It’s been just over a month since I returned from my four-week residency at the Vermont Studio Center. After some initial post-residency blues, now my thoughts of VSC are less about the sadness of leaving and more about gladness and gratitude for the time I spent there.
I arrived at VSC eager to have my own space and time away from job and home responsibilities; to focus completely on finishing a first draft of my novel; to meet other writers and artists, and make friends with a few of them.
Little did I know how low I was aiming!
For one thing, I didn’t anticipate falling in love with the view of the Gihon River outside my studio window, or having the jaw-dropping experience of witnessing that river—mostly frozen when I arrived on March 30—thaw, break up, and begin to flow freely. Living in this dynamic setting with about 50 other writers and visual artists, I felt constantly invigorated by my surroundings and the sheer range of talent and imagination around me.
During any given conversation, one resident’s casual comment could inspire someone else in a totally unexpected way. I experienced this VSC magic from both sides more than once, and witnessed it countless other times. Inspiration and support from fellow residents frequently gave me the sensation of a switch being flipped in my brain, making it spark and sizzle and light up in new ways.
So, with fresh confidence and curiosity, I embarked on a path of pushing my writing in a more personal and experimental direction. What an exciting shift that was! After holing up in my studio for long afternoons of this new work, I’d emerge feeling equal parts exhausted and giddy.
Giddiness became a familiar feeling during those four weeks. I’d had no idea how much fun the residency would be, or that I’d grow so close to so many people so fast. And within this fantastic sense of community, I rediscovered something I’d nearly forgotten--the pure joy of writing just for the sake of writing.
While I did make huge progress on my novel, I didn’t complete my draft. And that’s okay! About halfway through the residency, thoughts like, “How many pages have I written?” and “Will anyone publish this?” began to seem irrelevant, replaced by “What if I wrote about that topic?” and “How about experimenting with this technique?”
And what happened? Magic, basically. I produced some of the strongest work I’ve ever done. Lots of fiction, for sure, but non-fiction as well. And poetry! (What? Where did that come from??)
Back home in the “real” world now, my residency experience has helped me to clarify my priorities. I recognize that my creative self—imaginative, exuberant, adventurous—is my best self. For a while, I’d lost sight of her, but VSC and my fellow residents revived her. Now I feel committed to making sure my writing and my connection to a creative community don’t get sidetracked by the routines of everyday life. I hope to keep surprising myself with what I can do when I set my expectations aside.
When I headed off to VSC, I thought I had good ideas about the work I would do, the things I would accomplish. Compared to what I actually did there and what I feel capable of doing now, I realize I had no idea at all.