Remember those classic bubble bath commercials, “Calgon, take me away”? When I’m stressed and busy it’s not a sudsy bath I yearn for. It’s an artists’ colony – a place where someone else shops for groceries, makes dinner, vacuums the living room, washes the sheets, and generally leaves me alone to write. It’s a place without appointments, errands, or any other external obligations, where the only demands on my time are self-imposed. A place to think long, uninterrupted thoughts, take meditative walks, speak to others only if and when I choose. A place where I can leave papers all over the floor and find them in the same place the following morning. Most of all, it’s a place I can sustain an idea over several days, absorbing myself in what John Gardner has called the “vivid and continuous dream” of a novel.
The artists’ colony I dream about is the only one I’ve ever been to: the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Long ago, as a MFA student at the University of Virginia, I would jump in the car for the hour-long drive to the VCCA for a few days whenever they had a last-minute cancellation. But I’ve only been once, for a scant week, since having children.
My kids are older now, and I just found out that I’ve been accepted for ten days in May – the perfect time, as I finish a semester of teaching, to plunge deeper into my new novel. Until then (with a nod to James Taylor) you must forgive me if I’m up and gone to Virginia in my mind.
Jessica Dunne, one of my favorite artists, painted the landscape above, “Contorted Willow, Virginia,” while a resident at the VCCA in 2007.