20 July 2011

Adventures at a Writer’s Residency: Captain Val Goes to Vermont Studio Center

Ahoy, ye shipmates!
     Today I take you on a past adventure, one from 2007. Writers often need to flee ship and crew, go far away to capture treasure on paper. The place they go? A residency. This, me scallywags, is a place for contemplation, immersion, communing with the story. Residencies are applied for and often denied as the need is high, writers many, and possibilities limited. Aye, I've been lucky and nailed many a residency, and one of my favorite was a month in winter at Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, a wee hamlet that echoes me own home town in spirit, where you'll still find stenciled on the sidewalks "Kill Your TV."
      Me choice is to show ye the place, the pirates I was on board with, and the flavor of a what a month with the muse is like. Here ye be. Enjoy!

I arrive in Burlington, Vermont, and spend a few days with me best pal from high school, Christie, and hang out with her hubby and grandchildren. Christie takes me to Johnson for me first day and for most of the month I'm there, the bloody place looks like Antarctica.


The photo to the left is of the writer's building, fairly new, and accommodating up to fourteen writers. The Gihon River runs through Johnson and was frozen over in most places. Aye, we had some sun, and for those liverbelly landlubbers who find themselves chilled to the bone from just settin' eyes on these pics, well, toss yer eyes on the ones below from the Vermont Studio Center website:

The Red Mill building, dining hall, rec room, offices, gallery


The Writers Building on a better day

Aerial view of VSC
     "Founded by artists in 1984, the Vermont Studio Center is the largest international artists' and writers' Residency Program in the United States, hosting 50 visual artists and writers each month from across the country and around the world. The Studio Center provides 4-12 week studio residencies on an historic 30-building campus along the Gihon River in Johnson, Vermont, a village in the heart of the northern Green Mountains. "
     Aye, maties, that's the gist o' it. The month I was there, I and the writers worked with Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and Servants of the Map, a hearty wise and wonderful woman who upon our first workshop with her, pulled out a beautious silk Chinese bag full of found objects and covered with dragonflies. Seein' me totem is the dragonfly, I blurted out, "My totem!" and then explained, whereupon, she emptied the bag and handed it to me. "It's yours." I almost threw meself down on the floor from worship of this magnificent wench. She then spoke of found objects, how they spawn the novels she writes. In the past, at other VSC residencies, I've had me the privilege of working with Rick Moody, who played guitar while we sat around a rousing bonfire and sang along, and Joanna Scott, a  masterful author with many novels to her name and a hell o' of a ping pong game.
      Residency days are spent either in your bedroom writing or in your writing studio. Me favorite way to start the day is to make me a cuppa tea and climb back inta bed with the laptop. I'll be gobsmacked if this doesn't tap into the writin' faster 'n gettin' dressed, havin' breakfast at the dining hall, talkin' to the artists, and headin' o'er to the studios. By then I've done left the magical world of half dream, half reality that so primes me writin'. Here's what me bedroom looked like:

     I had me no trouble lovin' this room. It felt like I was back in college. That of course was exactly what made us act in such ... well, juvenile manner at times. We had our parties, oh, yes, indeed, and they were of fine spirit. As an instigator o' fine partying, believin' we need to reward ourselves for the hard work we put in day after day (and it not be easy, I can tell ye; there be a fair bit of groanin' goin' on o'er missin' muses, troublesome verse, and lackluster prose), I felt we needed succor. So me specialty being the bright pink cosmo, I sailed down to the liquor store and bought me  the ingredients. The night of the party, I set up the bar and began mixin'. Now, I best be tellin' ya, I not be the only pirate of the sort. Me cosmos disappeared down the gullet of all me fine messmates, dancin' ensued, people grabbed the basement poles and did a turn or two. The basement rec room filled with laughter and merriment. When me vodka ran out, someone whispered to check the fridge. 'Tis a crazy cache of liquor and beer, and plenty of vodka. Aye, we partied to the wee hours.
Me and the fine Andrea Barrett

No comment on these merrymakers!
     Throughout the month, the artists at VSC hold studio tours, a fine way of seein' works in progress. As writers, we share our work by reading at the community center on designated nights along with our visiting authors. During one of the readings we posed for a group portrait. A few of my pirate pals I offer here.
Your Captain at the helm

Great mate Lesley Howard gracing us with her story

Justin Quarry, gobsmacked us with his reading

Writers, one and all
     But the beginnin' o' each day was always 'bout the work, putting our fingers to the keyboard, pen or pencil. Here's me writing desk at the studio, along wi' an obsession of mine:  takin' photos of shoes  and also the books I happen ta be readin'.
My favorite? The Last of Her Kind

Pre MacBook

What we wore to the writers' studio

Debby, Kent, me, Chris and Jeff
Me, Chris and Debby
Falling out the door?
Before the end of the month,  me brothers and their wives came up  for a day from New Hampshire, and we pirated around Stowe and I'm happy to report I kicked derriere in pool. Yo, ho, ho!!

So that be it for me log this week, hearties. Come back next week for the two-part adventure "Runnin' for Me Life: Tsunami!" a story rife with tension and worthy of a read.
      Until then, I remain always yours,
      Captain Val

Runnin’ for Me Life:  Tsunami!
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