A Place for Writers
Sometimes I wonder why I love the writing program at ArtStays so much. After all, writers do most of their work alone and in their heads. Who needs scenery and other people?! But here’s the thing: after a morning in the cozy Emandal library with a group of writers racking my brains for words, there’s nothing more refreshing than going for a hike or swim, after an outrageously delicious lunch, of course. Later, I can dive into a solitary afternoon of writing (interspersed with hammock time), knowing that when the sun begins to sink, there’ll be Happy Hour on the deck, followed by another spectacular meal. It’s every writer’s dream to be looked after, with no cooking or washing up to do!
Oh, there are plenty of ways to avoid writing at Emandal. The river calls, with its gentle music and massive boulders that warm the water and add an air of mystery. There’s the aforementioned hammock, the other guests, even the horseshoe pits! But the writers and artists in this hive of creativity generate a hum of purpose and satisfaction I want to be part of. Thus, I fight the urge to be lazy and actually get some work done! After dinner, when we gather to share our progress, I’m always amazed by everyone’s accomplishments. I love being reminded that anything we make must happen one step, stitch, brushstroke, chip, or word at a time.
After such stimulating days, the simple comforts of my cabin draw me like a bird to its nest. I know my bed with its luxurious comforter and pillows is always waiting to take me in. Even so, I sometimes have trouble sleeping, because even the night air is rich with beauty and sensation. Despite the joys of sleep at Emandal, I hate missing a moment of an experience that will inspire and fortify me for months to come.
After ArtStays is over, I miss Emandal and its community of artists. I crave the discipline I cultivated when I eliminated everyday distractions and really pursued my writing. And I miss the other writers. Whether they are experienced pros or new to wordsmithing, each one has given me the gift of their attention and their unique way with words. As the winter days draw on, I long for the beauty, peace, and companionship I experienced on those lovely autumn days, and look forward to returning in the fall.
Susan Bono is an ArtStays writing instructor. She’s facilitated writers of all skill levels as a high school English teacher, writing instructor, and freelance editor in workshops, critique sessions, and free-writing groups for more than 25 years. She wants anyone who has ever dreamed about writing to join her at Emandal! Her book, What Have We Here: Essays about Keeping House and Finding Home is available through Amazon, Petaluma’s Copperfield’s, and at her website, www.susanbono.com. For questions, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-480-6163.
The Spare Room
I’ve lived in the same house for thirty-three years and filled it with several lifetimes’ worth of possessions. I love my things, but they require constant attention. It’s no wonder I have dreamed of running away to a room like this. The room I have built in my imagination is spare, and features grey, honestly scuffed floorboards, just like these. Both rooms have just enough hooks to hang a few clothes and shelves for only the most treasured of mementos and books. It is perhaps no coincidence that the walls and rafters of this uninsulated cabin are the same shade of old cream.
In the corner of this softly lit room is a round porcelain sink set in a triangular counter topped with white tile. The water from its single spigot is always cold and sweet. On the counter is a bar of homemade soap, my toothbrush, and a hairbrush. A wooden bar holds a lavender bath towel, an iris-colored hand towel, and a deep maroon washcloth, which coordinate loosely with three multicolored scatter rugs, a rustic green table, the maroon sheets on the oak bunks and single bed, and the saffron yellow comforter on my queen bed. The busy print on the comfortably worn cotton curtains carries hints of all these colors and makes allowances for my blue and yellow duffle bags, my red nylon jacket, and multi-striped purse.
Tonight, as I stare at those curtains, my mind struggles to make sense of the pattern. Am I supposed to be seeing clusters of white sheep with brown heads and small herds of lavender mice running in repeating diagonals across the windows? Finally, the design resolves itself into fields of fallen leaves dotted with brown and mustard-colored squares. In the morning, these curtains, when lit from the outside, will act more like the lace curtains of my long-imagined spare room by softening the hard, hot sunlight, but tonight, their purpose is to keep me from seeing how dark it is behind the screens that serve as windows. They do not prevent me from noticing a spider, large and very black, that must be brushed from my bed or the mouse that must be chased out through the space under the front door, its possible re-entry blocked with some luggage.
