Serendipitous Writing

Image by Pranav Bhasin under the creative license on Flickr.

When I picked up my ringing phone I heard a male voice.

Congratulations, Marsha, it said, you’ve been awarded… and, disgusted with yet another robocall, I immediately started to hang up. Was this for a cruise to the Bahamas? Or a free hotel stay in Florida? Maybe a discount on a walk-in tub…

I’m probably the last human on earth with a land-line phone. Just before the receiver hit the cradle I suddenly – faintly – heard the word Alabama.

I quickly returned the phone to my ear. Excuse me, I said, would you repeat that please?

And so I learned I’d been awarded a month-long writing residency – to which I’d applied a full year prior – at the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts in Fairhope, Alabama. To say I was in shock is an understatement – I thought they’d chosen attendees long ago.

The deal: one month’s stay (totally free of charge, all utilities paid) at a ninety-nine year old fully-equipped historic registry “cottage” next door to a magnificent library, within walking distance to town. The town a beautiful artists/writers haven loaded with upscale restaurants, galleries, and boutiques, on a rise above Mobile Bay, complete with pier, walking trails, small beach, and towering trees. In short, pure heaven. Someone from the Center for the Writing Arts would even pick me up at the airport, and drop me for my return flight. My only costs: plane tickets, and food, for a month of total seclusion that I could devote to any writing project of my choice. Their one requisite: attendance at a small reception, during which I’d share a short program about my work.

I was offered a choice of two months. I chose this past April, and the weather was magnificent. Bonus: I discovered a new area I’d love to return to some day for a vacation. Because if anyone is wondering, this definitely wasn’t a vacation – I worked like crazy!

It’s funny, because I live alone, and can actually manipulate my schedule to write whenever the muse calls. But inevitably, “life” here at home always interferes/intervenes.

Down in Fairhope there was no reason NOT to write – there was nothing that had to be done immediately, there were no appointments/no meetings, there were no phone calls. There was silence – blessed silence for my mind to cogitate and my fingers to dance. Of course I brought along my computer, but even a printer was supplied for residents’ use.

It was this silence that drew me to apply – I like working by myself in a vacuum. When perusing lists of possible residencies (to escape a bit of SD’s snows) I quickly learned that most are offered on a shared basis – large homes/facilities are broken up to house multiple attendees. Occasionally rooms are shared, baths are generally shared, meals are most often communal. There’s quite a bit of socializing, and while this can be stimulating for some – and I do enjoy company – I’ve also found, over the years, that I need solitude to produce serious work.

This much silence and isolation, however, could be daunting. One needs to be organized, committed, self-motivated, have back-up plans. In case I hit a wall with my main working project, I went prepared with a couple alternatives.

Not that I was a total hermit. I quickly fell into a routine: work three-four hours, then take a break to go down to the pier, eat out, or walk through town; return for another four-five hours of work. Interesting books dotted the cottage and I skimmed through a couple. There was a TV, but it only had a few channels with no programs of interest.

My tally by month’s end? A new book’s trajectory and chapter concepts were laid out; six poems were composed; a short story was written and two others finessed; some poetry submissions were emailed to editors (one such just accepted for publication!).

So, a suggestion: if you’ve ever considered applying for a residency, go for it! You never know – I certainly never expected a response. Some are offered for only a week or two – a perfect fit for a short break from work. Most facilities offer residencies to both experienced and emerging writers. Writing samples, a bio, and recommendations must be submitted, and most prefer published authors – but you certainly don’t have to have won a Pulitzer.

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