Postcard from NCI: A Writer’s Residency, Week One

Posted by on November 28, 2013 in Reading & Writing | 13 comments

Hi friends –

Some of you know my Thanks­giv­ing falls at the end of Sep­tem­ber. Fishermen’s Thanks­giv­ing, where we cel­e­brate a safe and suc­cess­ful sea­son. The fourth Thurs­day of Novem­ber doesn’t ring true to me in the same way. This year is dif­fer­ent. This Thanks­giv­ing finds me nes­tled up here at the North Cas­cades Insti­tute, reflect­ing on my first full week of a three month writer’s res­i­dency, feel­ing quite swathed in grat­i­tude, indeed.

Leav­ing the house last Wednes­day was harder than I’d expected it would be. It was cold that day – would drop to 8 degrees that night – but the roads were mostly good. No snow, just some slick spots on the twistier, shaded sec­tions. A sher­iff waved me around a Jeep recently crum­pled against the rocky shoulder.

Hav­ing dal­lied so long, I reached the Envi­ron­men­tal Learn­ing Cen­ter later than I’d planned, but still before dark. Trans­planted the car­load of bags and back­packs to all the cor­ners of my lit­tle house – food, kitchen stuff, books, bed­ding, warm clothes, more books – and started the first list of things for­got­ten. (How did I miss Joel’s home­made s’ghetti sauce? Not that remem­ber­ing would’ve mat­tered; I couldn’t wedge another thing into the Subaru.)

With a wilder­ness EMT pro­gram on cam­pus for a week-long train­ing, the din­ing hall was open. I felt shy going down to din­ner, even after all the kind­ness Joel and I had encoun­tered here in our Octo­ber visit. Just a bit off-kilter, like I was about to step into some­thing big. Which, really, was not such an unrea­son­able feel­ing to have.

Din­ner was deli­cious (veg­e­tar­ian lasagna for me, with a fancy green salad on the side and crème brulee for dessert), but I excused myself early. Head­lamp light­ing my way, I trudged up the trail to start get­ting set­tled in Dog­wood 2.

Only two things mat­tered to me that night: a bed to fall into, and a writ­ing space to wake up to. The first was easy, while the sec­ond took much more time and plan­ning. Butcher paper lin­ing the walls to chart Hooked’s nar­ra­tive, pho­tos and post-its and scrib­bled notes on nap­kins taped through­out. A bul­letin board rich with inspi­ra­tion – reminders to stay on track with my themes, pho­tos of sup­port­ers, quotes that guide my work. (In pur­ple ink, Pema Chodron advises, “Noth­ing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”) By the end of the night, Dog­wood 2 had become Hooked’s womb.

As my own work sur­rounds me, so does many other folks’. Books stacked lov­ingly, a tad com­pul­sively, edges lin­ing up just-so. Favorite mem­oirs on the west end of the kitchen bar. Writ­ing prompts and books on craft, all on the east end. On the bed­room desk, non­fic­tion resources like charts and guide­books of the fish, birds, plants of South­east Alaska.

My friend Tom chided me about bring­ing so many books, remind­ing me that I’m here to write, not read a library. I knew how to hear his fatherly cau­tion. He, like my own dad, sees the mon­u­men­tal nature of this task and frets for time. He’s not wrong. Nei­ther am I. These books are here as part tal­is­man, part inspi­ra­tion. Their authors are my men­tors. Some I’ve been lucky enough to study with in per­son. Oth­ers I study sen­tence by sen­tence, paus­ing there in won­der (How did s/he do that?), here in admi­ra­tion (Damn, look what s/he did there!) Stroking soft cov­ers, flip­ping to ran­dom pages, they all reas­sure me. Their pages filled one word at a time, they say. Mine will, too.

My Novem­ber goal was to write 1000 words a day. In Belling­ham, that was a sput­ter­ing, stop-and-go sort of effort. The entire week before I came up here? Nothing.

It was impor­tant to me to embrace a rou­tine as soon as I got here. I’ll tell you what that looks like another time, but for now, let’s just say it’s working.

With 10,688 new words in the past week, it’s work­ing really well. That’s noth­ing for my more pro­lific friends, but as a slow writer, this is mon­u­men­tal for me. It’s work­ing – I’m work­ing, and I have to tell you, sweet­ies, it feels won­der­ful.

I know there’ll be a crash. Just as you can anchor up high on a great day’s fish­ing only to wake up and find the school van­ished overnight, the words won’t always be here. NCI isn’t magic. I’m finally learn­ing the truth that count­less men­tors have tried to impress upon me: there isn’t magic, there’s only work. As I put in the con­sis­tent time and effort, the words respond. The more devo­tion with which I sit down, the more agree­ably the words show up. Why did it take me so long to accept this truism?

