Post-Residency: Was It All A Dream?

A GravestoneIf New Hamspshire were a lover, she would be bitter at times and take to teasing her admirers. One day, her sky is scintillating, crystal clear, the air crisp as an autumn leaf, but she will turn on you the following afternoon. Storm clouds troop across what used to be a dome of limitless color, and the woods that shivered bright in all shades of brown and black turn somber in a heavy veil of mist. The contrast chills the senses. Sheer blinding light reflected from the snowfall seems as if it could stretch for infinite infinities is cut short by startling stone grays and blues from rocks defying the snow, and the endless trees that turn darker the whiter the landscape gets. The white tries to blanket every surface, and there is no escaping it except to take cover indoors then, before anyone knows it, the ice melts, the sound of rushing water surrounds, you, as if the whole world will slip into a steady stream.

In this setting, I renewed my commitment to writing, vows sanctified by fellow colonists, board members, and the gentle and caring staff of MacDowell. Being at the colony is a recognition of faithful commitment, acknowledged by a historic institution, sanctioned by a tradition, a national and international culture that carries the  legacy of what art is, what it could be, and what it has meant since 1907.

This place serves something like a training camp for creative types turned athletes. Here we learn the loneliness of longPeterborough Town Library distance running or how to build stamina for short fevered bursts of process and creative output. In the utter silence of our studio, we test the elasticity of our strengths, learn our weaknesses, and strategize how to tone our creative muscles, so we can re-enter the other world, the world of earning paychecks and paying rent or mortgages, which is someone else’s fantasy we’re obliged to participate in from time to time, but not while at MacDowell.

An hour feels like three in our studios. It’s amazing how much work you get done when you sit down to it, and let your mind settle with the tasks in front of you. There is this idea of being social and creative, and the two are sometimes mutually exclusive, and sometimes they go hand in hand. You learn the dance of both at MacDowell.

in case of emergency break iceAside from missing my MacDowell family, comprised of composers, architects, a martini-making photographer, a dancing upholsterer, ping-pong playing poets, novelists, playwrights, filmmakers, and interdisciplinary practitioners, if there is anything I could wish for is a residency solely for reading. To sit with a book and immerse in words is also an art, which takes discipline and practice. Of course, a residency dedicated solely to reading may be asking for too much, as if MacDowell doesn’t spoil one enough.

What I’ve learned & accomplished @ MacDowell include some of the following though it will take a while to fully digest the experience:

  • Revised 250 pages of the novel.
  • In revision, imagine each word costs $5. Figure out how much you can take away from and still have the essence of the story intact. Think Minimalism.
  • Do not dance with long johns on.
  • You will over-eat.
  • Life is not about looking for answers, but seeking big and meaningful questions for the chase of a lifetime.
  • Spotted, deer, one bushy white-stomached squirrel, two crows, flocks of turkey, which are bigger and blacker than the California ones.
  • Met my family from Maine and am amazed and inspired by their love.
  • Survived 7° weather + snow + 50mph wind.
  • Snow plows make me think of Москва.
  • There are no Targets in the UK.
  • A folly is a nineteenth century typology for landscape with no functional purpose.
  • Never fly United. Never.
  • I miss my MacDowell family and dearly hope to reconnect in person soon.
  • Thank god for Facebook, really!
  • If you’re deep and close enough to the projekt, it will tell you what needs to be done and instruct you how to proceed.

For safe-keeping in planning the next residency, which is just around the corner, here’s a list of what to bring for next time:

  1. blank pads of paper and post-its
  2. permanent markers
  3. push pins
  4. chocolate
  5. chai tea
  6. nice stationary
  7. wall calendar
  8. scissors, tape, and other small travel office supplies (check out Muji)
  9. scented candles
  10. gin
  11. beer
  12. extra batteries
  13. extra plug for mobile phone and Kindle
  14. lighter and/or matches
  15. hard disk
  16. good hand lotion
  17. pocketknife

Thank you MacDowell for a dream come true! Here’s hoping for a return visit soon.

San Francisco Wins @ Cantina SF, 2 March 2013, 7:30pm

Let’s not be sad about Sunday’s outcome. San Francisco is still a city to be proud of because it’s home to winning readers & writers, some of whom will be reading their work, myself included, Saturday, March 2, 7:30pm at Cantina SF. Aside from a stellar roster, Cantina SF serves some tasty cocktails. Below are the details. Please consider marking your calendar and forwarding to all interested parties.

Our Spring Reading
Saturday, March 2, 2013, 7:00 PM at Cantina SF (basement)
Hugo & Nebula award-winning author Terry Bisson 
& Afghan-American author Tamim Ansary 

Also presenting transmedia artist Kate Durbin, novelist and screenwriter Louis B. Jones, author of California’s Over and Radiance, novelist Renee Thompson, author of The Plume Hunter, and essayist and short story writer Rashaan Alexis Meneses.

Terry Bisson is an American science fiction and fantasy author best known for his short stories. Several of his works, including “Bears Discover Fire”, have won top awards in the science fiction community, such as the Hugo and the Nebula.

Tamim Ansary is the author of Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes and West of Kabul, East of New York, among other books. For ten years he wrote a monthly column for, and has published essays and commentary in the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, Alternet,, Edutopia, Parade, Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. Born in Afghanistan in 1948, he moved to the U.S. in 1964. He lives in San Francisco, where he is director of the San Francisco Writers Workshop.