be away

I’m writing this alone in the MacDowell Colony Hall, in the early afternoon, after enjoying a peanutbutter and honey sandwich. There’s a beautiful light wind steady outside, making the branches move and keeping the day cool. I admit to being worried a little about the lack of air conditioning, but I forgot about how the forest would keep us cool, despite the 90 degree temperatures. I drove here Friday with my hands hurting from Anna Karenina the whole way, and have been working on the second novel and reading Chekhov’s short novels and of course, more Anna Karenina. There’s a lovely Russian composer here, named Yevgeny Charlat, who explained to me why Chopin’s mazurkas are not like any other mazurkas, and Nami Mun, my favorite new writer, who blew me away with her work when I met her the year before last at the University of Michigan, on a job search visit. She was a student there and now she’s graduated and is finishing her story collection, here and then at Norton’s Island and then at Yaddo over this summer. I don’t ask how it’s going when I see her, but it’s exciting, because when she’s done I’ll get to read the other stories.

Which, is part of the fun here. Also the live readings after dinner from the day’s Mary Worth comic strip in the paper. I’ve been told I might be asked to be Bruce when the current Bruce leaves.

I’ve stopped answering the ‘what is it about’ question with the book as I meet the other colonists, and people take it pretty well. I do really think answering that question obscures your ability to perceive the answer, which, really, is the book itself–whatever answer you come up with feels like a weird lie afterward, no matter how close to the truth you got, and with that lie, you lose your ability to trust your relationship to the book, gradually. And then you have to get it back. Writers are often accused of being superstitious for not answering the question by people who are a little wrong to be indignant at a refusal.

I spent a lot of time this last year undoing that and the excitement for me is back as I drive down the long narrow dirt road to my cabin here.

I’m up in the north of the property, in the cabin I had before, in November 2005. The last residency I had here was good, but I made the mistake of letting my partner of the time keep me on the phone too much, and it left me drained and feeling half here and half there. Be away, my friend Nathan said to me, when I complained about it, and I didn’t follow his advice but it runs through my head now at odd times while here. I have to call him and let him say I told you so.

The difference is pretty great. I happily spend hours reading in Colony Hall at night on the big sofas, or in my room. My next love is going to have to be pretty self-sufficient, because I won’t go back to how it was.

A new friend here, Tayari Jones, has her colony word count going on her blog, and here’s where I try it out.

Colony word count to date: 2842


  1. Oh, I am so, so envious of you for this opportunity, and really happy for you as well. When I’ve read of MacDowell I’ve thought, “I want to be there someday.” I look forward to seeing the word count ratchet up!

  2. Oh, your stay is sounding incredible already. I was there in 2005, too, though in the spring. Have one of those amazing breakfast muffins for me!

  3. Chopin’s mazurkas do have a spark about them. I tried learning some Saint-Saens’s mazurkas, but they’re not the same.

    I’ll try looking for the Pushcart Prize Anthology next time I’m at a bookstore. Hope you’re having fun!

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