As I undress for bed, wondering how cold it might eventually get in this real room, I observe that the door to this cabin has only a black gate latch holding it closed. The shiny hook and eye above it would keep no one at bay. I hook it anyway. I climb into bed and listen to the whir of insects and a river flowing purposefully. I breathe smells of dry earth and oak dust riding in under the curtain hems. In the small, spare room of my fantasies, there is also a jar of flowers on the wooden table and lamps lighting all the corners, but there, the outside world leans politely away from the walls, keeping its distance. In this room, night presses against the cabin walls and vibrates the air around my head. Unseen things bumble up against the screens, tread heavily in the nearby undergrowth, or cry out in a series of single piercing notes. I do not feel frightened, but take great comfort in the sounds of nearby campers coughing or laughing softly in their small, spare cabins. Like a child, I stroke the satin ribbon sewn onto the edge of my bedsheet and decide to keep the lights on a little longer.
Cabin #1/River Bluff
October 1, 2014
Marilyn Petty-Art Stay Participant
An Ersatz-Luddite in the Library at Emandal
The library at Emandal is on the 2nd floor in the main building. The room is not large, but size is unimportant, because it is expansive in bookshelves full of books, the kind you pull off a shelf, take over to one of the old, cushy chairs or the ample sofa in front of the windows looking out over the gardens. Or, you can sit at the large table after selecting several tomes to study, spread them out, and open your notebook to record esoteric information. Occasionally, you may hear the murmur of voices down the hall or someone else comes in to use the library.
I like to run my fingers over volumes, take out the dictionary, a poetry book, the Thesaurus, a particular author’s newest or oldest work, or ponder the riddle of several copies of Nancy Drew books filed in the Philosophy section. I choose a book from a shelf, take a seat, open it—those sturdy covers with innards pasted or sewn together—and with my hand leaf through pages, running a finger down a list, making a note or two, not once punching a key or pushing the BACK or NEXT button. I am not connected to an electrical outlet or staring at a lighted screen. No beeps or tings or tap-tapping. I read my book with eyes, brain, heart, and soul, and if I wish, I will pick up the book or maybe a stack of books, move to a different chair or to another room or outside in the afternoon sun to really, truly read. I am in such a unique place of serenity, wisdom, and friendship.
Coffee and a biscotti in my room before breakfast. My coffee mug design ala Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, this one titled Birth of Venus by Sandro Buttercelli. Venus is emerging from her shell a fully formed, gorgeous Holstein ready for milking. On the other side of the mug is a painting of haystacks with a small herd of black and white cows happily grazing—like the Farm here. This is called Haystacks by Claude Moonet. The coffee is hot, the biscotti crisp, the hills to the west are shrouded in fog. At sunset they will turn to gold. I make jottings in my journal.
Marilyn Petty either spins yarns—the fiber kind—or personal essays—the prose kind—in Sonoma County, California.
Susan Starbird-Art Stay Participant
Ready or Not
In the bag by my cabin door are four pairs of shoes, and there’s still a pair on my feet. Plus a pair, maybe two, actually one-and-a-half, down in the car at long-term parking. How long is this weekend that I need hiking shoes, warm fleece-lined boots, wading shoes, and shoes for the shower, plus, just to be safe, a pair of flowered mules?
I’ve settled in. Arranged my shoe bag, my computer case, my bag of daytime clothes, and my bag of night-or-rain-wear. I’ve brought far, far too much reading material, and already I’m scanning the tabletop displays in the dining room for more interesting alternatives. I have a month’s worth of reading for four days, just in case I’m lucky enough to get stuck here.
The book of instructions in my cabin warned me about mice, bats, and cats (with poison oak on their fur). It advises removing a mouse with the broom. The broom would only aggravate a bat. For a bat, I am told, turn off the lights and exit, leaving the door open. Screaming will only embarrass.
The best policy with mice is to keep the snack bars out of reach. I have six snack bars that I chose not to leave in the car for a bear balanced on a clothes hook a foot or two from the shelving. A daring mouse could leap from the shelf to the hook, ride the snack bars to the floor, and announce a feast to all his sisters and brothers.
There are mouse-sized holes all over my cabin. Come ‘n’ get it!
Susan Starbird accumulates shoes at Gopher Hill in Sebastopol, which she shares with her husband, her dog, and about 100 head of mason bees.
Marc Monaghan Photography
Marc visits Emandal most every time he makes it to California from his home in Chicago. His photographic skills are evident in this particular slide show of last year’s Art Stay.
To see more of his work, check out his website: http://www.marcmonaghan.com
You’ll see the chicken coop at Emandal in one of his California stories.