch. Have a great time. You deserve it.

Jenna said...

Have a lovely time, Ramona. Rather you than me. While boxed lunches and no interruptions sound like lovely things, I don't write well outside my own space. Diff'rent strokes, I guess.

Ramona said...

Jennie, you are not alone. I've had a number of people say this would never do for them. Out of necessity, I've had to train myself to work anywhere, although some places certainly work better than others.

I've also seen comments that a private room seems intimidating. I will have to prepare myself mentally. I'm thinking of taking along a couple of "comfort" items. We'll see how it goes!

C.L. Phillips said...

May you have the creative time of your life! May the words you find on your retreat spark a work that brings you joy forever.


Joyce Tremel said...

I'd like to train myself to do what Jonathan Maberry did at the PW conference: write in the bar.

Patg said...

foSorry, Ramona, this would never suite me, and it isn't because it isn't my own space. Cut of from society, or experience, I'd do nothing but veg. Too boring, too 'nothing happening around me', too cut-off.
I'm not in love with the 'art', I've been to too many of those (granted shorter-I'd never gave a week) but I found too many of the 'artist' were in love with the art, not really doing it for publication.
Giving it the thought you gave it, it raises the hair on the back of my neck like a trip into the woods.
I never go their either.

Patg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P. A. Deuson said...

May it be all that you hope and dream! Do you know what you'll be working on?

Mary said...

Have a lovely and productive stay. Don't completely give up on the boxed lunch idea. Sometimes a private word with someone on the kitchen staff can work wonders. When I was in college, I got sack lunches on days I had swim class . . .

Anonymous said...

Ramona -
Sounds great. And about the boxed lunch - wouldn't you really rather have access to a buffet, where you can choose a food that suits the mood of what you're working on that day, than having to eat whatever some elf chose for you?

Ramona said...

Thanks for the good wishes! Yeah, I'm pretty much letting go of the boxed lunch thing now. I'll eat whatever the food elves provide, since the quiet and communing with fellow artists is the real draw.

Joyce, you are right--the ability to write while sitting in a bar is a truly desirable skill. Maybe that will be my next goal. :-)