Artist Residency in Motherhood 2019

The following is a day-by-day log of my progress and thoughts throughout last week, as I completed an "Artist Residency in Motherhood" with my colleague at Stuffolk, and frequent collaborator (in teaching and in art), visual artist Meredith Starr. During the week I worked on revising a poetry manuscript and finishing one of my plays. M.S. has a year-long painting project she's been working on, and she spent the week catching up/getting back on track with that series. 

This log makes for a long blog post, which may not be everyone's jam, but since I keep this blog more or less for my own edification, I thought I'd include this disclaimer at the top. If you like to read about other artists' processes, read on. (And, I highly recommend Daily Rituals: How Artists Work and Daily Rituals: Women at Work, both by Mason Currey both of which I read in the first weeks of this summer.) 

Playwriting photos are not very exciting, admittedly.
If you're just here because of a mild curiosity about the Artist Residency in Motherhood, or what I was up to last week (after being bombarded with daily pictures from my Instagram and Facebook accounts), here's a summary: 

We reserved a small studio apartment in downtown Patchogue via AirBnB, not far from the camp where my three kids (and one of M.S.'s) were enrolled for the week. Each morning we dropped them off at 9 and then drove 5 minutes to the apartment. We'd spend a few minutes catching up and talking about our goals for the day while setting up (painting supplies for M.S.; laptop and notebooks and drafts for me), and then we'd get to work. We worked more or less without speaking, but we did listen to music -- something I don't normally do while writing in a private space, but which isn't too distracting when I'm writing prose. (I can find it very difficult while writing poetry -- if I do it has to be some kind of song on repeat, where the music is soothing but the lyrics kind of dissolve and become nonsensical with the repetition). We'd stop for a half hour or so for lunch around 12:30 or 1 p.m., and then resume until about 3:30, when we had to clean/pack/organize ourselves for the next day and then drive back to pick up the kids at 4.

For us both, it was a transformative and exceptionally productive week. We're wondering why we never thought to do this sooner. It seems so foolish to have never attempted anything like this. I mean, one applies to formal residencies and writing retreats because one requires the time and space to create, but also because -- when you are awarded one -- they grant you also a certain amount of prestige. Prestige & acknowledgment is wonderful -- I'm not knocking it -- but the real point is to write: To work earnestly and productively and with relatively little distraction. So if you find yourself closed out/rejected by those formal residencies -- they are so competitive, especially the ones for parents that either grant childcare or are more amenable to parents, requiring one or two weeks away, and not one or two months) -- I highly recommend this workaround. 
M.S. making her beautiful paintings based on time-tracking

Granted, I'm coming from a place of privilege. While I wouldn't go so far as to say I could afford this  -- the cost of the AirBnB plus camp tuition for three children was no small amount -- I know it's not going to break me or my family financially. There are other writers and artists who cannot afford to take this kind of monetary risk, or who may have children so small they can't be away for 6-8 hour stretches, or who may not be able to spend that much time away from their other career or job. 

But giving oneself permission to dedicate serious time and effort towards one's art is so important. If you are curious about this kind of self-granted, self-directed DIY residency, and have more questions, please feel free to ask me. 

Also: maybe read these poems in the Los Angeles Review: I like especially what McCadden is doing structurally in "reverse overdose" -- it's very effective, moving. Although as I read poems now, particularly one with formal elements, I'm thinking about what Cage says in "Composition as a Process: Part II" (from Silences: Lectures and Writing) about composition as a moral act, and how he views highly formal art as inhumane. It's intriguing -- I don't know if (I doubt) I agree with him -- but it's interesting.

Monday, July 8, Day One:

Pandora Music Station: Vampire Weekend

Woke up, walked dog, prepared kids for first day of camp, and just as I was leaving the house I began having those little squiggly visual disturbances that signal a migraine.

As Little Miss Talkalot II would say, "not gweat."

Still. I popped three ibuprofen immediately, and the visual disturbances disappeared within about 1/2 hour, replaced by a strong but workable headache. I could drive with a headache -- so I dropped my kids off at camp, met up with M.S., and we drove to our AirBnB for the week -- a small studio apartment in Patchogue, within walking distance of Main Street, and set up our very own "camp".

