Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Turn left and go further into nowhere."

Oct. 12. That was how residency manager Ruthie Salvatore described some of the land outside of the U-Cross Ranch this morning during the newcomers' orientation meeting. Let me explain where I am, my darlings.

The U-Cross Ranch is perched on the western edge of the Powder River Basin, about 25 miles east of the Big Horn Mountains. I realize this probably doesn't mean much to you geographically. This is the high plains, with elevations ranging from 4,000 to 6,000 feet. Some of the residents have complained a little bit about altitude sickness. Acclimation can take a day or two. Solution: drink a lot of water, take naps. Me, I feel fine.

If you were to ask me how I am, I would start jabbering like a monkey and things would come spilling out of me in a jumble: white-tailed deer/big studio!/nervous/grateful/finally got a good night's sleep!

So. I'll try to slow down. Three words come to mind immediately in describing this part of Wyoming: Exquisite golden light!

I've been trying to post some of the pictures I took yesterday but the internet connection here is a little spotty and it takes an eternity to upload images (and I'm not a patient person). I was able to upload them on Facebook, so you might want to take a gander there until I get them up here.

The food here is terrific. Breakfast is a fix-your-own affair. Lunch is delivered to your "studio" doorstep in an insulated bag. And my studio is really spacious, with a comfortable desk, lots of windows, a well-stocked bookcase, and a deep green couch for lounging on. Yesterday for lunch: a fat green apple, two coconut raisin cookies, and a hot Ruben sandwich. The chef, Cindy, is some fancy schmancy gourmet cook from Mill Valley, California, so she whips up meals that are nutritious, visually appealing, and fabulous. Dinner tonight was Thai noodles, coconut shrimp, bok choy, homemade bread, a big salad (pine nuts, fruit, veggies), and homemade biscotti dipped in chocolate.

Like I said, lunch is delivered to your studio at noon. Dinner is six hours away, and boy, that can be a long time. By the time 6 p.m. rolls around, the natives are restless and hungry. It's not like you can slip out to the 7-Eleven for a bag of Doritos if you want a snack between lunch and dinner. We are WAY out there. Not that I get starved for food, but for company and the sound of a human voice.

I'm staying in a building called The Depot, which used to be an old train depot located in Clearmont, about eight miles away. The founder of the U-Cross Foundation had it loaded it up and moved here. My bedroom is cosy, clean, and very bright. I have a firm bed, a chest of drawers, a desk, a sink, and a closet. It is everything I need. Outside my window I can see white-tailed deer, wild turkeys (I'd love a glass of that right about now), sheep, and cattle.

There are four of us writers here, aside from two composers, one painter, and two photographers. One thing I've been heartened by is being able to meet artists who are able to sustain their artistic visions without compromise, without having to slave away at Burger King or work temp stuffing envelopes. Yes, it's not easy, and yes, money is always tight, but it can be done.

Today was my first "real" day here (yesterday was spent traveling to get here, and I was exhausted). After breakfast, there was an orientation for the newbies (four of us). I took a few notes.

Some of the rules of the place:

* No laptops at the dinner table. This is the only time when everybody comes together and dinner time is sacrosanct. Ruthie said a guest or two in the past has actually been known to whip open their laptop during dinner. After she lifted her jaw from the table, she explained to them that this was very bad form.

* No overnight guests. Of course, I had to press Ruthie about this. What, pray tell, did she mean? Was she referring to fraternization among the residents?

Ruthie just raised an eyebrow.

The woman sitting next to me said, "That means the cowboys from town!" In the deep, dark distant past, a few residents were known to go bar-hopping and pick up some nighttime companions for a sleepover. I'm not even allowed to have my husband here, much less my dog.

* Please clean up after yourselves. "No exploding food in the microwaves."

To me, this place has a zen feeling to it. While residents in the past might've been rowdy and randy, this batch of artists is congenial, industrious, and very polite. If the other residents are getting it on right now, I am oblivious.

Today was a full day. How many times have you said to yourself, Oh, if only I had all the time I needed to write? I said that, and look what happened. I ended up here! But writing for 10 hours straight is not do-able for me. I've been writing in bursts, an hour here, two hours there, etc. I spend a lot of time thinking, taking notes, even walking. But time is slower here because there are few distractions.

* I am making headway on the novel I'm working on and I have a very strong suspicion that one of the characters--who desperately wants to publish a novel--is going to wind up at a writer's retreat.

Guess where?

That's right...Wyoming! And yes, I think she might do some misbehavin' too.

With that, I will close. I am so, so, so grateful to be here. Wherever you are, I hope you get a chance to come here too.

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