Today, on November’s Thanks­giv­ing, the mid­day sun is stream­ing bright and warm onto my shoul­der. In a moment, I’ll walk down to the office, using one of NCI’s com­put­ers to break my inter­net silence and share this time with you. A mosey on one of the many sur­round­ing trails, paus­ing to cel­e­brate fresh air and wild places. There’s a piece of salmon – a coho tail­piece – defrost­ing in the fridge, and two of Joel’s choco­late chip coconut cook­ies wait­ing to reward me. It’s another good day to write.

With love and gratitude,

Tele

c/o ELC

PO Box 429

Mar­ble­mount, WA

98267

 

 

 

13 Comments

  1. Happy Thanks­giv­ing and con­tented work, Tele. Live. The Marita-Davis family.

  2. Happy Thanks­giv­ing, Tele. It’s won­der­ful to fol­low along as you live your dream. Write on!

  3. Happy for you Tele, and well earned! I won­der where I would be if as devoted to my leanings…makes me wish I could roll back the years. Obvi­ously you have what it takes, and all of us blessed with the results that nour­ish and tweak our hearts and minds — this is what comes of love behind the process — a love that stints not on cap­tur­ing the feel­ing– the joy, the grief, the beauty, the won­der, the nuances of life in all its inex­plic­a­ble and won­der­ous ways.

  4. Happy for you Tele, and well earned! I won­der where I would be if as devoted to my leanings…makes me wish I could roll back the years. Obvi­ously you have what it takes, and all of us blessed with the results that nour­ish and tweak our hearts and minds — this is what comes of love behind the process — a love that stints not on cap­tur­ing the feel­ing– the joy, the grief, the beauty, the won­der, the nuances of life in all its inex­plic­a­ble and won­der­ous ways.

  5. Hi Tele,
    Con­grat­u­la­tions on the writ­ing res­i­dency, and best wishes and bless­ing for suc­cess­ful writ­ing! There is some­thing about a space of time to do noth­ing but write – won­der­ful, scary, daunt­ing, a run­way ready for taxi­ing and liftoff. Fly high, my friend! I appre­ci­ate you shar­ing the jour­ney.
    –Victoria

  6. So glad your catch­ing your rhythm Tele, your mis­sive was excit­ing to read. I love the pic­ture you cre­ated on what your cabin looks like inside, with all your prompts and “impor­tant stuff” taped on the walls, and books that will encour­age you on. 10,688 words in your first week…progress!!
    I wasn’t expect­ing you to write us so soon, but am ecsta­tic you did. I’m thank­ful that on this day you have come this far.

  7. Won­der­ful to hear you’re in your ele­ment. And fun to ‘see’ how you’ve orga­nized Dog­wood 2. A nest for Hooked. Thanks for writing.

  8. I am so proud of you.

  9. Tele!
    It’s been ages, and my heart and mind have ached to have your words swim­ming through them. I am beyond thrilled that you are where you are, doing what you are doing. This is great inspi­ra­tion, and both Sean and I cel­e­brate this impor­tant chap­ter in your jour­ney as a writer and self-reflective human.
    We have just landed back in Port­land after some time away in Cal­i­for­nia vis­it­ing fam­ily and friends, which came promptly after get­ting mar­ried. Truly one of the most mag­i­cal, mean­ing­ful and pow­er­ful expe­ri­ences of my life so far.
    I returned home to a stack of mail, one of which was my set­tle­ment from Peter Pan Seafoods, sig­ni­fy­ing that I am truly, a suc­cess­ful Bris­tol Bay Salmon Skip­per! I am over­joyed.
    With much love, I trust that you are thriv­ing and I wish you con­tin­ued cre­ativ­ity,
    Heather

  10. Glad to hear things are going well. Indeed, it’s never easy, but the effort and the labor pains — to con­tinue your metaphor — are reflected in the rich­ness of the final prod­uct, and the inde­scrib­able sen­sa­tion of hear­ing the first cries (i.e. pos­i­tive reviews.)

    Keep on keepin’ on!

  11. It sounds won­der­ful, Tele. I’m so glad to hear you are devot­ing your­self to writ­ing. I’m using this post as my inspi­ra­tional spring board for my own writing.

  12. Oh Tele, how you’re a source of awe I don’t think you’ll ever really know.

    In the words of Mr. May­field, “Keep on, keepin’ on” :)

    Love,
    Me

    • You, too, sweetie. I just asked Ash­ley about you the other day — sounds like you’ve taken some major steps towards your own dreams this past year. Congratulations!

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