Check. It. Out.
Check. It. Out.
The cabin was hit hard by hurricane Sandy. The field turned into a river, the trees were stripped of limbs and leaves, the windows shook in the wind.
The creek grew higher and higher over the course of the first day. Water traveled down the ridge from the sky and from far away counties. Run off churned through the grass and trees.
The next week was very soggy. The shape of the land shifted. Where we had walked through high grass and brush, we now walked through what looked like tide pools on a beach. I even rescued a few fish from shrinking puddles and tossed them back into the creek.
After the storm Scout didn’t seem to mind the new landscape.
Out on our walk we came across a poor little ground hog who had been flooded out of his den. He was unconscious and barely breathing. We snuggled him up by the wood stove so he wouldn’t die of hypothermia. Apparently, when ground hogs are hibernating, their heart rate drops to only a few beats per minute. Getting cold and wet can be impossible to recover from.
I drank some tea and observed the little creature. Ground hogs are rabies vector species, so I was careful not to touch him and to keep Scout and the cats away. After about four hours by the fire he started breathing more regularly and stretched a few times. He looked like a crumpled-up wet sweater. After another hour or so, he started looking like an animal again. I put him into the carrier we use to take the cats to the vet, then headed out to pick up something to eat for dinner.
When I returned, he was wide awake.
An hour later I was meeting a wildlife rescue volunteer to do a ground hog drop. She gave the ground hog some medication to make sure he wouldn’t get an infection in his fluid-filled lungs. Later she emailed me that the ground hog had fully recovered. He had feasted on bananas, grass, and pecans. He was released just a few days later.
Unfortunately, the cabin didn’t recover as quickly. We’ve had to run a dehumidifier constantly to try and dry the place out, but it seems nothing will do the trick.
The smell of mold has become so intense we can’t stay there any longer.
It has only been eight months, not our planned year, but it seems like the cabin is telling us it’s ready to move on.
My time at VCCA was very short. I was only there for six days, but that was enough. Enough at least to know I needed more time, maybe, but also enough to get a new project started. Just barely.
I spend a lot of time recovering from false starts.
I spent a lot of time writing plot points on note cards and arranging them on my wall.
I spent a lot of time reading, then re-reading, a certain book about screenwriting. None of it made sense until one sunny afternoon I fell asleep on the bed in my studio with the book tucked under my arm. When I woke up everything made sense. I’d like to think I absorbed the text through my arms, into my veins, then pumped it through my heart and mind. These kinds of thoughts occur to you when on a residency, I am told, because you are alone for so many days and hours.
This being alone clears a space in your brain for mysterious stories, ideas, and dreams. Or, maybe it just makes you a little weird, a little too tuned in to your imagination. But I was fine with that – with the all alone, the quiet, the big brown desk and the blank notecards. I was especially ok with the weird and the too tuned in. That was my favorite part.
This week I’m a fellow-in-residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Some words and images from the first day:
The experience so far has a lot to do with tea and books.
Here’s what my suitcase looked like, for example:
I brought my electric kettle in order to skip the trips to the kitchen. Left poor Jake dependent on the hot plate for the week (which takes approximately three days to boil a pot of water.)
The desk I have here is nice and wide, excellent for lots of random piles of books and notebooks. Type at one end, scribble out some comics at the other.
I also brought my two good luck charms. Jake’s mom Chris gave me these two painted chalk figures a while back. Chris was a champion for my creative pursuits. When I finally confessed my interest in acting and writing (I was terribly shy about it at first, to the point where I couldn’t even speak in class let alone perform a Shakespeare monologue in verse), she bought me so many plays,books about playwriting, short stories, and novels. These two little desk guardians remind me of her positivity, encouragement, and the immense amount of love I feel for her every. single. day. She saw some tiny little fire in me, one that most people thought was silly and useless, and she fed it with long talks at her kitchen table and compassion and lots and lots of love. I love and miss her so much! When I look at these little faces I think “I will write for Chris.” And then writing doesn’t seem so hard anymore, it seems easy and full of happy vibes.
And while we’re on the topic of good luck charms and happy vibes, it’s also good to bring along some items in your favorite color. Can you guess what mine is?
Also helpful: poems, essays, and stories by ”fierce literary mothers.” (quoted from Siri Hustvedt’s essay “My Inger Christensen” in her essay collection Living, Thinking, Looking.)
After settling in and unpacking all the tea and books and good luck charms, maybe you will make a schedule? Maybe you will draw on a piece of paper a chart that says ”Clock IN / Clock OUT” across the top in order to time how long you spend at your desk working on certain projects.
Or maybe you will just sit at the big desk for a minute and *blink*blink*blink* and then get up and take pictures of everything in your studio and then listen to someone have a cell phone conversation outside of your window.
Maybe you will feel scared and alone and miss your husband and your pets. Maybe you will wonder what they are doing right at this moment.
Maybe you will talk to your chalk figures and ask “Do you think I should have more minty tea?”
Maybe your blog post will get a little weird towards the end.
Whatever you do, whatever you feel, that is fine. It is all fine. Just see where the big desk and the window takes you. It’s only yours for a week. So let’s get to it. It’s time to show Chris what you’ve got.
You will be missed.
I loved your bumpy twig.
Your wavy dried out vine.
Your pastel moss.
But most of all I loved your puffy purple flower.
At least the dog seems to have enjoyed destroying you.
He shredded your sticks and pawed through your dirt.
He scattered your moss from room to room.
And as for your flower?
Now purple confetti, strewn across the couch.
A celebration of puppy-ness.
A friend asked me not long ago how life was going at the cabin.
I said “Well, it’s up and down.”
Toaster has been wearing his Super Cat outfit a lot lately. He seems to enjoy the extra layer now that the weather has turned colder.
The colder weather also means more bugs and mice are moving in to the cabin. Stink bugs and ants in the kitchen. Mice in the living room and under the sink. This is especially disconcerting in the kitchen, where it seems the bugs will always win. Everywhere I look, a creature.
I’m cooking a lot more lately. Cooking thru the creatures.
This Mushroom Benedict recipe was really tasty. I tested it for the Washington Post. And then I looked at the nutritional information and realized why it was so yummy. Heck yeah, 56 grams of fat. Definitely a weekend indulgence, but worth every gram.
I also made these butternut squash scones. Mine were just “meh” because I didn’t have any sage and used rosemary instead. Mistake. Sage would’ve been nice. Recipe at Food52.
Wait WHAT? 56 grams of fat? Jeeze I ate like three of those suckers. Not to mention I dispatched all the scones by myself, too.
Super Cat doesn’t even need a cape to be super.
His name is Scout.
Here he is at the shelter, looking a little wild-eyed and worried.
Here’s what I’ve found out about him so far:
1. He really likes tennis balls.
4. He sits on the mums.
5. He chases walnuts, which are falling everywhere these days.
He also has an affinity for eating bugs, sleeping in the cat bed, and going on long walks to visit the horse that lives down the street.
I don’t know what else to say about him: I still feel like we’re figuring each other out. I will say that I love him very much. I loved him the second I saw him at the shelter. I loved the tiny spots on his nose. I loved the wiggly happy dance he did as I walked up to greet him. I loved how at odds his goofy puppy spirit seemed with his soulful almond shaped eyes. How animals can be happy after suffering like they do, it amazes me. It’s wonderful. He came to us with fly bites on his ears and protruding ribs. He was shy and quiet at first. Now he hears the shotgun-like blast from the walnuts falling on the cabin roof and is unfazed. He dives into the creek like a labrador. He gallivants thru the fields. Chases ground hogs and rabbits and sometimes the cats.
He appears to care only for what is, and nothing for what was.