Creative Getaway / Jacob’s Pillow


After months of intensive bookwriting and Kickstarting, Tim and I reached creative burnout on Thursday night.  So we did the only sensible thing: we packed up the car and drove to Jacob’s Pillow for a much-needed dose of creative rejuvenation.

I’ve been wanting to go see the summer dance performances at Jacob’s Pillow for ages.  It felt good to be in a space where choreographers and dancers were practicing and living and creating new work.  Being there reminded me of the feeling of being at an arts residency, surrounded by all these other people embarking on creative projects.  At this moment of creative burnout there was a restorative energy in being in that kind of generative environment.

Plus, Jacob’s Pillow’s has the most spectacular stage for its outdoor performances.  It backs right into a drop-down view of the tree-lined valley and the surrounding mountains, so the dancers aren’t dancing so much in the amphitheater as in the landscape.  It’s incredible the way this vista amplifies the meaning and impact of movement.

We were lucky enough to catch the Alonzo King LINES Ballet, too, and their first piece to Concerto For Two Violins was so jawdroppingly stunning from the rich powerhouse first movement to the subtle, entwined quartet of dancers in “Largo Ma Non Tanto,” that  it was one of those moments where you just sit there and think thank God I’m alive for this.

Our good friends Kate & Robert (of the amazing Oakes & Smith art folk duo), live not too far from Jacob’s Pillow, so we decided to make a night of it and sat up impressively late over wine and brie talking about Edith Wharton and artmaking and Pluto.

And then, because it’s the Berkshires — and what trip to the Berkshires would be complete without a visit to Tanglewood? — we wandered over and listened to the symphony rehearse Mozart to the intermittent peal of thunder and downpour.  During a break in the storm, we walked all through those genteel landscaped grounds and through the strains of opera practice and summer institute orchestras and the tuning of a grand piano.

After a stop at the Amherst Bookstore (where I picked up this book — so excited!) and a great visit with Judy, we wended our way back home and back to work on our own creative projects.  There really is nothing like a couple of days of art and dance and music to interrupt and reinvigorate this long, crazy last stretch of bookwriting.

p.s. Tim’s new album is almost ready!  Check out the preview title track!  (And lend a hand, too?)

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Newspaper

The other day I took a writing break and walked to a nearby cafe, where someone had happily left behind two sections of newspaper.  I do the overwhelming majority of my newspaper reading online — which is just fine.  I can barely keep up with the New Yorkers that invariably accumulate; nevermind stacks of newsprint.

And yet.

It is so nice once in a while to read a real, actual newspaper.

I read Jim Yardley’s article on southern Italian Olive Trees, which was by turns sad and lyrical.  He begins: “Across the stony heel of Italy, a peninsula ringed by the blue-green waters of the Mediterranean, olive trees have existed for centuries, shaping the landscape and producing some of the nation’s finest olive oils.”

And continues: “The spittlebugs will start flying this month and have served as a primary vector of the outbreak, chewing on the leaves of infected trees and then carrying the bacterium to other, healthy trees, like an unseen wildfire.”

I want to admire Yardley’s evocation here: stony heel; the fortuitous word spittlebug, the language of which is so apt for the threading disease these insects will spread.

And the profoundly human dread that Yardley finds among the olive growers:

“‘We are scared to go to work in the fields in the mornings,’ said Pantaleo Piccinno, a major olive producer…  ‘You leave in the afternoon, and everything looks normal.  Then you return in the morning, and you see the first symptoms,’ he continued.”

Ah, how true is this impulse, this hands-over-eyes avoidance I know so well.

This is one of those articles where the beauty of the writing underlines the human and environmental heartbreak it depicts.  How interconnected a world we are, how laced with loss.

New York, Writing

I am currently housesitting for a friend in New York for a couple of weeks.  There is such a pleasure in the change of pace of working in this city after a month of writing in rural Virginia.

