Gone Residency-ing

So I’m at my first writing residency. Not a moment too soon, as I found myself stressed with work, unceremoniously dumped, and overwhelmed by life all within my last week before leaving New York City for a month at a ranch in Banner, Wyoming. Not to mention the fact, I hadn’t written a word in a couple months.

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Denver to Sheridan

On the 18-seat plane (that only had about ten passengers) from Denver, Colorado to Sheridan, Wyoming, Grace the other writer also doing the residency, who I coincidentally knew from VONA and met up with in Denver, asked if I knew who was picking us up. I didn’t and we simultaneously thought, well how will they know it’s us? Would they be holding up a sign? Big city mentality was still onboard with us and we laughed when we realized that it would probably be pretty easy to pick out a Dominican and Korean woman in an airport in a town of about 17,000 in the midwest.

I suppose the first thing I noticed on the drive from when I got to Sheridan was just how much of the sky was visible. In comparison, in New York we get the slivers of sky that the buildings don’t obstruct. Here, it’s just sky from the horizon up. Everything open-faced to the sun. The landscape feels like a movie set – I keep waiting for someone to dart out and yell, cut! Enormous snow-capped mountains in the distance, trees dotting hills, earth that changes from the color of sand to brick.

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Yes, people drive slower here. People say hello, how are you. They smile. They start conversations with you at the check-out line. They ask you at the bank what you’re working on at Jentel. They ask where you’re from. And in my case, I’m pleasantly surprised to say when I tell them New York, that’s what they inquire about. I haven’t been asked where I’m really from or what I am. I get treated more like a New Yorker here than in New York.

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The Hispanic section in the supermarket. No Goya or Bustelo. No merengue or bachata blasting through the speaker. Beans were scarce. I ain’t even mad at them though. It’s not like Latinos are brimming over here like that.

The house I’m sharing with five other artists is unbelievably spacious. The price on a similarly-sized house in New York City would be astronomical and it certainly would not come with 1000 acres of land surrounding it. We all come and go from our studios to the kitchen to the bathroom to little nooks built for dozing off or reading, saying good morning or good night, having a chat, asking after each other’s day, without feeling we’re sharing a house with five other people. And the books, the books. In every room. Even the bathroom. The next book I needed to read in Carlos Castaneda’s series was waiting for me in my studio. Next to an armchair was Annie Proulx’s short story collection Close Range, which I started reading. It’s apropos I read her while in Wyoming.

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The house

It snowed yesterday morning and I took a walk on the property, along a creek. The snow crunches under your boots in the most satisfying way. It stays pretty pristine until it melts and a snowfall in the morning can be almost completely gone by mid-day. I laughed at myself for the way my heart raced every time some melted snow dropped off a branch and made a rustling noise. I was sure I’d encounter a rattlesnake and have to book it. There were areas where the trees made a canopy and I felt like I was in a German fairy tale and should’ve left a trail of bread crumbs or would not be shocked if a crone appeared out of nowhere.

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Pretending to be Sansa Stark in the godswood

Yes, it’s very quiet out here. You hear birds chirping, a breeze blowing through the trees but not too much else. You can’t see the closest neighbor’s ranch unless you walk out onto the road. It is possibly the most quiet I’ve enjoyed in my life. I am getting used to it quicker than I thought I would. My sleep is deep and undisturbed. I haven’t shut the world out with headphones. It’s the most amount of time I’ve gone without raising my voice or hearing yelling. I meditate every day, eyes open, because it would be a shame not to absorb the tranquility from the view of the hills and creek and bridge from my bedroom.

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View from my bedroom

I’m eating well, back to vegetarianism (with the exception of allowing myself some steak with a cowboy should I have the opportunity). Yesterday, I made myself an omelette with eggs straight from a farm nearby. Kale, onions, peppers, sriracha. It was the best breakfast I’d had or even had time to make in a while. I get to enjoy my first cup of coffee at breakfast and my second one in my studio.

In three days, I’ve been more productive than I’ve been in the past three months. Reading, writing a new story, working out an essay I’d started, even cleaning up my email. Every day, my job is to be a writer or do things to feed that. I haven’t felt this strong a sense of fulfilling my purpose in life in a long time. When you know what you’re supposed to be doing with your life, when you do it, it feels completely right.

This is also me we’re talking about so of course, I’m trying to have a date (or a few dates) while I’m out here. Have a drink at a local bar. Flirt with a cowboy or coal miner. You didn’t think I’d gone that soft, did you?

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5 thoughts on “Gone Residency-ing

    1. Well at VONA is more a workshop, although they do have residencies, so you’re in workshop for most of the day and then just decompressing from that. Here, there are no classes or workshops – you create the structure of your day whether you want to write, read or relax, the usage of your time is up to you. Also, it’s interdisciplinary: 2 writers and 4 visual artists. I like that I got to follow up last June’s VONA with this. Like I get to take what I absorbed at VONA and take it for a spin on new work. I actually think that’s a really nice pattern, alternating a workshop with a residency. Might aim to do that purposely from now on. I highly recommend both experiences.

    1. Of course! Any questions, I’ll try to answer to the best of my ability and with my limited experience. I highly recommend the experience for every writer who could use time and space on their side.

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