Dana: I am posting this from a writing residency in Massachusetts. I’m only a couple hours from home, but it feels like the middle-of-nowhere-ish. Why do writers and artists do this? Why do we leave the comfort of our own home-which for me includes a writing room of my own- in order to hole up in some other house to do that thing we do?
The short answer of course, is freedom from distractions. Let’s face it, home holds a lot of distractions. From the people we love to the laundry and to-do lists, our attention can only be on our craft for so long before our brain starts to signal a “times up” alarm. I am so aware of the life and the needs around me, I can hardly get to work if I think a plant needs watering. The idea of focusing on writing for almost three days straight with nothing else to do- and trust me there is nothing else to do here- appealed to my need for focus and efficiency.
So I sent off the required application, resume and sample of writing- all the things the gatekeepers of the residency wanted to convince them I am serious about writing. They want to know their applicants are not coming here to, say, smoke meth, hide from the law, or hook up with random strangers. And I passed their test. I’m here! I’m basking in the hours and hours of getting words on the page, writing submissions organized, edits done; all the things that I often do in fits and starts at home.
But here’s the thing about a writing residency that I did not entirely take into consideration:
There are PEOPLE here.
And the people here all use the same kitchen and yesterday when I was in my room writing, an overpowering smell of -I don’t know- beef broth? – but the fake, bouillon cube kind, not the good kind- filled the whole upstairs. Call me sensitive, but I was a little nauseous after that.
Also, we share bathrooms. It is a big old house with two huge unisex bathrooms. There are two sinks in each of these bathrooms and the toilet and shower each has its own enclosure. So it feels like we should leave the bathroom door unlocked while using the toilet or shower, so that someone else can come into the very spacious sink area to brush their teeth. But that would be weird because- did I mention we are strangers? When I took a shower, I felt like such a room hog. I mean, someone could have been waiting to brush their teeth, or wanting to pee, but they could not because I was in the back corner of this big bathroom, in the little shower stall and therefore had locked the door. Clearly we could’ve fit a whole group in there at once, doing several different toiletry things. But like I said, that would’ve been weird. So no matter what someone might be doing in there- flossing, combing their hair- they get the whole damn room.
On to the bedrooms. Each one is named after a famous writer; mine is the Emily Dickinson room. There are several of her books in my room so that I might channel some of her inspiration or talent.
It feels a little bit like freshman year of college except that no one is telling us to leave our doors open and make friends, because we are here to work after all.
But keeping my door closed did not prevent the sound of the loudest snoring I have ever heard from travelling through my bedroom wall last night. All night. And by all night, I mean the guy slept from 9pm to 9am. It was like the snoring you’d hear on a cartoon. It was cartoon snoring. If I hadn’t been tired, and then wide awake wondering if he’s been tested for sleep apnea, it might’ve been funny.
Another thing about this house: I think there are more books here than in my town’s public library. This place has books floor to ceiling every which way I turn. The house is cluttered with books. This is kind of funny because I intentionally left my books at home so that I wouldn’t spend any of my writing time reading. I’ve been known to read a whole day away, and I didn’t want the temptation.
I’ve resisted all the books though, and am pleased to have gotten a lot of writing done. All in all, it’s been time well spent. If my resident neighbor is still here tonight, it will likely be another loud night. But that’s okay- when I go to bed, his snoring will distract me from the creepy doll sitting in the chair right outside my room.
There’s no place like home.