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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Residency Retreat Recap

When I first got here, I was anxious to get to work. Frantically, I spent hours in my studio, getting up only for food and bathroom breaks. Over the last two weeks, though, my pace changed. Blame it on the heat, or a sore neck, but this residency has transitioned into something more like a retreat.

Don't get me wrong - there's still work to be done (on the farm and on the page), but I've lost that anxious edge. These days, you'll find my writing in bed, a sweet breeze slipping through my room, or taking prairie walks at sunset, watching the wind tickle the tall grasses. I watch a robin fly to and from her nest while a skeptical rabbit watches me with a sidelong stare. Time has slowed down. The hours are plentiful. Afternoons are made for napping. The other day, it took me an hour to drive four mils because I kept stopping to take pictures and collect sage growing wild on the side of the road.

I realized recently that I had spent so much time in my studio that I hadn't connected with my surroundings - which was okay, for a time. I was connecting with my work and that was great. But now that I've released my tight grip on my work, I've been gorgeously rewarded by loud laughter that travels across fields and shakes this old house, delicious dips in the nearby lake, long rambles across rolling prairie, mulberry stained fingers, and the blooming of beautiful friendships.

I am so grateful for Ed Dadey and his Art Farm. His is a beautiful vision - strangers coming together to create art and share a special time out of time together in the middle of nowhere. I appreciate his complete openness and the support he gives all of the artists here by simply throwing us together and allowing whatever needs to happen happen. He asks little of us besides the 12 hours of work per week and gives so much in return. In working for him, he gives us tools and let's us figure it out, whether that be with carpentry, electrical work, or plumbing. May we learn to approach all endeavors with as much faith as Ed has in us, always trusting that we will figure out how to read plumbing plans or design a three-way light switch. We have no choice but to rise.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Against the Internet: A Writer’s Manifesto

One of the best things about being at the Art Farm is the lack of internet. Some of the buildings have it, but some of them don’t. Thankfully, my studio is sans wi-fi. 

I’m a writer. This means that a lot of my time is spent writing. Some of that writing is done by hand in my notebook, but the bulk of it is done on this here computational machine. This means that, when given the opportunity, I often find myself scrolling through Buzzfeed articles when all I wanted to do was check what year the Berlin Wall fell down. One thing leads to another and next thing you know, you’ve wasted much time and mental energy on useless crap.

The internet is the boob tube of our generation. I grew up with parents who firmly believed that television rots your brain (scientists have proven this to be true...) so I never developed the habit of watching television. On the other hand, the internet provides another opportunity for mindlessness, one that I indulge in quite often.

I don’t freak out in internet-free zones. In fact, I look forward to these experiences because they provide freedom from this drug that so many of us abuse without fully understanding the hold it has on us. But it’s an ongoing practice to bring that laissez-faire attitude towards the internet when I actually have it at my fingertips.

Back to the Art Farm. Without the constant pull of information and connection, both useful and useless, I am forced to resort to other things to distract me, such as doodling, reading, or messing around with my hula hoop. When I allow my mind to wander freely without the constant stimulation of the internet, I am “staying in the room.” I have been hearing this a lot recently from other writers and artists: stay in the room, they say. They mean – with your work. It’s going to be frustrating and it’s going to be scary and you’re going to want to give up. But the ones who stay are the ones who make it. I intend to be one of those writers who make it. (Whatever that means!)

Creating art is like becoming a scuba diver. You gear up and you dive in. It takes a lot of time to get down there, to get acclimated to this different underwater world. You’re got to stabilize yourself on the way down. You breathe differently down there. You move differently, too.

Writers should understand that we are deep sea divers; we descend into this other world where different rules apply. Once we’re down there, we want to make the best of it and see as much as we can, right? Of course, we must be mindful of our oxygen tank, so we do maintain a hold on the world above the water, but we must also allow ourselves to get lost in it.

Going online when you are creating art is like a diver surfacing too fast. It’s dangerous for them, and for us, too. Entering the vastly stimulating online world rips us from the world we are creating on the page (or on the canvas). We lose our flow. It takes a lot of energy and focus to descend into that sacred place of creation, and we should honor that process by not throwing it away so quickly.

In a world without constant access to the internet, the World Wide Web can return to its original function as a tool. Whenever I think of something I need to do online, whether it be to send an email or look up flight prices to Tahiti, I write it down in my agenda. The next time I get internet access, I set a limited time that I will be online. Then, I go through my list of tasks and get them done, one by one. Of course, I might find myself waylaid by a passing celebrity news story, but I will honor the time limit that I have set. If there are articles I want to read or stories that intrigue me while I’m online, I might save them to my computer or keep the tab open so that I can read it when I’m no longer connected to the internet.

Cultivating a space without the bombardment of the internet allows for a deeper kind of concentration to happen. You can dive deeper into your work because you don’t have this buoy keeping you on the surface. You are more committed to your creation than to anything else at that moment, and that is crucial. The artist must completely give in to their art; otherwise, no one else will. 

pictures from our recent Art Farm Walk / Open Studios!

The Victorian or "Icky Vicky"
The TeaHouse

The Floating Barn

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Creating Means Living

I am on day 5 of being at the Art Farm and I thought I’d send a shout out to the outside world to let you know that I am ALIVE and WELL. In fact, I think I might be happier than ever!