I spent most of the early part of the day reading -- screens hurt my eyes too much. I read from John Cage's "Silence: Lectures and Writings" and also the latest draft of my play, making notes. Then I spent the last part of the day writing email to different literary magazines and web sites, soliciting book reviews.

None of the solicitation for book reviews or readings at book fairs or book stores feels particularly great. It's so humbling and sometimes humiliating. I can take humbling -- the humiliation when booksellers or venues are less than gracious can be really tough to stomach. But I didn't spend a better part of the last decade writing and then submitting this book to publishers only to ignore it completely once it actually gets published. And with so much noise on the internet, and so few book stores, it's really necessary to do this work if you desire an audience for your writing. Which, I do. Otherwise, why publish?

Anyway. Day One was not the ripping success I wished it to be. But I think I salvaged it from disaster.

Tuesday, July 9, Day Two:

Pandora Music Station: Radiohead 

My workspace
Wrote just over 1300 words of the play, which is nothing short of miraculous, particularly when I consider how I read my pages yesterday and felt stuck, like I didn't know how to progress further.

I began with a kind of epiphany in, naturally, the shower. Don't good ideas always happen in the shower?

Actually, sidebar: I'm reading John Cage this week, his Silence: Lectures and Writing, which I loaned from my local library, and he has this little narrative about ideas:
Dad is an inventor. In 1912 his submarine had the world's record for staying under water. Running as it did by means of a gasoline engine, it left bubbles on the surface, so it was not employed during World War I. Dad says he does his best work when he is sound asleep. I was explaining at the New School that the way to get ideas is to do something boring. For instance, composing in such a way that the process of composing is boring induces ideas. They fly into one's head like birds. Is that what Dad meant?
As any good procrastinator knows, the condition of stress, one's own fight-or-flight response, can induce ideas, too -- perhaps as your body is preparing for flight, that's when they arrive. Because after waking up late, walking an undisciplined hound dog for thirty minutes, making lunch, and having only 10 minutes to clean and dress before taking one's kids to camp -- I was ready to flee. And an idea came.

Anyway. So my idea was that my play, Accountability Partners -- while in terms of plot, ostensibly revolves around porn addiction -- is actually, essentially, about the seductive nature of narrative: how we are pulled in by other people's stories, aroused by them, changed by them. How we try to adopt narratives, live inside them; how narrative sometimes saves us, but often fails us.

Having this little idea helped with my characters' dialogue today. What stories did they want, or need, to tell? And what would be the consequences of those stories -- as lived, and having been told?

Wednesday, July 10, Day Three:

Pandora Music Station: Beck

M.S.'s workspace
Spent the morning revising four of the poems in my new manuscript/collection. Then went to lunch with M.S. at a restaurant, partly to celebrate our DIY Residency, but also to scout the location for a September book party/launch for Fabulous Beast: Poems. Then, came back to the apartment and spent the last hour sending out more book review requests.

I think today gave me some breathing room from yesterday's work on Accountability Partners, and after rereading the newest pages, I think I'll have a good starting place for tomorrow's work on the play.

I feel good having worked more on the poetry manuscript, too. My goal is to have the revision finished by the end of the summer.

Thursday, July 11, Day Four:

Pandora Music Station: Jeff Buckley, then Pearl Jam, then a return to Radiohead

When I left off on Tuesday, I was at 88 pages with Accountability Partners. Today, I did a lot of cutting -- taking out cringe-y dialogue and unnecessary exposition -- with the first third of the day, and shaving the draft down to roughly 86 pages. (Tracking revision with pages is easier than tracking with word count). Then I moved to actual writing, and wrote about 600 words (moving the play to 90 pages) before M.S. and I broke for lunch late in the day. Then I revised poems. 2 of them. So it was a good day, with small but important progress made on both projects.

I don't want to jinx myself, but I think I'm very close to finishing my first full-length play.

(I've probably just jinxed myself.)

Last day celebratory drinks and tacos at Rhum
Friday, July 12, Day Five:

Pandora Music Station:  Vampire Weekend (This station proved to be less "sad-bastard" than the others)

OMIGOD I finished it. My first full-length play. I mean, it still needs a helluva lot of revision. But it has a beginning-middle-end! I mean, there's something ACTUALLY THERE to revise! And there are a couple of parts I even like! So exciting.

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