Sometimes I went for walks on the gravel roads in Willa's neighborhood, and sometimes I found interesting things along the way: inquisitive goats, slow-moving newts, friendly abandoned vehicles.
|Construction vehicle, lost in the woods|
Two strategies motivated me to write when I feared the project was a lost cause. One was committing to sending a daily e-mail to an old friend, updating her on my progress. The other was making a spreadsheet with a graph to visualize my daily wordcount. There's just something satisfyingly gamelike about making that little yellow average stripe climb. Eventually, having thoroughly considered calling a mulligan on the whole project, and conceding that it will take a lot more than four months to finish, I realized the answer to that question was still yes: I really do want to write this book.
Willa and her family helped, by housing and feeding me, but also just by being around, and by being so incorrigibly themselves. Occasionally, I even helped them a little. I got to pitch in on a brush-clearing project that was a lot of fun; who doesn't like burning stuff?
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The week inbetween Christmas and year's end always seems a little surreal to me. It feels like when you drive over the I-5 bridge across the Columbia between Oregon and Washington: now you're not in either place, so where are you? But when I drive over that bridge, I am highly alert, looking around me excitedly, occasionally even yelling "Wheeee!" The last week of the year typically flicks past while I am distracted with friends and family and getting extra sleep. When it's over, I typically have trouble recalling what-all happened, as though it was a dream that fades in the dawning light of a new year.
|Rush hour on I-5, Portland, 12/23/2013|
This year I was also inbetween locations, inbetween directions. The week was split between my hometown and Portland, and landed right in the middle of what was originally intended to be a four-month project. It was also a time I felt I ought to be revising my strategy for 2014, scrapping the old plans and drawing up new ones. I didn't. I looked after my friends' cat and ran errands and got checkups and oil changes.
I spent New Year's Eve with old friends, listening to old tunes and telling old and new stories, and January 1st with my parents in the hospital, as my dad underwent scheduled thyroid surgery. We were blessed: the operation went beautifully, and Dad was making bad jokes (slightly less coherently than usual) by the time he was rolled into his hospital room. He refused any painkillers beyond acetaminophen, and when he was released the next day, stole the keys from Mom and drove home against the surgeon's recommendation. By all accounts, the entire incident failed to slow him down in the slightest.
* * *
On January 4 I headed north again: not to Willa's place in Port Orchard, but to the Grünewald Guild for a two-month artist residency. In July 2012, I spent three weeks at the Guild, volunteering, writing, and taking classes. I apologize to my long-term blog readers for not writing a post about that stay. Here's the three-word version: I loved it. So last fall I asked the staff if I could work on my book there, and they said yes, come be an artist in residence.
|The Centrum, heart of the GrGuild|
The Guild in summer is full of life and guests and art just happening all over the place, but at this time of year it's quieter. Often it's down to just five long-term staff and maybe a couple of artists in residence (I am currently one of four). Last week there were no guests; this week there's a silk painting class and another one called "A Theology of the Wilderness." I'm not taking either class. I've been cleaning the dining room, washing dishes, providing transportation into the nearby town of Leavenworth, and painting -- not silk, but walls: beige, two coats.
And I've been writing. Last week, after meeting with other staff to discuss the projects we're working on, I set a new daily word count record. It's still a struggle, most days, but I've learned some tricks: Listen to music. Sit in different places. Take totally non-productive breaks. Write stuff you know you'll probably cut later. Before you quit, think about what you're going to write when you start again. If you're hungry, for heaven's sake get something to eat, because you won't get a thing done until you do.
|My current digs on the Wenatchee River|
And, without any real effort on my part, my plans for the year have begun to reinvent themselves. No spoilers, but it's funny how sometimes just talking about what you want can open doors you didn't even know were there.