Saturday, January 04, 2014

Reflections on a month at the Vermont Studio Center

I received a grant to spend the month of October living and working alongside fifty international artists at the Vermont Studio Center, an artists’ residency and retreat in Johnson, Vermont. Here is my take on my time there. (originally published in the January/February 2014 issue of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven's Arts Paper)

Everything is still outside the studio buildings. The Guhon River gurgles outside my studio window and an occasional car drives down Pearl Street, but the town is quiet. Inside the studios, painters, sculptors, and writers from all over the world are working on drawings, paintings, installations, essays, and stories. The Vermont Studio Center provides artists with the opportunity to work in residence for two to twelve weeks at a time. We live together, eat all of our meals together and share our work, whether it is in the casual setting of the Red Mill Dining Hall, during open studios events, slide talks and readings, or over a drink at one of the two pubs on Main Street. We have everything we need to be productive—time, space in which to work and live, plenty of coffee, meals, and a community to support and encourage us. We also have access to visiting artists who meet with and mentor us in one on one sessions. I am amazed to have four weeks to work in a studio of my own, as free from the distractions of my “regular” life as I want to be, and that I get to share the experience with a group of people with a similar goal: to create.

Maverick Studio
I go to my studio in the Maverick Building every morning after breakfast with a thermos of coffee and some fruit. It is warm for October in Vermont, so I open my window and set up my easy chair close enough to set my bare feet on the windowsill. I write a prompt at the top of the blank notebook page, set a timer, put my headphones in, and write in longhand for sixty minutes, unedited and uncensored. My intention is to expand on some of the themes I began working on in my graduate thesis, but the free writing exercises take me in a different direction.  I follow. When the timer goes off, I unfold myself from the chair, reach for one of the books I brought with me, and read for another hour. I take a walk to get more coffee around 11:30am and sit on my favorite bench by the river before lunch.

I find my friends in the dining hall, some of whom have come to the Vermont Studio Center from as near as Boston and as far as Alaska, and we debrief about our mornings. There is excitement for the painter who has sold three paintings from her MFA show at Johnson State College up the road. I ask a fellow writer about the progress she is making on an essay she asked me to look at the day before.  She says she’s figured out how to finish it. I hear snippets of conversation in English, Spanish, French, and Chinese coming from nearby tables as I clear my dishes away.

I return to the studio to type up the morning’s work after lunch. I don’t look at what I’ve written too closely in an effort to keep myself from editing as I go. I wait until the end of the week to print out pages and mark them up with notes and rewrites. I am able to get my routine and rhythm to a place where I am averaging fifteen hundred to two thousand words per day. Is it all great work? Only in the sense that for the first time since I completed graduate school in January I am writing every day. I was afraid when I arrived at Vermont Studio Center that I wouldn’t have anything to write about. I realize during these weeks away from my life in New Haven that what is most important is to write every day; to create a habit and maintain it every day no matter where I am.