I arrived at the two-week writer’s residency in central Kentucky, expecting to have to juggle my time between farm chores, shared kitchen duties with fellow artists, providing a community educational program, and writing. But when I got there, nothing was as I expected. The herd of cows had been sold, there was no garden, and there were no residents but me. I had the run of the small two-story house. What else is going to be different from what I was led to believe, I wondered. Maybe it was a mistake to come here.
I’d put a lot of energy into the lengthy application for the residency. I started not to apply because I’d felt intimidated by the accomplishments of previous artists. I was such a humble writer with only small publications to my credit and wondered if I’d feel ‘less than’ the others artists that would be with me.
No problem with that, I thought to myself as I put my suitcase in my upstairs bedroom then unpacked my food in the kitchen, my kitchen now. There was no one to be compared to, or talk to or cook meals with. Just me, in this house in rural Kentucky for two weeks. How am I going to do it?
I sat for a while at the kitchen table, eating my dinner in the quiet. After a while, I could hear a car in the distance, coming up the lane that ran by the house. An owl hooted from the woods out back. The stillness reminded me of staying with my Grandma Smith on her farm when I was a girl. I remembered how restless I felt at first after Mama and Daddy left, knowing I had to manage in that house for a week. I loved being with Grandma, but it was so quiet there and sometimes boring.
The first day at her house was really slow and I kept thinking about what I’d do if I were at home. But eventually, I gave in to the rhythm of Grandma’s. When she worked outside in her garden, I helped her until we came in for lunch. We’d eat, wash the dishes, do some simple household chores, then rest until the sun was low in the sky and we’d go back outside.
Nothing felt rushed, just steady work that followed the natural rhythm of the day.
When it rained, we had more time to rest, and if I was smart and had brought a book, I had extra time to read. By the middle of the week, the day felt familiar, and by the end of the week and time for my parents to pick me up, I felt sad that I would be leaving.
A similar pattern emerged in Kentucky. When I met the director, he assured me all I needed to do was write. Never had I been given permission to just write for two weeks. Since there was no longer a farm operation and no groups had requested a summer writing workshop, I didn’t need to juggle my time. The quiet house had no television and no internet connection so I wouldn’t have the distractions of home. I’d limit my consumption of social media by having to drive to the town library to use their wifi.
My days of writing, mostly at that kitchen table, were balanced with long walks across the hilly countryside in the cool of the early morning and at dusk. I took breaks from my solitude to visit horse farms and a racetrack in Lexington. Never had I been able to work with such concentration. I came to see it as truly a gift, one I wouldn’t have received if I’d insisted on feeling ‘less than’ and had not taken the risk of applying.
When I arrived, nothing appeared as it had seemed. When I departed, everything felt like it was as it was supposed to be.
What about you?
What situation have you encountered that was nothing like what you expected?
How were you able to deal with that change?
How did things turn out?