On Wednesday, Ed the owner and director of the Art Farm, picked me up at the bus depot in Grand Island. He was exactly as I had imagined him: tall and thin, with a great Midwestern drawl. He grew up in Marquette, Nebraska, and when he inherited the family farm, he decided to turn it into a sanctuary for artists of all kinds. 22 years later and here we are!

As we drove towards the farm, he told me about the historic Mormon Trail and the famed Oregon Trail that pass through this area. We crossed the Platte River which was brown from rain. Normally, the river is bone dry and people can drive their cars down the riverbed! As many of you may know, the middle of the country has been getting an unusual amount of rain this spring…

This is Monsanto country, and all you see are straight rows of corn and soybean for miles. The Art Farm rises like an oasis in the desert, except this oasis won’t disappear as you get closer. It only gets more magical! It’s an island of tall trees and colorful wildflowers amidst an ocean of chemically-laced crops.

I live in the farmhouse where Ed grew up; it was built in the early 1800’s and still standing strong (sort of). My room is upstairs in the attic and the staircase is so steep that I’ve got to walk down it face forward. I’ve got some roommates in the walls – a raucous band of raccoons that wake me up in the middle of the night with their terrific thumps and wild chattering. It sounds like they’re have an all-night dance party up there, or maybe running foot races. Anyway, I’m getting used to them but I bought some ear plugs just in case.

We can choose any studio space on the farm as long as it’s available. I chose a barn across the way from the farmhouse – important proximity to the kitchen ensures constant access to tea! I felt like one of TheBoxcar Children as I organized my space, dusting shelves and arranging flowers. It feels nice to make something cozy out of a hollow boxcar/barn. Just outside the door, I can see an old car painted crazy colors and a fairy house made of wire, gifts from past artists. Sometimes, a marshmallow-tailed bunny hops by or a swallowtail might stop in to say hello. I also share the space with a little field mouse that pops his head out every day to make sure I’m working.

In my studio, I can spread out and stalk the floor, or curl up in a cozy arm chair. I have decorated my studio with found artwork left behind by past residents. The walls have splashes of color and paint drips from previous tenants. It makes me happy to know that so many have come before me and blessed this space with their creative spirits.

There are no car horns or city noises out here; only the sound of birdsong and the silver whispers of wind. Sometimes, a summer storm will pass through, leaving the farm greener and muddier than ever.

Without outside stimulation from the internet or my cell phone, I find myself sinking into a place where my soul can stretch its wings and fly. This place isn’t even that remote by my standards. In my travels, I have often been in remote places such as the Amazon rainforest or the middle of the Mediterranean. The difference is that now, for the first time ever, my focus is on CREATING. There is nothing else I need to be doing besides writing my little heart out. And let me tell you what – it’s a delicious feeling!

With each passing day, I learn more about my process and my projects. I am figuring out my flow – what works, what doesn’t. But mainly, I am sitting my butt in this chair and writing. 

Sometimes, it is hard to choose where to direct my energy. But that is a good thing! I have a lot of projects that are calling to me. And I know I am on the right path because it feels so damn good, like I am doing my soul a favor, answering a prayer it made long ago. 

Monday, June 1, 2015


Tomorrow I leave for middle of nowhere Nebraska to take part in my first ever writing residency at the amazing Art Farm! I am super excited about being in a totally new environment with the sole purpose of writing. I'm not going to lie, though. I'm scared.

Fear is a part of any artist's psychological landscape. Let's call it graphophobia for fun. It was Georgia O'Keeffe who famously said: “I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” Fear is just another thing I've got to get used to if I want to make writing my life. 

I don't fear many things that others might fear, like traveling solo in a foreign country or swimming between islands in the Ten Thousand Islands. But these days, as this new adventure approaches, I feel fear encroaching, gaining speed behind me, scratching at my back with its long talons. The demons roar in my ear: What right do you have to call myself a writer? What have you ever published? Who wants to read what you have to say anyway? 

For the past few weeks, I've been letting fear rule. I've stayed away from my writing desk. I've jotted down some notes here and there, but for the most part, I've been mute on the page. Let me tell you that it doesn't feel good. When I think about it, and I try not to think about it, I feel like a fraud. I want to run far, far away from my MFA program. I want to turn my writing desk into a shot glass exhibit. "There are so many other things I can do," I tell myself. "Quit now and save yourself the trouble." 

This afternoon, I joined my professor and a few classmates at a coffee shop. "What have you been writing?" my professor says.  "I haven't written a word in a month," I blurt out. "Am I doomed?" He laughs and goes on to assure me that my writing career  is not doomed. "It's okay to take a break," he says. "Now get back to work." 

We spent the rest of the hour workshopping each other's pieces. It felt good to get my hands back into the dirt, to wrap my mind around words, and dive back into the world of lyrical language, tone, structure. 

In transcendental meditation, I was taught that our mind wants to transcend. We don't have to force it. It will happen naturally if we let it.

I hope that I can approach my creative process with this levity, to trust that our minds - our souls - our beings - want to create... If we let it. This is what a residency provides: a physical and psychic space for your creative self to expand and explore without fear. 

Wish me luck!