Writing residencies, I learned very recently, are the holy grail of writers. You’re given the gift of time and an escape for everyday obligations—jobs, families, pets—to work on writing projects. Some are legendary, like the fellowship at the American Academy in Rome where highly select writers are invited to spend a year writing in the Eternal City. Others are low-brow, grassroots, and free of selectivity. Like the Till Residency, which I participated in last weekend at Smoke Farm in the ridiculously green valley of the Stillaguamish River. Three days in a bucolic setting and the freedom to work on whatever writing project I wanted. Time-out-of-time. I am grateful for my time at Smoke Farm, I met lots of interesting writers, and I got lots of writing done. But I was surprised by several things.
1) Writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely experience. But the act of getting together as writers and talking about what we are working on is not only cathartic but useful. I got innumerable ideas and new angles from my fellow writers last weekend.
2) When I explained to people I met the first night what I was working on–my Peace Corps experience in the late 80s in West Africa–I got overwhelming interest. “I can’t wait to hear the rest of story,” I heard from more than one person. I have some obligation to follow through this.
3) If you transport yourself from the city, to the lushly green world of the North Cascades, ad write about thirty year old experiences in Africa, you find yourself in a kind of magical, Middle Earth place where you are both invincible and more vulnerable than you’ve ever been before.
4) Memoir writing is about others as much as it is about yourself.
5) Slugs can’t hurt you, despite how big they get in a feral meadow in the Stillaguamish Valley, after 24 hours of straight rain.