Just before Thanksgiving last year, I set off for a long residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. I was immediately in awe of the unique nature of Cascade Head. I was enclosed by towering spruce and Douglas fir and ash. In the meadow were wild deer and elk. Half a mile away lay the estuary that washed out into the roar of the Pacific. Living in a rugged, natural environment reignited my writing process and offered a clarity of thought and vision. The isolation was perfect, more so with the constant threat of Covid. Most days I read and worked on a few long-standing projects. On walks, I mulled over the dreaded promotion I would have to do for my upcoming story collection.
Occasionally, the solitary life was punctuated by talks and hikes with fellow artists: a passionate stop-motion animator, a singer and visual artist from upstate New York, the poet laureate of Oregon. I found that becoming attuned to a place for a short while did something to my brain: this is my life, my daily existence. But then it was over, and I was on the move again, this time back home to Oklahoma. Soon I was contending with the reality of Omicron, but my mind was caught in the landscape of Oregon, still stuck in the life and memories of a special place that had been my existence. My time in this remote enclave fostered an intensity that far outweighed the normal experience of living somewhere new.
I was barely in my apartment for ten days before I left again for rural Virginia. I had another residency. And the whole cycle began again. The tension between stability and movement, the urge to keep creating, to explore new places, and meet new people with very different visions of the world, became exhilarating but also tiring, destabilizing. Every day now I ask myself where does the nomadic writer fit in? Can a life like this be sustained?
I once came across a writer online, who taught at a fancy East Coast liberal arts college. He bragged about never going to residencies. He made the argument that he didn’t need them, that he didn’t need the gilded solitude or a special place to work. The next day, without irony, he posted about heading up to his family cabin to work on his next book.
After this residency, I am visiting Boston. I will connect with a dear person from Sitka. I will embrace another week of existing somewhere else, treating that city like my city, part of my life. Eventually, I will make my way back home, if that’s what it is. I have a feeling I won’t be there for very long.
Photo courtesy of Sarah E. Jenkins.