Saturday, October 9, 2010
Countdown to Wyoming...
In two days, I will be in Wyoming...where the men are men and the sheep are scared. I've been given the gift of time. Thirty days, to be exact. Time to write. Time to think. Time to create. Am I up to it or am I just a big fraud? What will happen out there?
I'm on sabbatical this fall semester--my first ever. I teach Journalism and creative writing at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. I've been at Witt since 2004. Before that I lived in Colorado for 14 years. So the west--the real west--has a special place in my heart.
I will be staying for the next month at the U-Cross Ranch near Sheridan, Wyo. The U-Cross Foundation has kindly granted me a month's stay at their ranch, all expenses paid except for my airfare. What an incredible, incredible gift! I am humbled and grateful. No TV, limited internet access, and no car. Aiyiee!!
Confession: Part of me is a little afraid I'm going to get to Wyoming, see those plains, that magnificent horizon, and never want to leave. I might just have to quit my job! But I'm getting ahead of myself. I could also go absolutely bonkers at the ranch, sneaking off for carnal, time-wasting infusions of People magazine and Twizzlers. I guess I'll have to hitchhike into town for my candy fix.
I will try to post updates every day of what it's really like being on an artists' retreat. I hope I write like someone possessed and come back from Wyoming with a clear idea of what my novel is REALLY all about. Although I haven't been teaching this semester and I have been doing some writing, I've been distracted too, I must admit.
My 22-year-old son has recently moved home after graduating from St. Louis University last May with a degree in Political Science. As he likes to say, "I'm living at home in my parents' basement." It makes it sound like we're feeding him through a trap door or something. I mean, it's very dramatic! I love Joel madly and this has been such a sweet time in my life because I'm getting to know him as the smart, funny adult man that he is. But somehow I imagined on my sabbatical that my life would have the quiet of an asylum, everything very hush-hush. My biggest decision would be whether to have the lime or the cherry JELL-O for desert. And it hasn't been like that in the least. Joel is trying to find a job, trying to figure out the next stage of his life, trying to write himself. As his mother, I feel intimately involved in all of his ups and downs, mood swings, little victories, and melancholy moments.
I really need to get to Wyoming. I need to disconnect, just for a little while, get quiet, roll up my sleeves and enter the asylum.
Here's a little thing I wrote about trying to get in the right head space for a sabbatical:
Sabbatical (How to Have One)
First, cease. Second, desist. Third, resist.
If you are a tightly-wrapped, highly-strung person, winding down is hard. It's like going under anesthesia. You don't want to—succumb. What if you don't surface? But you are so very tired. Drugs are required. Go on. Roll up your sleeve. Stick out your arm. Make a fist.
Wait! Part of you doesn't think you deserve a sabbatical. You can't believe your incredible luck and keep expecting someone to inform you that it's all a big mistake and that you should report to work. Immediately.
It's here. Don't waste it. Turn off the TV. Unzip those pants. Breathe. Stop shaving your legs. Let your hair go gray. Let it grow out. Wake up. Smell the coffee. Go for a walk. Throw the dogs some bones. Throw yourself some bones. Look up at the sky. It's blue. Look at the trees. They're swaying. The leaves are golden, orange, red. They're falling. So are the nuts. Hear the big heavy hickory nuts ping-ponging on your metal roof. Bonk! Bonkbonkbonk!
Bake a pie. Peel potatoes. Make some salsa. Can the salsa. Hear the pleasing thock! the lids make when the seal smooches the jars. Write on the little white labels with a fine-point pen. Admire your spidery handwriting when you pen the date: Sept. 24, 2010.
Shit! The clock is ticking. It’s tocking. You can hear it. Time is passing. What are you doing? Are you writing? Is it meaningful? Or are you just screwing around as usual? Luckily, there's that writing retreat in Wyoming. On a ranch. On the plains. You are going to lock yourself in a cabin for a month, chain yourself to the desk and write. If it kills you, you will write. Write like a mofo. Bear down. Push. Put your pussy to the keyboard! Squeeze out that little masterpiece. Put a hat on it.
Someone will bring you a sack lunch and quietly place it just outside your door so you won't be disturbed. Because you're creating. And that's sacred. But you're scared. What are you birthing? What's inside you? Shhhh. Get quiet. Be still. My beating heart.
Close your eyes.
All the way.