I am finding during this stage of the book writing process a strong inclination toward introversion.  In my borrowed New York City apartment, I read for hours every morning, take long walks around the neighborhood, through the Botanical Gardens, the park.  I read random articles and book snippets in the Brooklyn Public Library and in bookstores and from an abandoned copy of the New York Times at a nearby cafe.  I text my friend Erin and tell her what I plan to work on in my book that day.

Otherwise, I am so happy to be alone with my thoughts.

There is so much labor involved in book-writing.  So much time that is pure work, so much thinking and inhabiting and imagining.  I need so deeply to be alone with both the work of bookwriting, and the sometimes unrelated thinking that surrounds it.

In these years after my divorce, these unexpected years of my early thirties, I seem to be living in each span of months.  Planning my life in spurts of centeredness and certainty.  I do not know what the next spurt will bring me.  I know only the rightness of this moment.  And that I will need this time alone with my thinking in order to get to whatever’s next ahead of me.

Library, Sweet Briar

{Studio, Improvised}

During my VCCA residency, I wound up doing a lot of writing over at Sweet Briar’s library.  Their quiet, wood-paneled browsing room gets flooded with daylight, and I loved working alongside all the lush color and texture of wood and textile.  It wound up being a great space to escape and play through the long draft of the book’s new story.

Sweet Briar Library

Sweet Briar Library

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts / Road Trip

  

With my spring VCCA residency wrapping up, my mother flew down to Richmond to join me for an impromptu mother-daughter road trip back up to the (reportedly still snow-patched) north.

We headed right for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which I’ve been dying to see, and even more so since I found out about the Chihuly glass installation commissioned for their courtyard.  The sculpture garden did not disappoint: lush and green and spacious, and full of modern pieces installed in dynamic interaction with their surrounding space.  People from Richmond had wandered in for lunch at brightly painted cafe tables scattered on the various patios and for picnics on blankets on that hearty green expanse of grass.

We headed up to Amuse for the most sumptuous lunch I’ve had at any museum restaurant (I’m still dreaming of that coq au vin and fresh-baked herbed bread).  And there’s nothing quite like enjoying an exceptional meal with an aerial view of Henry Moore and red glass-reed Chihuly.

Our favorite piece in the garden wound up being Jun Kaneko’s ceramic Untitled, Mission Clay Pittsburgh Project, which you can see in the first picture and which, along with some of Kaneko’s other work, is the largest freestanding sculpture made of clay.  The medium is so unexpected; there is an organic feel to this even form, and Kaneko evokes an expressive depth through the splashed glaze and richly patterned surface.  We were transfixed.

Current Reading

{The Paris Review + Chai Green Tea}

The interview with Hilary Mantel in the new Paris Review is amazing.  And it’s such ridiculously good timing as I work on this book of historical fiction and wrestle through its myriad attendant challenges.

Mantel talks pretty frankly about this writing process:

When I come to write what I call a big scene, especially in… any historical material, I prepare for it.  Whatever I’ve done on that scene, I put aside.  I read all my notes, all my drafts, and all the source material it’s derived from, then I take a deep breath, and I do it.  It’s like walking on stage — with the accompanying stage fright.

And, she continues:

When I’m writing a novel about historical figures, I have to be everybody.  It’s strenuous…. When people are real, though dead,… I consider them my responsibility.

It is a heady business, this writing fiction set in the past.  So happy to have come across this new interview.

Plus, perennially grateful for the stash of green tea my mother sent to Virginia for my residency.  The chai in this blend cuts any bitterness when, writing along mid-scene, I invariably forget and leave it over-steeping.

To the Boathouse

{Lakeside, Sweet Briar}

This spring I’m down at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts for a residency.  I’m already well into a long draft of the book’s second-to-last story. With all the bookwriting, there’s not a lot of mojo left for blog posts.  But there are long walks to the Sweet Briar boathouse with its spindling floors and greening, weather-gnawed clapboards and the music of the lake on those old woodwind pilings.  The perfect antidote to these lengthy days (and late nights) of writing.