For the past couple weeks, I've been in residency at the Vermont Studio Center to work on my forthcoming book. I have to say that this place really captures the essence of "sanctuary." Coming off of a very demanding working mom schedule, it was a gift to have the time to hit the reset button and get to the creative work that I've been meaning to devote more attention to.
What makes the stay special is being able to work along side artists and writers of so many genres, to share meals, struggles, and advice on how to thrive as a creative person. I relished the craft talks, artists sharing work, celebrating VSC's 30th anniversary, and of course going to the open studios.
It's very normal for creativity to have its ebb and flow in any given year. My strategy has been to use retreat times as a way to set the momentum that I can return to daily life with, and also lay out as many ideas as possible in mock ups or drafts and then work on each in smaller sessions during the following months. I call it the "hard thinking time" - as it does require a certain expansion of space to allow me to sink into ideas in a more thoughtful and complex way.
At first I wondered if I would feel any guilt for being away from parenting and other duties for this length of time. But it became clear day after day that it is so important to make efforts for self-care and to honor one's health and growth. I feel that I have so much more to give now that I've taken some time to recover from months of physical fatigue. The manuscript is much stronger and I've been able to write more boldly.
There are many forces that we as women have to battle to live out their potential. Guilt is one of the methods employed to dis-empower women, to shame them from speaking up and revealing their authentic selves. One might argue that guilt is a way to police human behavior, but I disagree - that's compassion's work. Guilt sits in when compassion has left the building. Thus, by exercising compassion on all levels, whether it's self care or being considerate of others, we don't have to play into the power structures that guilt preserves.
Realizations like this came from having dialogues with great artists. I've had the pleasure of meeting so many incredible people that I don't have enough room here to name. I'm always curious about their inspirations, why they make, and what is on their bookshelves. Here's a summer reading list I compiled:
Thomas Sayers Ellis, Terrance Hayes, Nick Flynn, Lucy Brock-Broido, Anne Waldman, Bernadette Mayer, Kevin Young, Audre Lorde, Jack Gilbert, Flannery O'Connor, Louise Erdrich.
I also plan to pick up the anthology "The New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry" from Tupelo Press, a book I've been reading at the VSC library.
Making great work is also not just the work of an individual. It is also the result of incredible generosity and effort on the part of so many people. Without a supportive partner and parents willing to help with holding up the daily structures, none of this would be possible. So I leave here with endless gratitude and with a sense of awe for the way all these things selflessly moved in order to give me this space.