Thursday, January 08, 2015

Johnson, Vermont

My room at the Vermont Studio Center
It is my fourth day here.  Every step here has felt a sloughing off of skin. On Sunday, as I moved in this direction, passing through Massachusetts and into the mountains of Vermont, I felt like I was moving back in time, or deeper inside myself. Already I find myself hungering after my work, the work that I’ve postponed for so long.

I am typing these words in a studio named after William Matthews.  Every morning, when I don't oversleep, I go to the meditation room and sit, smelling incense, doing my best to think of nothing.  After, I come to this studio with a blessed expanse of hours--thirteen, if I was to use them all--just to write.  My studio is small with a view of the Gihon River.  The Gihon, which in the Bible flows from Eden, and which here flows from Eden, Vermont.

I watch a coalesced skim of surface ice float by.  Last night it was 23 degrees below zero, with a windchill of minus 40.  I relish this cold as if were a rare wine.  I have no excuse to be outside.  Frequently the internet goes down.  I have no excuse to be there either.

Meals are prepared for me, shopping is done, I am cleaned up after.  I pace my room.  I rest my head against the window and watch the ice.  I read.  I post chapters on a corkboard.  I comb my sentences for excess words, again and again.  My fellow artists sculpt wall-hangings made of patchwork salvaged wood, sew metal, experiment with traditional oil technique and sing on the side, and take full-semester classes on Old Testament literature with Marilynne Robinson.

This morning, in explaining to a fellow resident why I prefer yoga to Pilates, I said it was not for the exercise but for the self-forgiveness it cultivates.  Last night, in a lecture on creativity and meditation, Jon Gregg, a founder of the Vermont Studio Center, told a story about Pablo Picasso.  Picasso, when asked what the most important thing was in his life answered simply:  self-trust.

These two things:  self-forgiveness and self-trust.  They're what I'm here to learn.

A poem for you today, by William Matthews, in whose spirit I write:

On the way to the rink one fog- and sleep-thick
morning we got the word fuck spat at us,
my sister fluffed for figure skating and I in pads
for hockey.  The slash of casual violence in it
befuddled me, and when I asked my parents
I got a long, strained lecture on married love.

Have I remembered this right?  The past is lost
to memory.  Under the Zamboni’s slathering tongue
the ice is opaque and thick.  Family life is easy.
You just push off into heartbreak and go on your nerve.

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