Monday, January 21, 2013

Dorland Mountain Arts Colony

Last week, I packed my bags (filled mostly with provisions and books) and headed for a land I have not visited in a very long while … the Land of No Responsibility. I was accepted for a residency at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Temecula, California, where for one whole week, I would do nothing more than write. As it turned out, I wrote, read, wrote, researched, wrote, hiked, wrote, attempted to bake bread (failure!), wrote, stared at sunsets, wrote and basked in the luxury of giving over my entire mind to my new novel.

My cabin at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony
Dorland dates back to the 1930s and sits on a beautiful, sprawling nature preserve. Due to a massive wildfire in 2004, Dorland today consists of just two brand new cabins (with more in the works) – with one artist per cabin. I attended with a close friend who is a writer and musician. Our idea was that we would work during the days and discuss what we were working on over dinner each night. In fact, I was so absorbed in my writing that we met only three of the seven nights that we were there, hiked a couple times in order to clear our heads, but otherwise kept to ourselves. After all, how often in an adult’s life can she retreat in full from the world?

Every sunset view from my front porch was captivating
No internet. No TV. Just the necessities: electricity for my laptop, a well-designed mini-kitchen, expansive views over the valley, a large writing desk, more tables for writing wherever I felt like situating myself at any given time, and a wood stove, with wood provided by the caretakers (also artists-in-residence), Robert and Janice. The couple greeted us upon arrival, to let us know they were there if we needed them, but otherwise, our privacy would be respected and our solitude ensured. True to their word, they revealed themselves only once … halfway through the week Robert came down to check on my stock of firewood and at the same time deliver a slice of homemade apple pie—tart and flavorful and perfect.

Rain & writing midway through the week

The first morning of the residency, I felt a bit disoriented. I did not have to check my emails. I did not have to check a clock to figure out how much time I had to write before I needed to start work or take care of countless other daily commitments. As I got started, I could feel myself writing as if with a harness on. I eased in on my beloved Smith-Corona Coronet, because the sound of the keys always gives me a boost. Then I transitioned to my computer, and as the chapter I was working on began to head in a new, exciting direction, I could feel the restraints falling away. I could also feel myself being watched.

Room with a view ... of my daily muse!
I looked up, and there outside my window, just a few feet from my desk, was a deer, checking up on me before leaning down to nuzzle a patch of grass. Two more joined in the feast, and in a moment that can only be described as spiritual, a weight lifted off me. I love my life, but it’s a busy life, and throughout my week at Dorland I learned how to untangle myself from the restrictions on my writing that I’d become too accustomed to and slip into a rhythm in which I could write at any time, at any hour, for as long or as short a stretch as I wanted. And when I was not writing, I learned that I did not have to give my mind over to anything else.

Another day, another gorgeous sunset

Upon arrival at Dorland, I felt a kind of euphoria. The morning I had to leave, I sat down in my rocking chair in front of my beautiful view and sobbed. Not because I was sad to go, but because writing with such freedom for a whole week had been cathartic. I hadn’t realized how much I’d needed it. Allowing myself that kind of unfettered liberty had been a way of believing in myself as a “real writer.” Funny how someone who has had a novel published by a major publisher doesn’t come to that belief naturally. I realized that attending a colony such as this one was about more than setting aside time to work.  It was about creating a balance of external and internal space. It was about giving myself permission to take myself seriously. It was about returning to the reason I started writing in the first place: it gives me so much pleasure.

 Dorland, thank you. I hope to return soon.