On Year Eight, Simply Not Done at the Farm
We are breathing here at Willow Brook Farm, the salt-water farm that has been in the Welsh family for generations, and which has been the home of Simply Not Done’s winter writing retreat now since 2005. Breathing because everything is growing, changing, expanding, contracting. Founding members Jan and Kasey Grieco have not joined us this year. Becky’s husband John, who recently retired from his position as a hospital administrator in western Maine, is now living at the farm full time (though he’s remarkably discreet about his dealing with us, leaving us to our discussions, and cooking up a storm). Tomorrow we shall spend the afternoon with another dear writing friend from Stonecoast, Beth Wilkins. Winter is withdrawing early: last night John pointed out that Dover Road has been posted already–he had to explain the secret of posting to Brenda, a city dweller, who has little experience in what heavy loads will do to frost-heaving roads. In eight years we have been here for snowstorms, for deep freezes–and now for the awakening of skunks from hibernation. Happy Presidents’ Day weekend!
This is important time. As far as I’m concerned, Willow Brook Farm has become a remove. I can’t use the term ‘vacation,’ because that’s not what it is. It’s working time. We are writers when we are here. We are not teachers, we are not artists’ representatives. We are writers. Our talk is about writing: content, craft. We bring each other work, and read, and critique. We bring each other ideas, and burrow into the deep couches in the living room to write. We bring each other books, to discuss in terms of construction. We talk about venues for publication. We plan adventures which become fodder for more writing. We bring food, and music, and laughter, and more than anything else, we bring to each other the understanding that only working struggling writers can provide. We none of us are rich and famous, but we are striving.
So. It’s Saturday morning. The sky is a play of blinding white clouds against the brilliant blue sky. The flock of turkeys which live here have not yet made their presence known, and since the
snow has nearly all gone, there are not even any tracks criss-crossing the yard. (Wait until about 3:30, Becky says, and the flock will be along.) Up back in the orchard, small neat piles of pruned-away branches have appeared at the bare feet of the gnarled trees. John has a brick chicken slow-marinating in the kitchen, and the smell is fruity and comforting, like something from a distant memory. Becky’s friend Roberta is coming to give us mani-pedis (talk about indulgence!). I have been ordering a manuscript, and looking up possibilities for magazines to submit to. Becky has been investigating Allison Joseph’s CRWROPPS list, which is a daily email list providing information about creative writing opportunities.
The most wonderful thing about this time is that whatever we opt to do is fine. It’s respect and love and acceptance and relaxation and, for me, the opportunity to be reminded of just how grateful I am for the good things I got out of the Stonecoast MFA program: my peeps. My best and dearest writing friends. The women who accompanied me to my solo appearance at the Cornelia Street Café, and plied me with enough white wine to get me through, and who shared a room at the Harvard Club of New York, and who kidnapped Harvard Club stationary with me. The women who told me to write The Book of the Mandolin Player–one of them in fact gave me the title. The women to whom my second book, The Beauty of It, is dedicated. The women who encouraged me to go to the Solstice conference, and to the Frost Place.
Tonight: more eating and laughing. Tomorrow: more writing and talking. Throughout all this time: more planning ahead. That trip across West Texas to research black cowboys in the American west–which will involve us driving a vintage Cadillac convertible (I picture a red one, though I know Brenda pictures one in cream)? It’s been in the planning stages for years, as Brenda works through her ideas for her story. How about the trip to London next summer for the re-release party of Stephen Benatar’s The Man on the Bridge? (Stephen says the actual party will be somewhat small, but our personal party could go on for days, since that’s my favorite of his books and Capuchin Classics will be publishing a new edition this year.) Not to mention, of course, that summer is music festival season in England, and I’m sure we could find someplace to see Oysterband in our travels, since Brenda was the woman who sent me on my first adventure in their direction, and I need to return the favor.
For now, we breathe. And that is more than enough.