As I arrived, according to my diary, I was even more unsettled. I was organizing a work trip to Rwanda to start just days after the residency. I’d just had emergency dental work—my cheek the night before I traveled was, I wrote, “swole like a pumpkin.” Maybe my back hurt: I was concerned about managing my suitcases through two commuter rail legs and two flights.
I was soothed, though, by the affable Robert Johnson, longtime driver for VCCA (and fried-chicken chef and poker player and VCCA institution), who picked me up at the airport, and welcomed me with his hard-for-this-Yankee-to-always-understand Virginia accent. And I was charmed by my studio—more specifically, the presence within it of the “La-Z-Boy of my dreams.” Before I’d had five minutes to sit in it, I was coming up with plans: I would be “up at 6, washed by 6:30, stretched and sat by 7:30, breakfasted and off to work by 8,” though I’d never voluntarily gotten up at 6 for any reason, ever. I had so many plans! I would write new work in the morning, revise in the afternoon, and read all night. I named something like a dozen short stories I could rework. According to one plan I mapped out that first night, in addition to all this new work, and this revision, and this reading, I would reread and revise a novel I’d written some years before—easy if I broke it up into pieces, right? Thirty-nine days seemed an endless expanse. Probably I cried at the thought of it. I know I marveled at the gift.
My first colony was not just about writing—doing good work and discovering how hard I could work, how much I could write. It was about artistic community. I met composers, I met the accordionist for the Pogues, I met sculptors, and book artists, and a 98-year-old painter. I lit Shabbat candles with an Israeli and a former rebbetzin. I played nickel-ante poker, I heard other writers read, I went to open studios, and, yes, a dance party or two. People asked to read my work! They wanted me to read for them—me! The unpublished writer! How I admired them, those accomplished, dedicated people, those professionals, with their agents and galleries and recordings! How I wanted to be like them. And for five beautiful weeks I was.
“Write this down,” I wrote during one of those first days, “in case I ever forget it: writing is the best thing. Even revising is wonderful. I can’t believe it’s after 10 already. That's all I needed to say.” I have since had the incredible good fortune to be a fellow at nearly 30 residencies in four countries. Every time, I hope to approach this gift with the wonder and excitement of my first time.
VCCA photo: Katey Schultz